Robert Pattinson could be the hero the box office desperately needs

The Batman could become the second pandemic era movie to earn 100M on the opening weekend

Though movie theater attendance has significantly improved compared to earlier pandemic days, overall ticket sales have been slow to get box office receipts back to pre-COVID levels. “The Batman,” a decidedly grim superhero action-adventure, opens in domestic theaters on Friday and presents the best shot since “Spider-Man: No Way Home” at getting people back to the silver screen in a big way.

The comic book film, starring Robert Pattinson as the Caped Crusader, looks like it will be more than up for the task at hand. “The Batman” is targeting a huge opening weekend, somewhere between $100 million and $125 million at the domestic box office.

Should those estimates hold, “The Batman” would be only the second pandemic-era movie to cross the $100 million mark in a single weekend. (The first was Sony’s “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” which debuted last December to a staggering $260 million.) Given positive early reviews, some box office watchers believe $100 million is actually a conservative projection and wouldn’t be surprised if “The Batman” collected at least $140 million in its first three days of release.Anywhere around $100 million to start would mark a huge win for Warner Bros., which is releasing “The Batman.” After the studio opted to debut its entire 2021 theatrical film slate simultaneously on HBO Max.

The Batman movie review

“The Batman” is the first Warner Bros. movie in over a year to play exclusively in cinemas. With that in mind, it will be an important test of audiences’ desire to watch buzzy movies on the big screen at a time when output from streaming services has never been more prolific. “The Batman” will arrive on HBO Max 45 days after debuting in theaters.

“This is clearly an important film for the industry at large, but also for the studio, [which] is now turning its attention to the ‘theatrical first’ release model for its films moving forward,” Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst with Comscore, says of Warner Bros. “With ‘Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore’ due in April, ‘The Batman’ will set the stage for success for Warner Bros. for the rest of 2022 and beyond in theaters.”

Opening weekend ticket sales for “The Batman” should affirm the decision by Warner Bros. to keep the movie — like all of its 2022 films — only in theaters. That’s because it’s on track to represent the studio’s biggest COVID-era debut by a landslide. Over the past 12 months, when Warners deployed its day-and-date release strategy on HBO Max, director Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune” adaptation landed the biggest three-day total with $41 million. Not only is “The Batman” expected to double that figure (and then some), but it has the potential to generate more money in its opening weekend than any other Warner Bros. pandemic release made in its entire theatrical run. To date, the studio’s highest grossing movies in the last two year were “Godzilla vs. Kong” ($100 million in North America) and “Dune” ($109 million in North America). Other recent Warner Bros. moves, many of which hailed from popular franchises like “The Matrix” and “Space Jam,” fell short of expectations while they were available concurrently on digital platforms. At the same time, theatrical-only releases in late 2021 and 2022, such as “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” “Uncharted,” and Channing Tatum’s canine adventure “Dog,” sold more tickets than anticipated.
Aside from its exclusive theatrical release and Batman’s ubiquity in popular culture, the movie should get a lift from the undeniable fact that superhero movies are all the rage. Plus, it’s rated PG-13. Though director Todd Phillip’s deeply disturbing 2018 film “Joker” became insanely profitable despite its hard R-rating, restricting a movie like “The Batman” from audiences under the age of 17 could be the difference between tens of millions of dollars at the box office. That’s a loss that no studio can afford to withstand at this time. Since the film’s three-hour runtime will limit the number of screenings per day, “The Batman” does not need to erect any more barriers to prevent people from buying tickets — especially since younger moviegoers have been fueling the domestic box office’s recovery. But the less provisional rating doesn’t necessarily mean the film is for the whole family; “The Batman” has been called “unsettling,” “tragic” and “darker than the already-dark Christopher Nolan-directed ‘Dark Knight.’”

The $200 million-budgeted “The Batman” is also one of the few Hollywood movies to secure a release date in China, which is currently the world’s most important moviegoing market. Before the movie opens in China on March 18, it will touch down elsewhere at the international box office starting on Friday. At the 11th hour, however, Warner Bros. pulled “The Batman” from release in Russia “in light of the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine.” The decision comes as Hollywood studios at large have been debating the prospect of releasing content in Russia amid the invasion of Ukraine by Russian military forces. As far as theatrical territories, Russia is not make-or-break, but it has the potential to move the needle. For example, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” generated a robust $44 million there, and “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” made $32 million in the country, making it the second-biggest market for that movie following North America. More recently, Tom Holland’s video game adaptation “Uncharted” grossed $9 million so far in Russia.

Directed by Matt Reeves (“Planet of the Apes”), “The Batman” is unconnected to other DC movies like “Wonder Woman,” “Aquaman,” or the upcoming “The Flash” or “Black Adam.” The story, more film noir than comic book adventure, centers on Bruce Wayne’s earlier days of fighting crime. In his pursuit of justice, the youthful Dark Knight uncovers corruption in Gotham City while pursuing the maniacal killer known as the Riddler (Paul Dano). The star-studded cast includes Zoe Kravitz as Catwoman, Andy Serkis as Batman’s butler Alfred Pennyworth, Colin Farrell as the crime-lord known as Penguin, and Jeffrey Wright as Gotham City’s police chief James Gordon.

Reviews have praised “The Batman” for feeling notably distinct from past adventures centered on Gotham’s ferocious defender, like director Christopher Nolan’s revered “The Dark Knight” trilogy or Ben Affleck’s brooding, middle-aged take on the character in “Batman v. Superman.” At the box office, Batman has been a reliable draw. When it comes to prior iterations, “Batman Begins” is something of an outlier, opening to just $48 million in 2005. But the series later exploded with “The Dark Knight,” which debuted to $158 million in 2008, and “The Dark Knight Rises,” which launched to $160 million in 2012. The final two installments each grossed more than $1 billion worldwide, a milestone that only “Spider-Man: No Way Home” has managed to crack in pandemic times. Affleck’s 2016 film “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” which is not a standalone superhero adventure, opened to $166 million. So it’s impressive that given the still slow-to-recover box office, initial projections for “The Batman” are not far behind those films.

In MarkMeets’ review of “The Batman,” our film critic singled out Reeves for doing “something relatively unique here, at least by comic-book-movie standards.”

“This grounded, frequently brutal and nearly three-hour film noir registers among the best of the genre, even if — or more aptly, because — what makes the film so great is its willingness to dismantle and interrogate the very concept of superheroes,” he wrote.

No doubt Warner Bros. appreciates a good interrogation of genre tropes, but what it really loves most of all is robust box office returns. Look for “The Batman” to deliver on that front,

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Dan Dunn
Dan Dunn
Executive Managing editor

Editor and Admin at MarkMeets since Nov 2012. Columnist, reviewer and entertainment writer and oversees all of the section's news, features and interviews. During his career, he has written for numerous magazines.

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