Saturday, June 8, 2013

Man of Steel and the Billion Dollar Dream

Back in the Jurassic Era of blockbuster filmmaking, the benchmark for success was when a film hit the $100 million mark at the box office.  It feels like a million years ago, but truly, it really wasn't that long ago.  An even stranger occurrence in the not-too-distant past was the word of mouth quotient to a films playability, one of which, if deemed by the masses, could extend months and months in theaters, as opposed to the new (but not completely improved) idea of a three month window between opening night and its DVD/Blu-Ray release.  Of course, those days are gone-- now in the age where social media works as a defacto say so on public opinion and bad omens portend to films that fail to break records opening night, much less opening weekend-- welcome to 21st Century Hollywood. 

Now the benchmark for success is (imagined said with Dr. Evil-like impishness) ONE BILLION DOLLARS!  Worse yet, the biggest, most tentpoliest offerings from major studios almost need to make a billion dollars to become profitable.  Next weeks hopeful addition to the fray of only sixteen feature films that have crossed this international barrier is Warner Bros.' hotly anticipated Man of Steel.  Consider, however-- the film, a reboot of the Superman mythology, produced with careful care under the mighty eyes of Christopher Nolan (and the stand alone trilogy might of Batman behind him), directed by Zack Synder (Watchmen, 300, Sucker Punch) has a production budget north of $200 million.  This, not including promotional costs (which may well be another $100 million when all is said and done), back-end deals (sure to be considerable for talent, crew, executives, etc.), exhibitor costs (theater chains themselves earn a piece of the box office, usually considered half what a film earns, but perhaps negotiable slightly more in the favor of the studios for a film like Man of Steel) and, wow, yes, it will nearly need to earn a billion dollars in the international box office for it to truly be a hit.  Craziness...

Of course, Man of Steel is an important film to be successful for Warner Bros. and the future of the DC Comics cinema scope.  After all the botched attempts at trying to trigger a Justice League franchise (Nolan's Dark Knights didn't quite help out there) by way of terrible films (The Green Lantern?) and unwise backstage decisions (like tossing aside Joss Whedon's take on Wonder Woman?!@#$), Man of Steel is the first step in trying to build a DC universe to rival the oh-so-successful and billion dollar-able Marvel films-- point of reference, the last film to cross the billion dollar mark was Iron Man 3, thusly the only member of the 2013 class of films to do so as of now.  On this end, it's a sensible idea to go for the start from scratch approach, completely doing over the Richard Donner original and the Bryan Singer 2006 film Superman Returns, which read like a strangely built rebooted homage.  It's still risky and startling when it comes to the business model of current big budget films.  And a bit nonsensical considering only sixteen films have netted over a billion dollars in box office sales...ever.

Speaking of course from the only pertinent, non-adjusted for inflation sales, these are the members of the billion dollar club:


  1. Avatar (Fox)- $2.7
  2. Titanic (Fox)- $2.1 (includes 2012 3-D re-release)
  3. Marvel's The Avengers (Disney)- $1.5
  4. Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (Warner Bros.)- $1.3
  5. Iron Man 3 (Disney)- $1.185 (still growing)
  6. Transformers: Dark of the Moon (Paramount)- $1.123
  7. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (New Line)- $1.119
  8. Skyfall (Sony)- $1.108
  9. The Dark Knight Rises (Warner Bros.)- $1.084
  10. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Mans Chest (Disney)- $1.066
  11. Toy Story 3 (Disney)- $1.063
  12. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (Disney)- $1.043
  13. Star Wars: Episode 1 The Phantom Menace (Fox)- $1.027 (includes 2012 3-D re-release)
  14. Alice in Wonderland (Disney)- $1.024
  15. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Warner Bros.)- $1.017
  16. The Dark Knight (Warner Bros.)- $1.004

The template of success.  Some stats-- let's see if Man of Steel can make it:
  • 15/16 are a part of franchises (however Titanic could certainly still be associated with a brand)
  • 11/16 were released in 3-D (including re-issues)
  • 6/16 were distributed by Walt Disney (the most members of the club)
  • 16/16 directed by men (8 Americans, 3 Brits, 1 Kiwi)
    • 3/16 have leading female characters (Avatar, Titanic, Alice in Wonderland)
  • 3/16 Best Picture nominees (1 winner- Titanic)
  • 2/16 released before 2003 (excluding re-issues)
  • 1/16 contained added material for international consumption (Iron Man 3 had additional scenes for Chinese audiences)
  • James Cameron, Christopher Nolan and Peter Jackson have two films apiece in the club
  • 1/16 made more money at the North American box office than it did internationally (The Dark Knight)-- the rest made much more around the world, a potential trouble maker for Man of Steel's recreation of the whole "truth, justice and American way" thing.

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