Wonder Woman: A Smash, Possibly in Different Ways Than You Think

This next weekend Wonder Woman is very likely to crack the $400 million mark at the  domestic box office, which in itself is a significant feat (only 26 other films in the history of cinema have managed it) but is particular good news for the Warner Bros. studio and its DC universe of films, after the critical failures of the two most recent DC films, Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad, both of which Wonder Woman has now outgrossed…

… Well, sort of. Wonder Woman is the undisputed champ of the three films in the domestic box office arena, but in the global arena, right now (and, given the late date of Wonder Woman’s theatrical run at this point, probably ultimately), Wonder Woman’s overall box office performance is right in line with BvS and Suicide Squad, and both of those films have outperformed WW’s box office in key areas. BvS has a larger global gross ($873 million to $790 million), and Suicide Squad has a larger foreign box office ($420 million to $393 million). At this point, two months since release, it’s possible but unlikely WW might catch up with those numbers (it’ll be easier for the film to pass Suicide’s foreign BO than BvS‘ global). But when all the theatrical grosses are tallied, again, Wonder Woman’s box office performance is likely to be right in line with its DC siblings’ performance.

Given that Wonder Woman’s box office overall is not substantially different than that of BvS or Suicide Squad, why is it being hailed as the savior of the DC universe film franchise? There are a few reasons. One, both BvS and Suicide were critical (if not financial) flops, dark and gritty and depressing slogs that no one really seemed to like all that much, even if the films did in fact pack people into theaters — $330 million and $325 million in domestic grosses are excellent returns. Wonder Woman, on the other hand, was a critical success — which was useful for itself but also deemed important for the future of the DC franchise as a whole. Three critical flops would (presumably) have made it difficult to sell the Avengers-like Justice League film that’s next on the slate.

Two, despite global box office being the primary engine for Hollywood these days, domestic (i.e., US and Canada) box office is still hugely influential in terms of perception. As an example, this summer’s The Mummy is widely considered to be a flop despite the fact that worldwide it’s grossed $400 million to date. Had The Mummy done $200 million domestically and $200 million foreign, it wouldn’t be seen as a flop; if it had done $300 million domestically and $100 million in foreign sales, it’d be one of the summer’s winners. Wonder Woman outgrossed its DC siblings here at home, and “here at home” optics still matter.

Three, the financials of Wonder Woman are probably more advantageous to Warner Bros than BvS or Suicide. First, it was a cheaper film to produce: $125 million, where BvS was twice that, and Suicide was $150 million. Second, Warner (generally) gets to keep more of the money a film grosses domestically than internationally, where the grosses have to be shared with distributing partners and are otherwise divvied up in less advantageous ways.

Finally, because Wonder Woman is a woman-centered superhero film with a woman director, and the common wisdom was that the film outperformed financial expectations. Why this bias persists is a long discussion for another time (it’s worth noting that only one other film has outgrossed Wonder Woman domestically so far this year, and that’s Beauty and the Beast, another woman-focused film, and the one film remaining on the theatrical schedule this year that will outgross it will be The Last Jedi, which also has a woman as the protagonist), but it’s there.

It’s worth pointing out that of the four reasons I’ve given here, three of them are explicitly perceptual, rather than about the financial bottom line, and the one that’s about the financial bottom line is probably the one least publically discussed out of all of them. The perceptual issues aren’t fake issues (I’ll explain why further down) but I think it’s worth pointing out that, perception aside, Warner Bros’ DC universe films from BvS onward are doing just fine financially, with an average box office of $802 million globally between them, and an average domestic gross of $350 million. Which, incidentally, is higher than the average domestic and worldwide gross of the (to date) 16 Marvel cinematic universe movies, which are $306 million and $776 million, respectively.

Which leads me to think a couple of things. The first is that generally film quality doesn’t mean all that much for a superhero film’s box office as long as it has a) brand name recognition and b) some really excellent marketing behind it. Two thirds of the DC films get knocked for being crap, but those two films also outgrossed ten of the sixteen Marvel films both domestically and worldwide, all of which have better critical reputations than BvS or Suicide.

Next up, even if Wonder Woman had been a critical flop, I think it’s an open question as to whether that would have had a major negative impact on the financial performance of Justice League, the next DC film in the release barrel. To be clear, I think Wonder Woman’s critical and perceptual superiority to BvS and Suicide is beneficial — it now means JL is likely to get to or even surpass $1 billion in worldwide grosses (and get more than $400 million domestically). But I suspect that had Wonder Woman not been a perceptual and critical smash, JL would still end up in the same $750 million-to-$850 million range the other DC films have managed to this point. These are essentially fool-proof movies, which all things considered, has been a very good thing for Warners, indeed.

