March 2009 Forecast
By David Mumpower
March 6, 2009
A sizzling 2009 box office campaign continues with the addition of three legitimate blockbusters to the marketplace in March. All three appear likely to open north of $35 million with two probably going beyond $50 million. Unlike most of my peers, I had some difficulty in determining what the number one film for the month would be. The biggest opening of the month is a given, but when we factor in the entirety of each film's domestic run, I think that my second place film has a decent chance at pulling off a huge box office upset.
Regular readers of the site (and my semi-secret twitter feed) know that I have been saying for some time now that I believe this film will match or possibly even surpass 300's opening weekend take. I am always uncomfortable putting a title in a position wherein NOT breaking a box office record makes it a disappointment. I do not feel Watchmen is in such a situation. Given how many people have been hedging their bets about its opening weekend, any performance north of $50 million should feel like a win. I consider that number a foregone conclusion, barring something unforeseen bordering on Jonas-y (my new favorite term for a shocking box office disappointment).
I do, however, understand the various concerns being expressed for Watchmen. Yes, it is R-rated and yes, it is a March release and yes, it is 165 minutes long and yes, it is not the usual choice for a major comic book adaption. Again, longtime readers know how I feel about those first two arguments. Rating and month of release are nowhere near the negative factor people have hyped them to be. Similarly, while the number of total weekend exhibitions is reduced by this run-time, we never see titles approach maximum capacity anyway. The closest two over the past ten years are The Blair Witch Project and Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour. I guess Sex and the City could be included for its first day of box office as well but after that, even The Dark Knight did not approach 90% capacity on its first day. Ergo, Watchmen's run-time only matters if every one of its 3,611 venues sells out. That will happen for its 124 IMAX exhibitions. Everything else is largely unaffected.
That leaves us with the unique nature of the release as its primary concern. Watchmen as a novel is a sublime exploration of the various popular superhero archetypes. The angry loner, the vigilant crusader, the invincible super-being, the overly violent anti-hero, and the bombshell vixen of justice all get some play in a dystopian alternate reality wherein Nixon stayed president into the 1980s but presumably never ran for re-election in the Futurama 3000s. Watchmen is a stubbornly off-putting piece of fiction in that it takes a sledgehammer to all of the ideals of heroism we found so comforting as children. There is a malevolence to the book that Zach Snyder has translated to the movie that I strongly suspect will truncate its post-opening weekend box office. In point of fact, I expect a Cloverfield-ian decline after its first three days. The Hulk's $62 million debut followed by only $70 million more afterward looks like a good model for Watchmen except for the fact that I think the numbers may be reversed here. I think it opens to $70 million then dies hard with less than $70 million over the rest of its domestic run.