For ‘Batman v Superman,’ a Supersized Box Office


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Ben Affleck, left, and Henry Cavill in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.”

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Clay Enos/Warner Bros.

LOS ANGELES — As a box office megadraw, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” more than did its job, taking in an estimated $170.1 million in North America and an additional $254 million in simultaneous release overseas.

But as a measure of the creative capabilities of a studio betting its future on a string of tonally similar superhero movies? Most critics eviscerated the Warner Bros. film, which was directed by Zack Snyder, and audiences gave it a soft B grade in CinemaScore exit polls.

Warner, which spent roughly $400 million to make and market “Dawn of Justice,” described the box office results as “phenomenal,” “sensational” and “fantastic.” Domestic ticket sales, fueled by higher-priced Imax, premium large-format theaters and RealD 3-D screenings, set a record for a March release, among others.

[ A look back at how Batman and Superman have stacked up onscreen in live-action theatrical releases before “Batman v Superman.” ]

It was one of the largest rollouts in Hollywood history: Warner booked “Dawn of Justice” onto roughly 50,000 screens in 67 countries. “We’re absolutely jubilant about the way the fans embraced the film,” Jeff Goldstein, Warner’s executive vice president for domestic distribution, said by phone on Sunday. “To be this successful as we launch the DC Comics universe is really a triumph.”

The real test for Warner and “Dawn of Justice” may lie ahead, however. Any movie with both Batman and Superman in its title had better turn out huge opening-weekend crowds. Financial success will depend on repeat visits by fans in the weeks ahead and attendance by older moviegoers, who tend to skip the initial hoopla.

Analysts estimate that the movie will need to take in more than $800 million worldwide to break even, after accounting for revenue splits with theaters. (Boding well for Warner: “Dawn of Justice” faces light competition over the next two weekends.)

Questions also remain about Warner’s 10-movie “cinematic universe” of interconnected superhero movies. Mr. Snyder’s bleak “Dawn of Justice” was designed as the creative foundation for a multibillion-dollar string of films featuring the likes of Wonder Woman and Aquaman. Mr. Snyder is set to begin filming a two-part “Justice League” in the coming weeks.

As Mike Sampson, editor of the fan site ScreenCrush.com, wrote last week before the numbers were in, “If the overwhelming sentiment is that the ‘Dawn of Justice’ doesn’t make you want to see Justice arrive, Warner Bros. has a supersized problem.”

Is Warner concerned?

“Not in the least,” Mr. Goldstein said. “While I respect the reviewers, the enormous turnout speaks for itself.” (Over the weekend, James Wan, who is directing “Aquaman,” told attendees at a comic book convention that his film would not forget to have fun in response to a question about Mr. Snyder’s dark aesthetic.)

Chatter around the unusually negative reviews, which were 29 percent positive, according to RottenTomatoes.com, may have actually helped “Dawn of Justice,” as moviegoers set out to see what the ruckus was about. A number of review-based Internet memes popped up last week, with one video of a sad-looking Ben Affleck, who played Batman, viewed about 14 million times since its posting on Thursday.

ListenFirst Media, an analytics company, said that the number of social media mentions of “Dawn of Justice” on Thursday and Friday were 45 percent larger than for Marvel’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron” over a corresponding period.

Rival studios on Sunday gave credit to Warner, which has struggled at the box office during the last two years, for selecting what turned out to be a perfect release date for “Dawn of Justice.” Movie industry conventional wisdom holds that superhero movies do best in the summer. But Warner — trying to get ahead of Marvel’s coming “Captain America: Civil War” — took a risk on the Easter holiday. According to comScore, 76 percent of American schools were closed on Friday.

For the weekend, Disney’s “Zootopia” was second at the domestic box office, taking in an estimated $23.1 million, for a four-week total of $240.5 million, according to comScore. Third place went to Universal’s “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2,” which was made for about $18 million and took in a better-than-expected $18.1 million. (“Opa!”)

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