This means I also suspect that even if Wonder Woman had not been a critical success, it still would have done reasonably well at the box office: In the $250 million-to-$300 million range domestically and double that globally. And again that’s down to familiarity and marketing and the long pent-up desire to have a woman superhero head up a movie, and especially Wonder Woman, the best-known woman superhero. The critical/perceptual box office premium here is significant — roughly 25% of the box office gross — and nothing to discount. But recent box office successes in the form of Beauty and the Beast, The Force Awakens and Rogue One shows us that established franchises (Star Wars and Disney live action remakes, respectively) don’t automatically take a financial penalty for having women in the lead role (I’m not even bringing up Twilight or Hunger Games here, which established themselves in the lit world before jumping over to film). Wonder Woman, I think, would have been perfectly financially successful even if it had only been critically received only marginally better than BvS or Suicide Squad.

The real issue here, to my mind, is how there’s still any hesitancy to front women characters in franchises, superhero or otherwise. There’s pretty clearly no significant financial penalty for doing so if your franchise is already up and running and your marketing is focused; honestly, at this point there’s only upside, if you manage to make the film better than its male-focused franchise siblings. That upside is perceptual in the short run, as it largely was here with Wonder Woman. But in the long run it’s likely going to add to your franchise financial bottom line. In this case, Justice League will almost benefit from Wonder Woman’s perceptual halo.

And further out than that — well. It will be interesting to see which film will have the bigger opening weekend: The next Batman, or the next Wonder Woman. I do know which one I am more interested in seeing right now.

55 thoughts on “Wonder Woman: A Smash, Possibly in Different Ways Than You Think

  1. Possibly relevant: My review of Batman v. Superman, when it came out. I liked it just fine, although I knew what I was getting into with a Zach Snyder film. In that piece I also talk money, and to what extent quality matters to the financial bottom line.

    Also, regarding Wonder Woman, I thought it was a solid film with some genuinely great moments, cheapened a bit by the generic boss fight at the end. But Gal Gadot is exceptionally well cast.

    Also also, when doing averages, I totally forgot that Man of Steel exists in this universe. That was $291M domestic/$668M global. Adding that in, the DC current-era films are still in the same ballpark as the Marvel films, average-wise.

  2. I went to see WONDER WOMAN because of the critical praise and tone that were in clear contrast with MoS, BvS, and SQUAD, all of which I skipped. I plan on skipping the future DCU films, too – until the next WONDER WOMAN solo.

    Anecdata-ly, I’ve been hearing a lot of others say the same thing. It wouldn’t surprise me if some of WONDER WOMAN’s momentum does not carry over to the other DCU films.

  3. I think you’re giving short shrift to WW’s financial longevity. As a guy who loves to rag on Zack Snyder’s ridiculous grimdark nonsense, I enjoy pointing out that Suicide Squad and Batman v Superman fell off a cliff after their smash openings – which one might theorize is a pattern you’d see from a movie that had enormous hype but, once audiences could actually see it, terrible word of mouth. Heck, if you look at BvS’s daily receipts, a few weeks in the numbers fall below franchise killers like X-Men 3. *Before adjusting for inflation.* Wonder Woman, by contrast, kept a remarkable percentage of its audience in later weeks. That’s a good sign for a franchise starter!

  4. David:

    I’m not really sure these days that when the money is made makes a real difference. A quarter century ago, studios wanted their movies to stay in theaters as long as possible because they made more of a percentage the longer it stayed out. These days they do their apportioning differently. Which is to say that I don’t think it matters to Warners whether it takes one weekend or two for their film to get to $200 million; that $200 million collects all the same.

  5. John, knowing that you’ve been connected with the film world for a long time, do you have thoughts about comparing film performance by total income instead of audience size?
    I know that it’s a much simpler comparison, given the need to consider both inflation as well as non-box office revenue — but I’ve always felt that comparing eyeballs to eyeballs would offer a much better sense of popularity.

  6. Mark:

    I think for studios and distributors, box office is the accepted way of keeping score. I do think one needs to adjust for inflation over time. But ultimately, popularity (or tickets sold) is less important than money coming in. Incidentally, this is why in some ways box office is ancillary, as I think you acknowledge — Pixar keeps making “Cars” films not because they’re super-hits, but because the merchandising from Cars toys and licensing is an order of magnitude larger than than the film grosses.

  7. A bomb I like to drop into these conversations. Despite being derided as a “Guardians of the Galaxy” rip-off, “Suicide Squad” opened significantly stronger than GotG. The (to my mind, inexplicably) positive word-of-mouth gave GotG longer legs, but only just. It took GotG two full months to overtake SS’s domestic gross, which ended only $8M, about 2.5%, behind the Marvel hit. Not bad for a terrible movie everyone hated to do against a terrible movie everyone loved.

  8. I don’t fully understand the hate that BvS (or Man of Steele, for that matter) receive. I liked them just fine, and a far cry better than the beloved hot mess that Marvel’s Civil War turned into. I know in the lead up it was “Oh, it’s gonna suck!” and by gosh, self fulfilling prophecy.

