Batman V Superman Has Always Been a Gamble -- But That's Okay


There's been a lot of talk that Warner Bros. is concerned with Batman V Superman, and that anything short of an incredible box office performance could change the face of Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment's planned slate of movies.

The reporting is largely centered on a video released by Hitfix, in which blogger/commentator Drew McWeeny mentioned anonymous sources close at Warner Bros. who claimed reactions to the film are not what the studio has been "expecting."

He suggested that responses to both Lex Luthor and Batman have been strong, so the focus might shift from building a Zack Snyder-led Justice League movie to building a Batman solo film directed by star Ben Affleck. This would, of course, not only throw off the film slate DC revealed in late 2014, but would be a huge vote of no-confidence in Snyder, who has heretofore served as the "showrunner" for the DC movies since he shot both Man of Steel and Batman V Superman, and is slated to helm the first two Justice League movies. If Batman V Superman doesn't make a billion dollars at the box office, McWeeny argues, heads will roll.

These remarks come in the context of a movie that's just over a month away, so there have been a few small screenings, but no major fan events or critical screenings just yet. Up until now, studio screenings have been described as ecstatic. And obviously nobody in any position to say anything to the contrary is going to do so on the record with so much on the line. So it's been a captivating conversation, especially for those who didn't like Man of Steel and are concerned with the dark look of Batman V Superman -- a look that's dominated all of Snyder's films both for Warner Bros./DC and elsewhere.

Here's the thing, though: Aside from putting it in a slightly more cautionary/negative light, there's no new information here. Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice literally tells you in the title that it's going to be laying the groundwork for Justice League and, in that way, it's putting a ton on the line. It isn't just the $200 million or so earmarked for this movie, but it's casting a half-dozen other superheroes. It's building a universe that Warner Bros. is now committed to, so that if this film were to fail it has the potential of dragging down Suicide Squad, which features Affleck's Batman, and Wonder Woman, which features Gal Gadot in her second time out as the character, with it.

The other side of that, of course, is that if it makes a ton of money, it's likely to be a boon for those projects. Will it make $1 billion? It's hard to ever guarantee that any given film is going to earn that kind of money -- only 24 movies have done that, ever -- but given the fact that two of those movies featured Batman and Man of Steel earned about $700 million it's not implausible. The Dark Knight Rises, which was significantly less well-loved than The Dark Knight, earned about $100 million more at the global box office due in large part to changes to the market, which has continued to be kind to almost every superhero movie that's come along.

And if it doesn't? Well, Days of Future Past made $750 million, blowing away both expectations and the previous X-Men films.

And, yes -- if the movie doesn't perform as well as Warner Bros. wants, heads may roll. It may change the face of DC's slate somewhat. That wouldn't be unprecedented, either; Marvel's slates have undergone a number of changes, including recently pushing back Captain Marvel to accommodate an Ant-Man sequel because response to that character was far better than Marvel Studios had apparently expected. And while none of Marvel's changes have been as dramatic as shifting a Justice League film would be, I remain unconvinced that Justice League will be back-burnered as long as Warners has any kind of faith in DC's slate.

Will we see a Ben Affleck Batman slip into a slot previously occupied by a less-marketable hero to get him front and center and get the DC brand on more stable footing? That wouldn't be surprising at all...not that it would have been at any point along the way. Warners has been more comfortable marketing Batman than anything else in their IP library for literally decades now, and Suicide Squad is a movie that leans heavily on the Batman mythology, making an Affleck-centric follow-up seem almost inevitable.

That said, if Affleck's Batman and Eisenberg's Luthor (who could easily play a role in a Suicide Squad follow-up, if Batman V Superman underperforms and Warners goes all-in on Squad, as the Hitfix report suggested) are still being groomed, it means this generation of actors is unlikely to be replaced en masse.

Even if Snyder were to be shown the door -- which would be difficult to imagine, so long as the film is profitable at all, given how well-liked he seems to be at Warners -- filmmakers like James Wan, who's signed on to helm Aquaman, are fully capable of contributing their solo chapters without Snyder, so long as Warner were to put somebody in charge of guiding the larger picture. Wonder Woman is about halfway done shooting, and Patty Jenkins is not only one of the most sought-after directors in Hollywood but somebody who brings with her a ton of positive buzz. Unless that movie, too, were to bomb, it's hard to see Warners pulling the chute on this iteration of the DC Extended Universe.

What this report seems to do is to pull a handful of bits of conventional wisdom together and put them in a foreboding light. "If this movie, which cost $400 million to produce and market, doesn't do well, then people at the studio will be in trouble and could lose their jobs."

Sure. Fair. But it would be virtually impossible for the film not to be profitable. Even ignoring the international market -- which was kinder to Man of Steel than the U.S. box office was to the tune of about $150 million -- you have things like promotional partnerships. When Man of Steel happened, it generated $160 million in product placement, endorsement, and other tie-in revenue before the movie ever even made it to theaters. That means in spite of a massive marketing blitz by Warner Bros., they basically sold that film to audiences for free, and when the movie made less at the box office than a lot of people expected, that blow was lessened by a hundred million bucks.

This time around, we got Turkish Airlines to pay for Super Bowl spots, Doctor Pepper to sponsor the tie-in digital comic, and who knows what else?

And with Batman and Wonder Woman, there's plenty more toys to sell this time around. Superman hasn't sold as well in the toy aisle as Batman has in years. Warner Bros. Consumer Products, which brings in the bucks from those t-shirts, backpacks, school supplies and the like, brings in a TON of cash, and its omnipresence shows a level of studio support that few films get. Probably the last time it happened at Warners was with the Harry Potter movies.

You also have the naked spectacle of what's going on in the film. While Marvel's movies have generated ever-increasing sums of money, they haven't been able to successfully recreate the sense of "event" that Marvel's The Avengers produced simply because you can only do that for the first time once. Batman V Superman has the misfortune of coming after The Avengers in that sense, but it's also the first time we've seen Batman and Superman onscreen together, and the first time fans will ever have been able to see Wonder Woman, Aquaman or The Flash on the big screen at all. All of that is nothing to disregard when considering the "want-to-see" factor, which is currently sitting at 99% on Rotten Tomatoes, on the same pace as Marvel's and Fox's upcoming comic book offerings.

What it all boils down to is this: speculation that Warners has suddenly turned cold on Snyder and Batman V Superman is simply the kind of thing that won't be verifiable until long after the film is released, in all likelihood. It is -- and always has been -- far too important not only to DC's slate but to the studio's big picture for anyone to publicly tank it prior to release.

And while it's interesting to speculate, the reality is, the movie is essentially guaranteed to make money. How much? And will it be enough for a studio expecting it to launch the next big franchise? Frankly, it probably doesn't matter, as far as the fans are concerned.

Even in the context of the doom-and-gloom Hitfix report, the worst-case scenario still seems to mean a continuation of the existing set of films, albeit in a slightly different way. And if Batman V Superman doesn't do what Warner hopes, but Suicide Squad -- which seems to be getting responses so giddy they rival Deadpool's -- overperforms, that could mean that any adjustments made to the schedule could, Marvel-style, be played down as a studio eager to capitalize on their successes.

It would likely take either an abject disaster -- which at this point seems unlikely given the advance buzz -- or a second disappointment from Suicide Squad or Wonder Woman to precipitate the kind of seismic shift some fans and bloggers seem to be bracing themselves for.