James B. Stewart credits Kevin Feige, Disney, and Marvel for simply making a better film. But says there’s still room for Warner Bros. and DC to improve.
Pitched battles between superheroes with huge fan bases? Check.
Enough explosions to flatten several Manhattans? Check.
Budgets over $250 million, not counting lavish marketing campaigns?
On paper, this season’s big superhero action films — “Captain America: Civil War” and “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” — from the rival studios Disney and Warner Bros. could almost be the same movie, so similar are their plots, action sequences and allusions to heavyweight themes of topical interest.
Still, “Batman v Superman” would seem to have the edge where it really matters to the studios, which is at the box office. It opened first (on March 25). It had the two most valuable intellectual properties in the comic book universe, appearing together in starring roles. And it had enough A-list Hollywood talent to fill a multiplex.
Yet the results are in, and it’s not even close. The theatrical run of “Batman v Superman” is all but over, with a worldwide box office gross of $871 million. “Captain America” has surged past $1 billion in just three weeks.
Warner insists its film will earn a profit. But given that the studio gets only about half the box-office gross, any profit margin will be slim after deducting the film’s enormous production and marketing costs. And that has to be a disappointment considering what the studio must have expected. (Marvel’s “Avengers” topped $1.5 billion in 2012.)
More worrisome for Warner and its parent, Time Warner Inc., is that “Batman v Superman” was supposed to reboot the entire DC Comics universe and create a multibillion-dollar superhero franchise to rival Marvel’s. Now that’s in question.
“This is a significant misstep for the DC brand,” said Doug Creutz, senior media and entertainment analyst for Cowen & Company. “They’ve damaged their credibility with their audience. I’m not saying they can’t recover, but their next few movies had better be really good.”
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