    I *like* the dark and gritty. It’s almost as if WB decided to take the death and destruction wreaked by these characters seriously. If alien bad guys invade the Earth and some superhero manages to simultaneously save the planet *and* kill thousands of people with the effort, that might not be good material for a light hearted action film.

    I haven’t seen Wonder Woman yet. I don’t know what the spoiler rules are for this particular thread, either. I will check back at my peril. :)

  9. While I acknowledge that a real fight between Superman-level beings on a planetary surface is likely an extinction level event, I don’t want to see a movie about it. That is well past the point where grim-and-gritty is interesting to me (while it definitely is on a small scale).

    I enjoyed Wonder Woman in large part because, despite being set during World War I, it was significantly less grimdark than Man of Steel. (I skipped BvS; the previews and reviews like our esteemed host’s told me I wouldn’t enjoy it.) That’s no mean feat when talking about perhaps the worst war to depict on-screen without sending your audience home to nightmares.

  10. Thanks for the spoiler heads up: I’ll stop reading now and come back to read the comments once I am out of hospital and get to see WW. Something to look forward to!

  11. Thank you! I appreciate all that analysis.

    And for some reason I just hadn’t realized that SS is in the same-ish universe as WW. That’s a pretty spectacular fail on my part.

  12. John,

    How much of this is just the ante for any superhero/fantasy film these days? Hell, Transformers movies all make several hundred million and they’re unmitigated crap. But they’re something to do for people on a weekend – go spend some money, watch stuff blow up/superheroes save the world. There seem to be enough people who just want to do this that almost any competently made film in the genre has to work really hard to not make north of $4-500 million globally.

  13. I think the halo effect will end up being WW’s greatest gift, in the long run. The thing about the DC movies is they tend to bugger the goodwill the audience had going in… and yet they (cleverly? accidentally?) work around it with each successive entry.

    Man of Steel turned a lot of people off with the grimdark brooding*. If they’d said: “Here’s Man of Steel 2!” I think the numbers would have been significantly lower, because folks had been burned the first time around. But instead, they add Batman to the mix, and suddenly everyone thinks: “Hey! A new Batman! Maybe it’ll be OK!” only to discover that no, it’s Man of Steel 2 after all. Suicide Squad played the same trick… “It’s different, you guys! It really is!” But then it’s also a mess.

    They never quite make a SEQUEL to what came before, so the prospective audience can always hold out hope that THIS TIME WILL BE DIFFERENT.

    Eventually, these shenanigans would catch up with them, and I suspect the box office numbers would start to trend downward pretty fast (not like “utter flop” downward, but “hmm, maybe we need a cinematic universe reboot!” downward). WW bought them a new lease on life, because it suggests that there CAN be DC movies that leave you happy and satisfied.

    So the big question is, really, does Justice League extend that feeling, or poison the well all over again?

    *I personally really liked Man of Steel, and thought it had an interesting take on the character, and only really fell apart in the Big Boss Battle at the end (just like WW). But then BvS was such a mess, I was fully prepared to watch Justice League on Netflix in 2020. WW changed that dynamic, easily. Once burned, twice shy, with movie season time delays.

  14. Interesting post. I am one of the millions who will not be seeing the film at the box office or even later when it runs on cable networks. I just never have cared for the comic book superhero universe after Superman, Batman, and Green Lantern in my youth in the sixties. I will be there, though, for the next James Bond film (hear that, Daniel Craig!).

  15. I’m not really sure that averages are a good measure here, for a number of reasons. The first is the sheer number of Marvel films; even if they averaged half the return of the DC films, there’s more (a lot more) than twice as many. Disney are still raking in a lot more money from the MCU than Warner Bros are getting from the DCCU; yes, for every Avengers there’s a Thor, but if you’re going to note that Suicide Squad and BvS did better globally, so did the less popular Marvel movies.

    Secondly, Marvel have been doing this now for almost a decade (counting from the first Iron Man film, released in May 2008). I can’t speak for the US, but it is certainly more expensive to go to the cinema in 2017 than it was in 2008. (I’m assuming the numbers we’re referring to here are not adjusted for inflation).

    All that said Wonder Woman was a great film and I sincerely hope that Justice League will be of similar quality. But Warner Bros are doing great on the small screen – the Arrowverse is certainly at least AS successful as the Marvel small screen efforts (mostly the Netflix stuff, but of course Agents of SHIELD also counts).

  16. Interesting to compare to Dunkirk, which seems to be a big success at the box office but also the critics (something I agree with…seriously, see it in 70mm or iMax film if you can). Looks like it’s up to 234.1 million worldwide. Of course, I don’t see how you can do Dunkirk merchandising. At least I hope not, that would be…so tasteless.

