Thursday Box Office Analysis: Superman Returns

By David Mumpower

June 30, 2006

Ms. Posey tries to slap Mr. Spacey when he mentions Blade: Trinity.

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The re-launch of one of the prized properties of Warner Bros. earned another $11.0 million on Thursday, bringing its grand total to a solid if unspectacular $32.0 million after two days. So, what does this mean? Is the glass half full or half empty, Superman Returns observers? The answer lies in the eye of the beholder.

The running two-day tally of Superman Returns is less money than X-Men: The Last Stand had earned on its first day. In fact, Superman will need most of Friday's box office just to match X3's exemplary first day box office of $45.1 million. Of course, there is no shame in this since we are comparing it to the largest Friday ever. The only real tie-in between the productions is that they are both based on superhero icons. The key difference is that X3 was billed as the finale of a hugely popular trilogy. Superman Returns is the re-launch of a franchise that was ruined in the 1980s by atrocious sequels, one that languished in development hell for almost a decade.

Superman Returns is probably better compared to the other Warner Bros. reboot from last year, Batman Begins. That project had only $24.2 million after two days on its way to $205 million in domestic receipts. If we compare Superman Returns to this number, its performance is dynamic, a full third better. While this will give Superman diehards some ammo in the never-ending debate about whom is better between the finest Metropolis and Gotham have to offer, it's only a temporary victory (and every logical being knows the answer is Batman anyway). Warner Bros. is much more concerned about the weekend take here. A big number is needed in order to allow the studio to trumpet the return of the franchise to glory.

So, let's talk about reasonable expectations for the weekend. The $11.0 million performance represents a 47.7% decline from Wednesday's debut. An important caveat here is that the Bryan Singer epic reportedly earned between $3 and $4 million from Tuesday sneaks. Given this knowledge, the decline is even better, somewhere in the neighborhood of 35%. The problem is that we are in the summer months now, meaning that weekday totals should be strong. That makes comparisons to releases outside the June-August period where kids were in school somewhat irrelevant. It also means that the legs Superman Returns showed on Thursday are nothing more than general box office behavior for the time frame.

Now then, let's have a refresher course in extrapolating box office using Wednesday/Thursday numbers. In the past, BOP has shown you, the reader, the concept of the box office split. As a reminder, this is the percentage of the film's five total comprised by the non-weekend numbers. Generally, the range falls in the 40% / 60% area, give or take a little. Spider-Man 2 would be an example of a film with a low split. Its Wednesday/Thursday tally of $64.3 million represents 42% of the five day total of $152.4 million. This gives the Spidey sequel a split of 42/58. Since this is a heavily anticipated sequel, it's not a great comparison. I just want to throw that out as an example of the procedure.


Films that do make for good comparisons to Superman Returns are Batman Begins and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. The Batman re-boot began with a $15.1 million Wednesday followed by a 39.72% decline on Thursday. That's a grand total of $24.2 million out of the five-day tally of $72.9 million, giving Batman Begins a fantastic split of 33/67. Pirates started off with only $13.5 million on Wednesday but then had a sublime Thursday holdover of $10.5 million, a decline of only 22.4%. The $24 million it earned in its first two days represents a 34/66 split on the $70.6 million it earned from Wednesday to Sunday.

In examining potential comparison models for Superman Returns, I like these two the best. It's rare (but not impossible) for a movie performing on this scale to do more than double its Wednesday/Thursday take. So, we will stick with this 33/67 model. Ergo, we should expect Superman Returns to wind up in the $62-$66 million range this weekend. Anything better will be a sign of impressive strength for Team Clark Kent. Anything worse will not be cause for panic, but it will certainly qualify as a disappointment. Currently, Superman Returns appears likely to wind up just under $100 million over its first five days. While it's well under what most analysts were forecasting (God knows BOP missed it by a mile), I'm certain Warner Bros. will take that.



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