Wolverine Warms Summer Box Office
By John Hamann
May 3, 2009
After a furious April at the box office, May was set to start summer with a bang. Fox uncoiled X-Men Origins: Wolverine, while Warner Bros. trotted out some lame counter-programming with the romantic comedy Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. With all the breakout successes so far this year, some thought Wolverine and friends could pull down $100 million over three days, and while that wasn't to be, the $140 million comic book movie still got off to a strong start.
After a 2009 that has brought huge opening weekends for Fast & Furious ($71 million opening), Monsters vs. Aliens ($59.3 million opening) and Watchmen ($55.2 million opening), the table was set for X-Men Origins: Wolverine to have a huge debut weekend. There were a lot of questions regarding this opening, including a leaked print of the film appearing on the Internet in April, as well as some serious questions around the film's quality and franchise continuity. Wolverine is also the fourth film in the X-Men series, so it falls into the trap of "been there, done that," which had the possibility of producing a wait-and-see attitude with the non-fanboy crowd.
Obviously, Wolverine is our number one film of the weekend, the question is how did it finish against box office history. The easy answer is that it did okay. Wolverine grossed $87 million from 4,099 venues this weekend, and had a healthy venue average of $21,225. This is neither a breakout success nor a middling failure; Wolverine finishes right in the middle of expectations – not close to $100 million, and well away from $60 million, which would have hurt the franchise. Tracking and expectations were getting a little out of hand earlier in the week, with some believing a breakout success could be in the cards. Had early word-of-mouth been better, I think we might have seen a $5 million swing to the upside. Still, this opening puts Wolverine in the top 12 opening weekends all-time for the month of May, but it will most likely be top 15 by the time May 2009 is all said and done.
This debut puts Wolverine right in the middle of X-Men opening weekend successes. The first film in the franchise debuted in July of 2000 and generated a $54.5 million opening frame. It finished with $157.3 million domestic and about $140 million from overseas grosses. That one cost Fox a mere $75 million to make, and was hailed as a commericial – and critical - success. The second film, X2: X-Men United solidified the franchise even further. It opened on May 2, 2003, to $85.6 million, a $30 million increase to the original. It finished with $215 million domestically, and $193 million from overseas, and again was a critical success. The second film did show some signs of sequel-itis (higher opening weekend, but poorer legs), but was still extremely strong even in terms of sequels. The third film, X-Men: The Last Stand, improved on all levels except film quality (for which we can blame director Brett Ratner). Fox managed to grab the coveted Memorial Day Weekend slot for The Last Stand in 2006, and turned that scheduling win into a $102.8 million three-day opening, and $123 million over the four-day long weekend. The Last Stand didn't complete the first three-film story arc strongly; it was 54% fresh at RottenTomatoes and certainly didn't play to the strengths of the franchise that the first two films did. The Last Stand was only able to slightly double that big opening weekend, finishing with a domestic total of $234 million, with a similar amount coming from overseas sales. It seems now that the X-Men franchise may have appropriately peaked (in terms of box office) with The Last Stand.