  17. Speaking of merchandising, Wonder Woman has just replaced Elsa in my five year old’s world (she hasn’t seen the movie, but she’s been exposed to advertising which also made us dig up the recent super friends cartoon). Her birthday just happened. She’s got WW dresses, shirts, a swim suit, 1 movie action figure, two super friends action figures (WW and super girl), two WW costumes, one super girl costume, and probably more stuff I’m forgetting. So definitely a hit with ancillary sales. I sure hope they have movie version costumes out by Halloween.

  18. Gary Sturgess
    Boxoffice Mojo has the two series’ totals adjusted for inflation:
    www boxofficemojo com/franchises/chart/?id=avengers.htm
    www boxofficemojo com/franchises/chart/?id=dc.htm
    After the adjustment, DC averages $346M to Marvel’s $330M.
    If you want to account for the number of films, the first four Marvel Cinematic Universe movies were Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, and Thor. (Yes, John, that’s an Oxford comma. Don’t @ me.) The average, inflation adjusted box office of those four film is $278M. No, it’s still not an apples to apples comparison. For one thing, Man of Steel was released a year after the first Avengers movie kinda blew that whole thing up. On the other hand, it also came out only a year after The Dark Knight Rises.
    I’m not sure I understand what you mean about the number of movies Marvel/Disney has made relative to DC/Warners. Disney is making more money in total, sure, but they’re also spending more. Marvel does have an edge overseas on DC ($433M/film unadjusted) over the long haul ($469M/film unadjusted), but not over Marvel’s first four ($244M/film unadjusted, so about $280M adjusted, give or take)

  19. @John – I heard that the studio did noticeably less promotion for WW than it’s male lead/male directed superhero films. Makes me wonder if that was also true internationally, in which case that may be part of the difference in foreign profits. Do you have any knowledge about this?

  20. Reasons WW was so well received (by the public and by most critics) include:

    1. Robin Wright.
    2. Gadot and Pine doing both drama and comedic moments really well.
    3. Diana’s leadership and good character being central to it all.
    4. Refreshing absence of dumb pinup tropes (but the wedge heels were odd).
    5. Thank you, Amalfi Coast Chamber of Commerce.
    6. Even the minor characters were well drawn.
    7. Robin Wright.

  21. I enjoyed the hell out of Wonder Woman and want to see it again. I didn’t like Man Of Steel and didn’t mind BvS. I have no desire to see either of them again, and the deadly collateral damage is at least part of that. Don’t argue it’s more realistic unless you simultaneously deride Superman’s powers. Arguments for realism in comic book stories always seem to boil down to “Break all the laws of physics you want, but I wanna see lots of people die.” Also, someone really needs to explain to me why the Joker is alive in Suicide Squad if Batman is a casual killer.

    Wonder Woman was pretty violent and bleak in parts, too, but it was World War One! That excuses damn near anything. I agree that the final battle was a letdown, but the rest of the movie more than makes up for it. I can’t wait for the sequel.

  22. “The real issue here, to my mind, is how there’s still any hesitancy to front women characters in franchises, superhero or otherwise.”
    They just declare that Wonder Woman was an outlier and thereby hand-wave any evidence women franchise can work.
    Hopefully they won’t do that.

  23. Good piece. Second to last paragraph: “In this case, Justice League will almost benefit from Wonder Woman’s perceptual halo.” Didn’t you intend there to be a “certainly” or similar between “almost” and “benefit”?

  24. I think the halo effect will end up being WW’s greatest gift, in the long run. The thing about the DC movies is they tend to bugger the goodwill the audience had going in… and yet they (cleverly? accidentally?) work around it with each successive entry.

    Man of Steel turned a lot of people off with the grimdark brooding*. If they’d said: “Here’s Man of Steel 2!” I think the numbers would have been significantly lower, because folks had been burned the first time around. But instead, they add Batman to the mix, and suddenly everyone thinks: “Hey! A new Batman! Maybe it’ll be OK!” only to discover that no, it’s Man of Steel 2 after all. Suicide Squad played the same trick… “It’s different, you guys! It really is!” But then it’s also a mess.

    They never quite make a SEQUEL to what came before, so the prospective audience can always hold out hope that THIS TIME WILL BE DIFFERENT.

    Eventually, these shenanigans would catch up with them, and I suspect the box office numbers would start to trend downward pretty fast (not like “utter flop” downward, but “hmm, maybe we need a cinematic universe reboot!” downward). But then WW bought them a new lease on life, because it suggests that there CAN be DC movies that leave you happy and satisfied.

    So the big question is, really, does Justice League extend that feeling, or poison the well all over again?

    *I personally really liked Man of Steel, and thought it had an interesting take on the character, and only really fell apart in the Big Boss Battle at the end (just like WW). But then BvS was such a mess, I was fully prepared to watch Justice League on Netflix in 2020. WW changed that dynamic, easily. Once burned, twice shy etc.

