When is a $52 million three-day opening a genuine disappointment? Well, in the world of box office, all things are relative. And when it comes to opening weekend, the quality and estimated staying power has to be taken into account. Green Lantern (review) debuted at number one this weekend with $52.6 million.
On the surface, that's the fourth-biggest DC Comics opening ever, and the second-biggest non-sequel DC Comics film (behind Watchmen's $55.2 million). But like Watchmen, a seemingly glorious opening (a $55 million debut for a 2.5 hour R-rated superhero drama based on a cult property) is considered troubling due to fears about its staying power and overspending. Green Lantern cost about $200 million to produce, with another $150 million going towards marketing efforts. The film had a poor 2.4x weekend multiplier and earned only a B from Cinemascore. This does not guarantee that Green Lantern will follow Watchmen's lightning-fast downward trajectory (the film didn't even double its opening weekend, ending with $107 million). But with mediocre word of mouth, generally poor reviews, and brutal competition coming just down the pike (Cars 2 next weekend, Transformers: Dark of the Moon a few days after that), the best that Warner can hope for domestically is an around 3x multiplier for a $155 million finish. Warner and DC Comics will have to be counting on overseas numbers to carry the day.
The core problem, as it often is, was the decision to spend 'sequel money' on an original film. Point being, you generally try to hedge your bets with the first film and blow your wad on the second picture. Spider-Man 2 may have cost $220 million, but that was only after the $130 million-budgeted Spider-Man grossed $400 million domestic. But with rewrites and extra money allocated for a rushed and FX-heavy shoot, Martin Campbell's attempt to create a new superhero franchise ended up costing about what Green Lantern 2 should have cost. As for marketing costs (which is technically separate from production budgets), it was yet another case of saturation marketing that was painfully unnecessary since most of the film wasn't complete until late in the game.
The studio released a terrible teaser last November and had been playing catch up ever since. Later, more outer-space themed trailers played better with the hardcore fans, but Warner struggled with selling the visuals while explaining at least part of the Green Lantern mythology to those not already in the loop. There was allegedly some disagreement about how much to sell the film as a standalone Hal Jordan adventure versus selling it as the first chapter of a full-blown Green Lantern saga (later previews heavily emphasized other Green Lantern corps members who barely appear in the finished film). Of course, Green Lantern was not just one film intended to launch one franchise, and that's where the problem truly lies if the film plays out like the numbers suggest.
Yes, this is just one movie and Warner will be printing money with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part II next month. But this was a key release that was to be the opening salvo in Warner's attempt to frame the DC Comics library as the dominant studio franchise to replace the Harry Potter series. Obviously if the film becomes inexplicably leggy and it ends up closer to Thor's $176 million than Van Helsing's $120 million (and does well overseas to boot), this will all be moot. But this feels like a similar situation to the latter 2004 Hugh Jackman monster adventure, which was so unpopular and unsuccessful that it killed off Universal's attempt to revive the entire classic horror monsters franchise (Dracula, the Mummy, the Wolfman, etc). Warner and DC Comics now run the risk of delegitimizing their entire line-up.
Sure, Warner will always have Batman and Superman, but Green Lantern was supposed to be the first shot in a lineup that theoretically included The Flash, Hawkman, Hawkgirl, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, Green Arrow, and/or a Justice League movie of some kind. Imagine if Marvel Comics' Iron Man opened in May of 2008 to lousy reviews and grossed barely $50 million in the opening weekend while dropping 15 percent on Saturday, and you get a pretty good idea of where Warner and DC Comics is right now. Of course, if by some miracle, the film drops below 50 percent next weekend, all involved will be breathing a sigh of relief. Oh, and the film played 45 percent 3D, which seems to be the new normal, but is still a shame as Green Lantern had the best live-action 3D since Avatar and is easily the best 3D conversion ever.
For more box office analysis, go HERE.
Follow Scott Mendelson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ScottMendelson