Watchmen indeed played like a mid-range Marvel entry and opened to $55 million. The weekend multiplier ($55 million divided by the opening Friday $25 million) for this one is a dangerously low 2.2x. This puts it in the same territory as Friday The 13th, Twilight, and Sex & The City. In fact, when you factor in the money earned, as well as the gender neutral demographics, Watchmen comes off as a male version of Sex & The City. Both are R-rated 2.5 hour epics distributed by Warner Bros. Both were specifically tuned to the stereotypical desires of its gender. Both opened to about $25 million on Friday then closed with about $55 million. And both, according to eye witness accounts (ie - myself, my wife, and our daughter), had huge opening night lines with only a token representation of the other gender, none of whom seemed to be there by choice (my 18 month old pointed and laughed).
First off, let's take a moment to acknowledge that this opening weekend number, in and of itself, is terrific. Watchmen, based on a comic book that only the hardcore had even heard of, had a bigger three-day weekend than Superman Returns. It had a bigger three-day weekend than Batman Begins. Heck, Watchmen has the second biggest DC Comics three-day opening weekend of all time, behind (obviously) The Dark Knight. Any thoughts that this would equal or surpass the $70 million opening for 300 were ones not based on logic. Aside from a few token similarities (release date, director, and being based on a cult comic book), they were vastly different films and different properties.
300 was a 100 minute action adventure film with a clear and simple premise (that it was based on a comic book was pretty irrelevant to the marketing campaign). It promised (and delivered) fantastic visuals and ripped muscle men armed with sharp objects, slaughtering other muscle men with sharp objects in 480 BC for at least 2/3 of the running time. It was primed to be enjoyed by men and women as well as young and old. Watchmen was a 2.75 hour character drama with superheroes, whose complicated premise had to be explained, in detail, to the uninitiated. Plus, the marketing was severely male centric, and there was no stereotypical appeal for women. And, as we damn well know by this point, a superhero film with women in the audience, as well as general audience appeal gets you Iron Man. A superhero film just for cultish comic fan guys gets you... well... Watchmen.
So, all told, a $55 million opening for this glorified cult film is a huge short term win for Warner Bros. It's a show of unparalleled marketing might and is a good omen for the upcoming DC properties (Jonah Hex, Green Lantern). My concern with the number is one of long term prospects, and the unexpected developments concerning the reactions to the movie. To put it bluntly, even the hardcore geeks are mixed to negative on this one. This means that Warner more or less needed a record opening to ensure profitability. At this point, the performance feels like, at best, a repeat of X-Men (57% first weekend drop, big drops afterward, opening with $54 million and closing with $157 million). Tragically, the more likely reference point is The Incredible Hulk, which opened to $55 million, dropped 60% in weekend two, then bottomed out at $134 million on a $150 million investment. And that's assuming that word of mouth isn't truly poisonous and it doesn't perform like Ang Lee's Hulk (which plummeted a shocking 70% in weekend two, ending up earning 47% of its $132 million in its opening weekend). Obviously, we'll know the final story by next Saturday morning. Again, if I'm wrong, and this thing displays Batman Begins-style legs, you'll hear it here first.
For the complete article, including what other films did at the box office this weekend and how Coraline got screwed by The Jonas Brothers, go to Mendelson's Memos.
For more Watchmen box office analysis, please read my write up on the Friday night numbers, which goes into more detail about the film's long term prospects.