  25. On a related note, isn’t it interesting that films that earn back their production costs plus a very healthy profit can still be seen as failures? I do get why the beancounters consider $400 million in earnings better than $300 million in earnings for a film that cost $200 million to make, really I do, but isn’t this a difference that makes no difference? It’s not like the writer, the SFX staff, or pretty much anyone else other than the production companies is earning any more money… unless they happen to have been smart or powerful enough to negotiate points on gross.

  26. @MCM: That was pretty much what I was thinking. Wonder Woman is the only one of these DC movies that will get audiences coming back not just for the famous character they know, but for more like it. It opened smaller than the others but had more staying power. But a solid sequel would probably have the bigger opening weekend too.

  27. My issue with Man of Steel was not that it was grimdark. My issue was that the film betrayed the ethos of what it means to be Superman. A being with almost unlimited power, who could rule the world if he wanted, but who was raised by a salt-of-the-earth family to value those weaker than him and to protect them, no matter the cost. A complete subversion of the nietzschean superman.

    Man of Steel gave us a Superman raised by assholes who taught him that no amount of human life was worth even revealing his identity. His powers were to be hidden even if it meant the death of a significant portion of his hometown’s children, his peers and friends.

    And then, in the climactic battle, there was no real attempt to draw the bad guys away from Metropolis. No risking an advantage to protect an innocent imperiled by their fight. No real offer of himself to save humanity. Just a brutal “war of the gods” with humanity as collateral damage, and the only death he agonized over was the killing of Zod. And then lastly, the cherry on top: Sharing a romantic kiss with Lois while standing in the wreckage of a city that he had a great part in destroying with thousands around him dead and dying.

    That’s just not Superman.

  28. I’d never done the math comparing Marvel to DC in the way you did here – that’s very interesting and not at all what I would have predicted. However, I’d be willing to bet that in it’s in the aftermarket that Marvel really shines. I couldn’t find anything on DCs aftermarket gross, but I did find an old article from 2012 on Ad Age that talks about how in 2011 the Marvel division generated $6 billion in just aftermarket sales – all those toys, shirts, caps, bicycles, etc. really add up for them. I suspect that the movie tie-ins for the DC universe don’t even come close simply because of the perception that the DC movies are the B team. And, of course, it doesn’t hurt that Disney is a marketing machine that is unmatched anywhere in entertainment.

    However, it’s possible that Wonder Woman could help that significantly (and JL if it’s as good). I’m pretty sure that half of under 10 years old crowd of girls that come to my door this Halloween will be wearing a Wonder Woman outfit, for example. If DC can keep cranking out movies with the actual and perceived quality of Wonder Woman, then they can start really cashing in on the aftermarket just like Marvel has.

  29. @Geoff Hart: There’s such an expectations game. The case I think of is the original run of Star Trek movies. The lore is that “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” was an expensive bomb and “The Wrath of Khan” saved the franchise. But “ST:TMP” did pretty big box office and eventually made a huge profit worldwide, significantly more than “Khan” or most of the other movies in the series. It’s just that its expectations were much higher, and it took longer to make the money. Since they cost much less to make and turned a domestic profit quicker, the later movies were smaller risks. Nobody cared if they weren’t as big as “Star Wars”.

  30. I think when comparing movie numbers, people should adjust for inflation *and* population growth. The US has been growing by about 2 million people a year for the last few years. That adds .7% to the number of people that might buy tickets every year. Ten years of that, and you’ve got 7% more potential customers.

    One thing I liked about WW was she starts off as a kid completely infatuated with fighting and naive about power, then she meets the real world and its not so cut and dried as she thought.

    I think they could have continued that a bit more. Maybe have one of Chris Pine’s merry band get killed helping Wonder Woman. She’s a superhero and a god, so she’s probably not going to get PTSD, but if say the sniper guy had done something that saved WW but got himself mortally wounded, and as she watches him die she really gets she cant punch her way out of every problem she faces.

    The movie seemed to spin around her naive view of power crashing into chris pine’s pessimistic view of power. And in the end, chris’s view is maybe shown to be closer to the truth, but chris also changes a bit because he ends up believing in something before he dies. Having someone die in front of her, and no amount of punching can save them, to me, would have helped complete her arc.

    But its a superhero comic book movie, so no one is going to want a mopey wonder woman who is shell shocked. Instead, what we got at the end was a silly boss fight. But still a pretty good movie.

    I only saw the end of BvS. It felt like a half an hour of a boss fight, and a pretty dumb one at that. Fight. Fight. Fight. Fight. Pretty stupid. Then superman “dies”, they have a funeral and all, and in the end, they show the dirt rising up off the coffin. They cant kill superman because he makes them money. So, the true cost of war is always cheapened in movies to keep the possibility of a sequel alive.

    Saw the last hour of Suicide Squad. Wow, that was a bad movie. Every person who were theoretically on the “good” guys side ended up being betrayers, liars, murderers. And the “bad” guys, they just wanted to see their daughter or their puddin or whatever.

