Where Batman Plus Superman Plus Wonder Woman Equals Ant-Man

Warner Bros and its DC unit threw their three big guns into Batman v Superman, hoping to amp up the Justice League franchise to compete successfully against Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe.  The idea is to generate excitement by putting the label’s triumvirate of heavy-hitters—Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, in the same movie, in the same way that Marvel has boosted its fortunes with the Avengers movies.

If the plan works, Batman v Superman will help reinvigorate the value of DC’s library of characters as a source of popular movies for the years ahead. With diminished market share and a hole in its lineup of movie franchises since the last Harry Potter film released nearly 5 years ago, Warner Bros badly needs the new picture to succeed.

Image credit: Warner Bros.

The early returns look good so far. According to studio estimates the Batman-Superman-Wonder Woman mashup will earn a projected $170 million to $180 million in North America during this, its opening weekend, which will make it the 5th highest film opening in North American history and the biggest ever for a Warner Bros film.

The new film has also debuted strongly overseas, with a projected $260 million international  cume across dozens of territories for the 3-day Friday-Sunday period.

But there is one territory—a critically important territory—where things aren’t looking so good for the Justice League.

Namely, China.

Although BvS enjoyed a good, if not great, $19 million gross on its opening Friday (not including Thursday midnight screenings) in the PRC, dismal word of mouth for the picture across the country has already negatively impacted its grosses. It had a weak Saturday bump to $22 million, and Sunday dipped about 33 percent from Saturday. The $57 million 3-day result isn’t the problem—it actually surpassed the Hobbit 3 to become Warner Bros’ best opening film ever in China—but the trajectory is worrisome.

China has more than 33,000 movie screens and this year will be nearly as big a box office territory as North America. It has become a very good market for American superhero movies, so the recent performance of comparable films there is a useful benchmark against which to compare the Batman v Superman opening. That $19 million opening day was barely half the $36 million that Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron pulled in from its debut on a Tuesday in Chinese theaters in May, 2015. It was less than the $19.7 million Iron Man 3 earned on its opening day in China in 2012, when China’s market was less than half the size it is now. And its opening weekend won’t be that much better than the $45 million that Ant-Man, a minor Marvel character, scored in its debut last October.

That’s right, DC’s three biggest superhero icons together barely outscored Marvel’s tiniest one.

In fact, its relatively weak Saturday and Sunday results, and the fact that it will lose most of its current screens when a slew of competing films–including the Bai Baihe starrer Chongqing Hotpot–arrive in theaters next weekend, mean that it may have trouble beating Ant-Man‘s final tally of $106 million. And that would be a most inauspicious beginning for the Justice League in China.

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