Superman, By The Numbers
Posted by Balcony Fool on August 26, 2008
Apologies for having disappeared over the last few weeks. I hate it when personal matters get in the way of obsessing about movies. I know, you do too. Shhhhhh.
Following up on our previous Superman discussion, it appears Warner Brothers has officially decided to reboot the franchise, just two years after the release of the last film. Per this interview with the Wall Street Journal, WB president Jeff Robinov states:
“Superman didn’t quite work as a film in the way that we wanted it to,” says Mr. Robinov. “It didn’t position the character the way he needed to be positioned.” “Had Superman worked in 2006, we would have had a movie for Christmas of this year or 2009,” he adds. “But now the plan is just to reintroduce Superman…”
I’m against a reboot, but most of the message boards I frequent have received this news with great rejoicing, so there you have it.
However, I am sick to death of hearing people say Superman Returns was a “bomb.” I’m not usually a numbers guy, but this angle really annoys me so I took a quick trip to The Numbers and did a little research.
Superman Returns had DVD sales of around $81 million. WB sold the television rights for about $20 million, and merchandising revenue was “more than $60 million.” So that’s $160 million dollars that WB is in the clear. Subtract the $40 million dollar advertising budget, and that leaves them $120 million dollars ahead of the game before you even begin counting box office revenue.
So for the movie to be profitable, they needed to bring in more than $150 million. The movie brought in $391 million. Let’s give the theaters a generous 25% of the box office. That leaves WB with $293 million.
In other words, on a film that cost an absurd $270 million dollars, they managed to make a clear profit of $140 million (and, technically, Australia gave them a $28 million tax break, so they actually cleared about $168 million). That’s fairly amazing, especially considering many fans didn’t like the movie.
Could that pot have been sweeter? Sure. WB execs no doubt had visions of Spider-Man revenue dancing in their heads. Unfortunately, the flick just wasn’t as well-received as Spider-Man, and the studio lit a fair amount of their own potential profit on fire. For one thing, $40 million dollars of that budget comes from failed development over the last ten years. Seriously. They paid various parties $40 million to not make the movie. The remaining budget of $230 million is ludicrous for any film. No reason that movie needed to cost more than $180 million (especially given how little of that money was onscreen).
If $168 million isn’t an acceptable profit, they simply need to put the sequel on a reasonable budget, make it shorter, and require more action from the script. The average moviegoer isn’t as discerning as the fanboys. If they’re interested in Superman, they’re not going to stay home just because the last one wasn’t very good. The Star Wars prequels proved that. And The Incredible Hulk proved that a reboot won’t necessarily bring in a bigger audience.
So can we put to rest this nonsense about Superman Returns being a failure? Movies that fail don’t make $391 million. Movies that are mismanaged, however, can sell $391 million worth of tickets and still not meet profit expectations.