    Finally saw Hacksaw Ridge. Thought it was great. They show Doss start out as naive about the world, and gets a rude awakening when he runs into reality. And the movie showed surviving combat as being partly a matter of luck. The guy Doss bonds with ends up dying and Doss cant save him. It shows war as a meat grinder rather than a “the strongest will emerge unscathed” or “the most just will emerge unscathed” that seems to drive most movie nonsense these days.

    WW was probably the closest to showing a reasonable fascimile of the ugliness of war. The sniper had ptsd. The native american points out that his people were wiped out by chris pines people. They save a town only to have it destroyed later. its not the idiotic plot of the pure and righteous good versus they hate us for our freedom evil doers.

    Something tells me they will have a hard time holding onto that when it comes time for Justice League to come out.

  31. Merchandising may be hard to compare between DC and Marvel because DC’s superheroes were more iconic to begin with. People will buy stuff with the Superman logo on it regardless of how good the latest Superman movie is, because they like Superman. The only Marvel characters who even approach that are Spider-Man and the Hulk, and for a long time Marvel Studios couldn’t even use Spidey. But Iron Man became a beloved top-tier character entirely because of their movies; he’d been a second-stringer before. Most of the others became way more visible too.

  32. “I’m not even bringing up Twilight or Hunger Games here, which established themselves in the lit world before jumping over to film”

    But you are; bringing them up is exactly what you did there.

  33. Another thing to consider domestically is that Wonder Woman also is one of the rare films in that it continues to perform well weekly, and as theaters start getting a higher percentage of ticket sales as time goes on they’re probably loving Wonder Woman. I’m also not sure how much licensing plays into critical success either, though common sense would say that people would probably buy more toys, t-shirts, etc than one less liked. Licensing is also where studios make a lot of money, no division of ticket sale costs there :)

  34. I tend to refer back to Edward Jay Epstein’s Hollywood Accountant 2.0, an entertaining read that illustrates how Hollywood actually makes their money. It’s been updated once, but is still fairly topical. It illuminates a lot of popular misconceptions about the film industry in general. For example, Box Office receipts now compromise only about %17 of a film’s take. Why? Because things like Package Deals, Streaming Distributions, international partnerships, marketing relationships, product placements and so on make it a very complicated affair. Very few movies ever actually LOSE money…and those that do often are part of a larger ecosystem where one failure is offset by a success. With the exception of the rare actual flop like John Carter, most films are at break-even BEFORE they ever hit the theater. HBO/Starz/Your local cable Provider/Netflix have all purchased distribution rights; international partners paid to share rights in their country; some companies paid to make sure that all the cars are Ford brands or that the characters drink beer ‘X’; Tax credits were given from the shooting locations (A reason Georgia is suddenly a hot place to film, as Canada has long been, and why Gotham is in both Pittsburgh and Detroit).

    In short, Hollywood isn’t in the habit of gambling, despite what the entertainment media would tell you. Hollywood is very careful to avoid losing money on any film if they can avoid it. A film might not make the money they wanted it to, but that’s not the same thing as actually flopping. And some films were never expected to make a profit, they were just made as part of a deal to provide X number of films to parties like HBO or Xfinity.

  35. Matt McIrvin: Speaking as the parent of two (marginally) superhero-movie-aged kids, I suspect critical success of the movie has a significant impact on the merchandising. Standing in the toystore, *I’d* rather buy toys associated with a movie that didn’t suck – so I point my kids that way – and honestly DC’s whole grimdark schtick means my kids can’t watch the movie, and they don’t appreciate the packaging, etc. etc. DC might be trying to position themselves as the “adult” franchise (and one notable thing about Wonder Woman is how kid-friendly it actually is: Diana sets her beer down untouched before she goes up to share Steve Trevor’s hotel room with him), but I’m fairly sure they’re trading front end profits (ticket sales) for back-end profits (action figure and clothing sales).

    Also of note, my daughter didn’t want *anything* to do with the DC universe until DC Superhero Girls came out a year ago. She walked in on us watching the end of BvS, and now her big observation is “Superman died. SuperGIRL (who is part of the DCSG franchise) has never died!”. So apparently, lady superheros for the win.

  36. Greg:
    “I think when comparing movie numbers, people should adjust for inflation *and* population growth. The US has been growing by about 2 million people a year for the last few years. That adds .7% to the number of people that might buy tickets every year. Ten years of that, and you’ve got 7% more potential customers.”

    That depends on what aspect of a film’s achievement you’re interested in.

    Do you care about the success of a film as entertainment? As a work of artistic merit and critical acclaim? As a business venture? Or as a popularity contest? Your analysis, of box office take adjusted for inflation and for population (i.e. not ticket sales but ticket sales per capita) is only relevant to the very last consideration, and wow I so do not care about that.

    I care very much about whether I personally find a film to be entertaining. I care quite a lot about whether a film is actually good and whether it gains positive reviews from critics, because those things tend to correlate strongly (though not perfectly) with whether I enjoy it.

