Superman Returns Quietly; Prada Saves Box Office
Weekend Box Office Wrap-Up for June 30-July 2, 2006
By John Hamann
July 2, 2006

Director Bryan Singer curls up in the fetal position.

If you are Warner Bros. and you were bringing back America's best known super hero to the big screen over a long July 4th weekend, where would your expectations lie in terms of box office success? My expectations for the return of Krypton's favorite son were huge - Spider-Man huge – however, once again, through a series of the movie suits' own mistakes, my expectations are ruined. Yes, Superman Returns disappointed this weekend, and it's all the devil's fault – a devil wearing Prada.

Okay, let's get right to it: The number one film of the weekend is, of course, Superman Returns, something that was never really in doubt. The gross for the Friday-to-Sunday portion of the weekend, though, is only $52.2 million, easily $30 million or more below expectations. Superman Returns debuted at a huge 4,065 venues, and had an average of $12,829. The gross since opening on Wednesday sits at $84.2 million, even further away from expectations. You probably already know that Superman got off to a so-so start with a $21 million opening day last Wednesday, an opening similar to The War of the Worlds, and only half that of Spider-Man 2's opening day. The Thursday gross was decent, coming in at about $11 million, still well off the second day of War of the Worlds ($14 million) and less than half of Spider-Man 2. Friday, things got really bad. Analysts expect the Friday gross of a Wednesday opener to at least come close to matching the opening day figure. Superman's Friday gross came in at $16.2 million, several million less than the Wednesday figure. Worse news was that it was well off the War of the Worlds' Friday gross ($21.9 million) and looked quite pedestrian compared to the pedigree of this picture.

I would imagine that at this point, damage control began at Warner Bros., as the Friday figure pretty much sealed the fate of Superman over its opening weekend. The three-day comparisons look like this: War of the Worlds earned $64.9 million over its first Friday-to-Sunday, Batman Begins had a three-day $48.7 million and The Fantastic Four earned $56.1 million. Remember this: Superman Returns has been in the pipe for many, many years. Every year that a film like this is in pre-production, a studio can spend as much as $10 million. If we are kind and say that pre-production lasted four years, and add that to the $260 million production cost, we are looking at a $300 million movie, without marketing costs, a huge number of prints, and other incidentals.

The good news for Warner Bros. is that Superman Returns has grossed $84.2 million since opening last Wednesday (and WB will spin that number very hard and very fast, believe me). The bad news is that this flick doesn't have a lot of momentum. The holiday Monday and Tuesday grosses here will be very important to this franchise. We have to remember that Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest is coming on Friday, and the Johnny Depp movie will demand the larger venues in the nation's movie theatres (especially after Superman's soft opening). The weekend multiplier for Superman Returns came in at about 3.2, which does indicate decent word-of-mouth, but it's also a long weekend, meaning that more folks are available on Sunday night to see a movie. We won't know for certain what Superman's fate will be in 2006 until next weekend, when it faces off against the huge Johnny Depp flick from Disney.

So who is to blame for this mess (a mess that's most likely to only get worse)? It's not director Bryan Singer. He came up with a good film, if you believe the critics. Superman Returns received a huge 182 reviews at RottenTomatoes, and of those, a large 136 were positive, leaving the film with a 75% fresh rating. Sure, that's not the 83% that Batman Begins received, but it is still quite good. The problem here (again, Hollywood, again) is the marketing. Studios have gone cheap on marketing their films, always expecting someone else to do the expensive work for them. If you spend $300 million making your movie, you have to put some sort of effort into inviting people to come. We are not sheep, so please quit expecting us to show up just because you opened the door. Warner Bros. has no one else to blame for this other than themselves. Sure the international gross will pass the basic production budget, but when you are expecting a billion and only get $500 million, someone's going to lose their job.

