McGinnis: Why Warner Bros. might not be crazy to move ‘Batman vs. Superman’Written by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
When Warner Bros. — and by extension DC Comics’ film division — announced last month that the upcoming superhero epic “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” would be moving its release date up a few months, it was largely seen as an admission of defeat. Ever since it was revealed that both “Batman v Superman” and Marvel’s “Captain America 3″ were both scheduled to release on the same day, May 6, 2016, it was largely assumed that the two movies were playing a game of chicken, and eventually one of them would flinch.
When DC flinched, though, it was in a much more dramatic matter than anyone would have anticipated. Not only was it revealed that the mega-crossover film which WB has been breathlessly hyping for months would be retreating from the May 6 date, but it would forsake a release in summer of 2016 entirely. “Batman v Superman” would now release over a month earlier — March 25.
Immediately, the pundits cast this as a major win for Marvel. So powerful is the comic book giant’s name in the world of feature films that the idea of facing one of its movies — a solo movie, even — was enough to force DC’s highest profile project to date into a full retreat, not just from the release day, but from the whole summer! Was DC giving up? Was this a sign that “Batman v Superman” wasn’t up to par on a quality level? What could this mean?
Warner Bros. executives were quick to cast this as a strategic move. “The reality now is there really isn’t a bad week to open a movie,” said Dan Fellman, WB’s president of domestic distribution in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. “If you look at the summer box office this year, you can see that there were so many movies, one after the other. You can start with Spider-Man, two weeks later Godzilla, and then Maleficent, and then Edge of Tomorrow, and then Jump Street and Transformers. And the one thing they all had in common, not one of them did over $250 million.”
Was Fellman making excuses in trying to explain away the change? Maybe. But here’s the thing: He’s also not wrong.
The fact of the matter is, the summer movie season has lost a lot of luster over the past few years. Admittedly, profits for feature film releases have been down across the board, so the weakening summer grosses just fit right into the trend. But the fact remains that what used to be the most important time of year for blockbuster releases just doesn’t carry the weight it used to, on a few levels.
It was back in 1975 when Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws” shattered records and packed theaters as the first certifiable summer blockbuster, setting in the mind of studio executives and audiences alike that the months of May, June and July were the peak times to release a major motion picture. Two years later, the release of “Star Wars” set the concept in cement, and from that moment on, the summer movie season became an ever increasing game of one-upmanship, with movies each year attempting to eclipse the previous in terms of spectacle and grosses. “Indiana Jones.” “Ghostbusters.” “Batman.” “Jurassic Park.” If theaters are a marketplace, then the summer was definitely harvest time.
In recent years though, the market has seen a combination of oversaturation and a weakening audience base, leading to several disappointing seasons. Sure, some films will break through and make a mint — Marvel and Pixar productions, the “Dark Knight” films, even (lord help us) the “Transformers” franchise — but it could be argued that those films would be a success no matter when they were released. For the rank-and-file movies released each summer, it seems that the studios’ obsession with filling each weekend with new and big movies simply means that the customers’ attention span is reduced to nil. If a film doesn’t open at number one, it’s branded a disappointment and then quickly forgotten under the tidal wave of new releases every week.
It all culminated in a 2014 summer which saw grosses down almost 25% from the previous year, despite being packed with marquee names, as Fellman pointed out in his interview. Meanwhile, the biggest films of the year remained “The Lego Movie” and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” Ah yes, “Cap 2,” the franchise which “won” and drove “Batman v Superman” back to March in two years, and became this year’s number one film despite being released in…early April, only a week after “BvS” is scheduled to release. And then, of course, “Guardians of the Galaxy” became the year’s biggest film — which, though technically still a “summer blockbuster,” came out in what is usually summer’s weakest month, August.
“Batman v Superman” may indeed disappoint. But if it does, it will have far more to do with audience expectations, marketing hype and — most of all — the quality of the final film, not necessarily when it hits theaters. Superficially, the move may seem crazy. But in an era where blockbusters aren’t always tied to a season anymore, we’ll have to see if WB is crazy like a fox.
Tags: "Jaws", "Jurassic Park", Batman, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Captain America 3, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Dan Fellman, DC Comics, Edge of Tomorrow, Entertainment Weekly, Ghostbusters, Godzilla, Guardians of the Galaxy, Indiana Jones, Jeff McGinnis, Jump Street, Maleficent, Marvel, Pixar, Pop Goes the Cultre, Spider-Man, Star Wars, Steven Spielberg, summer blockbuster, Transformers, Warner Brothers, WB, “The Lego Movie”