“The Batman” took in a blockbuster $128.5 million at theaters in the United States and Canada over the weekend, demonstrating the staying power of one of Hollywood’s most overworked superheroes and marking an end — cinema owners hope — to studio experimentation with movie release patterns.
“This is an excellent opening,” said David A. Gross, a film consultant who publishes a subscription newsletter on box office numbers. “Keeping these series fresh — moving characters forward, maintaining the storytelling quality, adding new worlds, new antagonists, new set pieces — is as hard as any creative challenge in the business.”
The first full-length Batman movie arrived in 1966. “The Batman,” starring Robert Pattinson and Zoë Kravitz and directed by Matt Reeves, is the 14th installment from the Batman universe, including animated entries. It is supposed to spawn multiple sequels and spinoffs, including a series for the HBO Max streaming service that focuses on the villainous Penguin, now being played by Colin Farrell.
By successfully rolling out “The Batman,” which received positive reviews, senior executives at Warner Bros., including Toby Emmerich, the chairman, and Walter Hamada, the president of DC Films, buttressed their standing at a crucial moment: Warner Bros. is about to be taken over by Discovery Communications. Warner’s recent movie slate has included clunkers like “Space Jam: A New Legacy” and “The Matrix: Resurrections.”
Overseas, “The Batman,” which has a nearly three-hour run time, collected an additional $120 million from 30,559 screens in 74 markets, according to Comscore, which compiles box office data.
The Many Different Versions of Batman
The hero’s incarnations have oscillated between campy and dignified across various mediums over the years.
At the domestic box office, “The Batman” benefited from an unorthodox pricing decision by AMC Entertainment, the No. 1 theater chain, and some competitors. In a break from standard practice, they charged about $1 more for standard “Batman” tickets than for other movies playing at the same theaters at the same time. Theaters have long wanted to move toward this practice, which is known as variable pricing and is based on basic supply and demand. But they have been worried about scaring away price-sensitive customers.
(“Eventually there’s going to be a price variance,” the director Steven Spielberg predicted at a future-of-cinema event in 2013. “You’re going to have to pay $25 to see the next ‘Iron Man.’ And you’re probably only going to have to pay $7 to see ‘Lincoln.’”)
“The Batman,” which cost an estimated $200 million to make, not including marketing costs, marks a return to exclusive theatrical distribution by Warner, which spent the last year releasing films simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max. The studio pointed to the coronavirus pandemic as the reason for that controversial policy; it was designed as much to boost HBO Max, which was struggling at the time. Going forward, Warner has pledged to release its biggest films — including four more superhero movies in the coming months — with an old-fashioned “window” of 45 days for exclusive theatrical play.
For the next couple of weeks, Hollywood’s theatrical release calendar remains sparse. After that, a steady stream of big-budget movies should begin arriving in cinemas for the first time in two years. “The Lost City” (Paramount), starring Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum, is scheduled for March 25, with “Morbius” (Sony), “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” (Paramount), “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” (Warner) and “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” (Disney) set to follow.
Last week, Adam Aron, AMC’s colorful chief executive, told analysts on a quarterly conference call that moviegoing is finally poised to bounce back from the pandemic and cited these theatrical exclusives and others as evidence.
“There is so much conventional wisdom floating around that movie theaters cannot coexist and cannot thrive in a world of streaming,” he said. “What a load of cow dung.”
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‘The Batman’ Opens With Blockbuster Ticket Sales