By Sean Collier
March 19, 2009
In Hollywood, people do things. Actors do things. Directors do things. Producers do a great many things, and few of them make much sense. Executives do things, and writers do things (quietly, and alone.) Outside of Hollywood, people do things, too. Distributors do things, then in turn and according to specific directions, movie theaters do things. Critics do things, but sadly, very few people notice. Most importantly, we, as the collective moviegoing public, do things. Here at Box Office Prophets, we are proud to tell you who did things, when and where they did them, and just how much money was involved. In Hollywood Psych, I'm going to wait until these things are done, and then tackle the tough question: why.
Zack Snyder has now helmed two vastly ambitious comic book adaptations. The releases of these films were separated, almost precisely, by two years. 300 was released to American theaters on March 9, 2007, and Watchmen hit theaters March 6, 2009. Therefore, we have two comic book adaptations, released on the same weekend a mere two years apart, from the same director, but with widely divergent expectations.
Before its release, 300 was seen as something of an also-ran, a quick follow-up to fellow Frank Miller graphic-novel-turned-film Sin City. Previews showing off 300's unique, flashy visual style certainly grabbed some attention, but little fanfare and buildup accompanied the historic(ally questionable) epic. Some surprise was in order, then, when 300 opened to $70 million (the biggest March opening ever, by the way) en route to a $210 million finish.
Conversely, the hype for the film adaptation of Watchmen, almost universally accepted as the finest graphic novel of all time, has 20 years of history. The alternate-reality comic first had parties interested in a big screen rendition soon after the release of the comic books in the mid-'80s; a never-ending stay in development hell seemed to suggest that the film would never get made. The book was too big to adapt, the story too cumbersome, the requirements of capturing the look of the artwork and style too daunting. Yet, Snyder stepped up to the plate and, after a year of trailers and ubiquitous hype, delivered an incredibly expensive gift to comic fans everywhere.
Yet, despite build-up, inescapable marketing campaigns, and a fine bit of source material, Watchmen did not meet expectations. It failed, in fact, to even hit the mark set by 300 two years prior, turning in a total of $55 million over its opening frame, and falling off a cliff for a second week tally of just under $18 million. At this point, it looks less and less likely that Watchmen will make its money back.
It's hard to determine what gave 300 an edge over Watchmen. Obviously, several factors are readily eliminated, as nothing can be attributed to release date (the same,) director (the same,) genre (the same,) or cast (similarly low-profile in each release, with a possible slight edge to Watchmen.) These are, traditionally, some of the easiest ways to predict and analyze box office performance – who is in it, who made it, what's hot right now, and so forth.