    After that, my concern drops off tremendously. I am very glad that Wonder Woman is doing better (domestically) that MoS and BvS and SS, because that give the studios a clear financial incentive to try to do more things like it, including, as our host points out, maybe finally getting their collective heads out of their collective assess and realizing that making more films with female directors and (not hypersexualized) female leads can actually still make money.

    But box office success and whether a film is good or (to me) enjoyable are often not at all connected, so I don’t care, directly, about whether a film is a commercial success. Never seen a Furious movie, never will, and the fact that it’s a highly popular five billion dollar franchise won’t change that. I don’t resent their existence, though, because that’s five billion that employed a lot of people and made a lot of investors happy and makes it more likely that the studio can make a movie that I *will* enjoy. (Oh. Except that Furious is Universal and Universal hasn’t made anything I wanted to see since, like, the Bourne Trilogy, so maybe that’s a bad example.) The commercial success of a film is irrelevant to my personal enjoyment, but I prefer movies to be successful because successful movies make for a healthy film industry, and I get a lot of value from the product of that industry. If the kind of movies I enjoy are also the successful ones, then that makes it more likely that there will be more movies that I will enjoy, so so much the better.

    But whether a movie is *popular*? The percentage of the population that sees a film? Meh. Don’t care.

  37. Stephen: I think popularity probably matters more for merchandising than for everything else, but I think Greg has a good point that we tend to construe “groundbeaking film that everyone wants to see” with “huge box office earnings” which can make films showing NOW seem like bigger deals than films that showed 2, 3 or 10 years ago. Think of it this way: A film’s capacity to shape the culture around it is in part determined by the number of people who come to see it. So a film that hauled out 15% of the population 10 years ago is arguably more influential than one that hauled out 10% of the population this year, even though this year’s film is likely to make more money.

    Box office earnings are still a less than perfect measure (I know people who saw Titanic 7 times while it was still in theaters, no way to differentiate that from 7 unique people seeing it), but if you adjust for population AND for inflation, you can see how, say, Empire Strikes Back reached more people proportionately – and therefore had a more widespread impact on our culture – than BvS did. Popularity might not be a good stand-in for how GOOD the film is (see: everyone who’s ever gone to a movie they did not like because of misleading marketing or for a social connection), but it’s probably a decent stand-in for the impact that film had on (and the national mood affecting) the way we sought out, consumed, and perceived films, franchises, and storylines that year.

  38. @Whomever, I haven’t had time to see Dunkirk yet, but it’s on my list. (I don’t know if I’ll go to an IMAX showing, 3D effects give me a headache.) But while it’s not “merchandising” per se, I have seen tie-in commercials for a couple videogames set in the WWII era. The basic tenor of the ads is “Go see Dunkirk, then continue the battle with {insert game title here}”. It seems a bit odd to me, but I’m also _so_ not the target demographic for those ads.

  39. @MCM – You just described The Sonic Cycle, which is something old school Sega fans have been going through for ages. Start with a property with a lot of good will and a large fanbase, then keep releasing entries that do something different and THIS TIME it will be good again!

  40. @ Leah don’t worry, I don’t believe they are doing it in 3D (I actually am not a 3D fan also). It was shot in actual, honest, old school, 15/70mm IMAX film, not digital (the inside scenes were done in 70mm). Nolan is a huge “use film” fan. But aside from that, I remember noticing things like “wow, the sound editing on this is amazing”. Sad about the tie ins but I guess that’s life, it’s very much NOT a “rah rah” movie, quite the opposite.

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  42. Two more comments:
    It’s worth noting that the really good action scene that added to the character (Wonder Woman crossing No Man’s Land) was one the director had to fight for, because the studio thought it pointless and wanted it cut. The stupid “boss fight” was what the studio was looking for.

    Also, as a woman in the sciences, I was thrilled to see a woman as the evil science genius. You never get that in movies (Austin Powers doesn’t count, it’s a spoof). My women friends in STEM fields all were excited to see her.

  43. @Greg
    Well, they did kill off Steve Trevor, so decimating his band would have a rather diluted effect , at best.
    More to the point, something I really liked about Wonder Woman, as opposed to the rest of the DC Movies, is that she can emphasize and care about other people without needing to have some grand revelation driven by a personal tragedy.

  44. The toher thing going on that is raising Wonder Woman’s profile with the younger crowd is the Superhero Girls line of toys and videos. Note that Hallmark has a Superhero Girls Wonder Woman ornament this year, not one based on the movie.

    As a long time DC reader, I was not that enthralled by the recent DC movies, but really enjoyed Wonder Woman. Still have reservations on the Justice League movie, mainly due to the Apoklips focus (mixed in with the return of Superman). I do very much enjoy the TV adaptations, though.

  45. Supergirl died, to save Superman and everyone else in the multi-verse. Then she never existed, but some of us remember.

  46. Boxoffice Mojo does estimated ticket sales, too.
    DCEU: average 39M/film
    MCU: average 37M/film
    MCU first 4: average 31M/film

  47. I couldn’t stand the racist caricatures–I mean, the Legally Not Captain America’s Howling Commandos–and hated the misuse of the historical setting, but I broadly enjoyed the movie, loved the middle third, was let down by Ares in general. Still, WW had one key advantage over the other DCEU movies.

    It was FUN. Fun to watch, fun to cheer for, fun to laugh along with, even if they did make all the Germans (inaccurately) into generic Hogan’s Heroes cheesecake Nazis, even if they completely left “what did Diana do during World War 2?” unanswered (did she SERIOUSLY just sit through the Holocaust, or does history look completely different in the DCEU???), even if there were those tired racist cliches that they called a supporting cast. I had fun seeing Diana kick ass, I had FUN cheering her on and crying for her and d’awwing at her and Chris Pine’s Mandatory Romance (which was handled pretty well, I thought). That’s given the movie much more staying power–that, and the fact that Cars 3, Transformers 5, and Why Did Anyone Give Alex Kurtzman The Helm Of A Mummy Movie? were all complete roadkill.

    Hopefully Justice League will continue the trend, and if that’s roadkill too, hopefully DC will see the light and just spin off a whole Wonder Woman-focused universe and have her kick every bad guy’s ass. Because that would be super fun.

  48. In the comics, either Diana or her mother was active as Wonder Woman during WWII, depending on the continuity. When I was reading, the reason they didn’t just win the war was that Hitler had the Spear Of Destiny, which let him control any super powered being who came within its sphere of influence, which was all of Europe. So the powerhouses had to sit it out, and only the unpowered heros were able to participate. It’s far from the best explanation, but it works.

    Something similar kept them out of the Pacific War, but I don’t recall the details.

  49. Yeah. The DC movies have actually made good money while getting panned. So Warner doesn’t care that they stink, and Zack Snyder rules the DCEUniverse like any stereotypical supervillain.
    How much more they might have made if they’d been better movies is hard to determine. Superman and Batman have brand and nostalgia power that Marvel can only dream of matching. They were the first. Even Wonder Woman is an older and stronger brand than anything Marvel has on offer.
    People who aren’t comics fans know Superman, Batman, Wonderwoman, and Spiderman. That might be it. (Interestingly, the latest Spiderman movie was pretty good but has “only” grossed about $650 million so far.)

    I’d argue that, especially absent Spiderman, the Marvel movies transcended their mediocre stable of heroes dramatically. Antman? Thor? Ironman? Not first-stringers. (my favorites growing up were the X-men. I find Fox’s take on them fine, but those movies a bit tedious, unfortunately.)

  50. Stephen: “I care very much about whether I personally find a film to be entertaining”

    Well, that is a function of you personally seeing the film and giving your personal thumbs up, thumbs down. When we want to talk about whether *everyone* finds the movie to be entertaining, we need some form of statistic. Often that statistic is movie ticket sales in dollars, but then it has to be adjusted for inflation. I think the total number of people who see a movie, as a percentage of the current population would be a good aggregate indicator, because it doesnt have to be adjusted for anything else.

    If 10 million people see movie A, and 30 million people see movie B, and both movies came out with 300 million people in the country, then B is about 3 times better then A. But if A came out when the country only had 100 million, then I think both movies should be considered about equal in quality.

    Thats using numbers to make the math easier and obvious, but i think the principle applies when the population is 300million and then 330 million.

    Morgan: “Well, they did kill off Steve Trevor”

    But he left while she was only semi conscious and fighting the boss, so she didnt really have a say in his leaving. She didnt have to face her limitations the way she would have if she had to consciously agree that him leaving and dying was the only solution.

    It can be done in a ham handed way, but peter parker watching his uncle die because he didnt stop the theif and the he is unable to save his uncle is really putting the responsibility for his actions and the limitations of his power in focus.

    Diana was eager to learn how to fight and eager to fight and eager to kill ares, and having her face the consequences of her actions and the limitations of her power, and do it on a personal level, would have made her evolution as a character more powerful and personal.

    I dont think she ever directly faced the real cost of war versus her naive view of war. Or at least, as eager as she was to fight, I think they needed to show her face the reality of war a bit more than they did.

  51. 538 did some interesting analysis of profits compared to whether movies pass or fail the Bechdel Test, and found that overall financials didn’t match up with the general perception that women-fronted movies aren’t profitable.

    “Hollywood is the business of making money. Since our data demonstrates that films containing meaningful interactions between women do better at the box office than movies that don’t, it may be only a matter of time before the data of dollars and cents overcomes the rumors and prejudices defining the budgeting process of films for, by and about women.”

    https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/the-dollar-and-cents-case-against-hollywoods-exclusion-of-women/

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