Friday Box Office Analysis
By David Mumpower
July 27, 2013

How did Batman climb out of this thing?

After several exciting weekends at the box office, the marketplace slowed on Friday. Only one new title was released into North American titles, and its place at the top of the box office charts was assured. The only question was one of scale. In the end, Fox’s The Wolverine slashed the competition with $21 million, thereby roughly tripling the second place entrant, last week’s surprise blockbuster, The Conjuring. During the 2000s, there has been no movie character more reliable at the box office than Marvel's Wolverine.

By now, audiences are overly familiar with the Marvel character of Wolverine. After four X-Men movies and a standalone release, the mutant with the healing factor and science’s sharpest claws has been a featured player in five titles that have grossed $1.9 billion worldwide. Long before comic book movies were COMIC BOOK MOVIES, audiences were already celebrating the character. Fox rightfully determined to spin the character into his own franchise with epic results last time. Even after a reboot of the X-Men license with younger actors telling a story from the 1960s, the appeal of Wolverine was still strong enough that Fox felt comfortable mining for Marvel gold one more time via the same actors portraying the same character.

Some actors worry about typecasting. They live in fear of losing other jobs due to their close-knit association with a particular role. We call this Leonard Nimoy Syndrome. Hugh Jackman is diametrically opposed to this philosophy. The debut of The Wolverine marks Jackman’s sixth appearance in the role as one of Marvel’s signature characters. For perspective, Bruce Willis has required a quarter century to portray police enforcement trouble shooter John McClane in the Die Hard franchise. In only half that time, Jackman has already portrayed Logan the mutant half a dozen times (though one of those times was a cameo in X-Men: First Class). That is an average of once every two years that Jackman breaks out the adamantium claws.

The concern with The Wolverine has already been one of saturation. Will audiences continue to support a character who is so well established by now and still being portrayed by the same actor? The answer has proven to be a tepid yes. With $21 million yesterday, The Wolverine fell far short of the prior standalone film from the same character, X-Men Origins: Wolverine. That title grossed $34.4 million on its first day on its way to an opening weekend total of $85.1 million.

The Wolverine is headed toward a $52.5 million weekend, which is more than good enough for a title with a modest (by current standards) $115 million budget. The tragic aspect of The Wolverine slotting far behind its predecessor is that it is by all accounts a vastly superior movie. 68% of Rotten Tomatoes critics recommend the movie as opposed to the last one, which was critically reviled.

The Wolverine suffered from a couple of issues working against it. The most pressing is the woeful quality of its immediate predecessor. The other aspect is that superhero fatigue is becoming the same issue that has plagued 3D blockbusters for some time now. The copycat projects that are derivative by nature distract from the appeal of the better projects they mimic. Since two such movies were released last weekend to disappointing results and The Wolverine was the fifth comic book-based title of the summer, its late season release was somewhat problematic. It speaks volumes about the appeal of Jackman as Wolverine that the movie still managed to debut to $21 million in spite of all of the negatives working against it. He has earned his place in The Avengers franchise if Fox and Disney can work out an appropriate business arrangement.