The good news for exhibitors comes with our runner up film, The Devil Wears Prada, which basically came out of nowhere to save the box office day. The Devil earned a stunning $27 million from only 2,847 venues, giving it a venue average of $9,453 - only a few thousand away from Superman's average. A whole bunch of influential press was drummed up by Fox for The Devil Wears Prada, starting with Meryl Streep's (Oscar-worthy?) performance. It then turned to Anne Hathaway, and towards what a good film this is in general. Prada had big, positive buzz heading into the weekend, something that Superman had, but not to this degree. Prada is the Notting Hill of 2006. Notting Hill opened on May 28, 1999, right in the face of the second weekend of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, a release date that many analysts thought was a mistake. Against the George Lucas juggernaut (it dropped 21% in its second frame), Notting Hill opened to $21.8 million, which translates to about $26 million in today's dollars, similar to that of Prada. Notting Hill was counter-programming at its finest, a bold move that worked in the face of adversity. The Devil Wears Prada is the same sort of animal -unknown last week, but finishing its debut weekend with an enviable box office start.

Prada reviewed better than Superman, garnering 87 positive reviews out of a possible 112, giving it a 78% fresh rating. For Streep, this is her biggest headlining opening, behind Lemony Snickets' $30 million open in December 2004. For Anne Hathaway, this is another big success; however, this is a transition from youth-oriented films (the two Princess Diaries films opened to $22 million) to more adult fare. The Devil Wears Prada is an early surprise in a summer of lowered expectations. A decent hold next weekend could make this a $100 million film, as this should be the big good news story of the weekend.

Click got switched to off this weekend, as it flailed in the wake of Superman Returns and The Devil Wears Prada. Click grossed $19.4 million over the weekend, off a higher-than-expected 52%. Percentage drops should be somewhat lower this weekend, as many folks have Monday off due to national holidays in the US and Canada, freeing people up on Sunday night more than usual. At this point, Click is most reminiscent of Mr. Deeds, Sandler's 2002 effort that opened to $37 million and lost 50% of its audience in its second frame. Deeds had $73.6 million after two weekends, Click currently sits with $77.9 million against an $80 million budget. Look for the clicking to stop at about $130 million.

Cars rolls into fourth spot this weekend, but the family friendly holiday weekend failed to soften its drop in its fourth frame. Cars earned $14 million this weekend, off 40% from the previous frame when it earned $23.3 million. Cars has now earned $182.1 million domestically, which compares poorly with the other Pixar efforts. Monsters, Inc had earned $192.2 million after four weekends, Finding Nemo $228.5 million, and The Incredibles had grossed $214.3 million.

Jack Black's Nacho Libre slides into fifth spot with a gross of $6.2 million, as it loses some serious steam after a hot opening weekend. The gross over the long weekend equals a drop of 51%, which isn't a good follow-up to last weekend's drop of 55%. Currently, the Paramount pic has grossed $65 million, and should finish with about $85 million in domestic sales.

Sixth spot goes to The Lake House, the romantic drama starring Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock. It would seem the The Lake House audience decided to see The Devil Wears Prada this weekend, sticking it to Warner Bros. more than once, as the weeper grossed $4.5 million and fell 49%. Currently, The Lake House has accumulated $38.7 million.

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift drifted again with another big drop compared to the previous weekend. The Fast and the Furious 3 grossed $4.4 million, off 55% after plunging 59% in its second frame. The Universal flick has now grossed a disappointing $51.7 million.

Waist Deep, last weekend's surprise number five finisher, got punched below the waist this weekend, losing a nasty amount of business. The Rogue Pictures release grossed $3.3 million this weekend (compared to $9.4 million last weekend), giving it a weekend to weekend drop of 65% (remember that drops are supposed to be lower during a long weekend). The gross for the urban thriller now sits at $15.2 million, and will be a memory next weekend.

Two older but successful films finish ninth and tenth. The Break-Up moves a couple of spots down the top ten chart this weekend with a gross of $2.8 million. It drops a huge 57% (thanks to Prada) and now has a cume of $110.1 million. Tenth goes to The Da Vinci Code, which earned $2.3 million. That's a 43% drop for the Ron Howard film, whose domestic gross now sits at $209.8 million and a worldwide total over $700 million.

Overall, thanks mostly to The Devil Wears Prada, the box office is up over last year. In 2005, over the July 1st - 3rd weekend, the top ten movies at the box office earned about $130 million. In 2004, the top ten earned $154 million, thanks to Spider-Man 2. This weekend, the top ten at the box office earned $135.2 million, which puts the total closer to the bad year (2005) than the good year (2004). Things will only get better next weekend, now that there's room for Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest.