16 July 2006

COMMENT: Superman Returns, Disappoints, May Disappear Again and Take His Friends With Him

The initial weekend estimates are in and, like Lex Luthor with Kryponite, it's bad news for the Man of Steel as Superman Returns pulled in a mere $11.6 million in its third week, bringing its total domestic box office to $163,648,000 and pretty much guaranteeing that it will fall short of the $200m mark that's been rumored as the minimum benchmark to greenlight a sequel. (Or, at least, one with Brian Singer at the helm.) While its 46.7% dropoff wasn't nearly as bad as last weekend's 58.5%, its miserable $3,086/theater average when there was no new direct competition would seem to suggest that lukewarm word of mouth countered its mostly positive reviews and strong, if not overwhelming, opening week at the box office.

Domestically, it's now dead in the water as four major new releases will take over the theaters this coming weekend -- Clerks II, Lady in the Water, Monster House and My Super Ex-Girlfriend -- and Pirates of the Caribbean could drop 70% next weekend and would still easily land in the Top 5. With Devil Wears Prada having a better per-theather average this weekend, it's not impossible to think that Superman Returns could actually fall completely out of the Top 10. The foreign box office numbers for this weekend will be of particular importance then, as it finally opened in several European and Latin American markets, delayed thanks to the World Cup. If it underperforms as some have expected it will, the chances of a sequel become that much more unlikely.

The fates of other DC characters' movie prospects undoubtedly hang in the balance, too, as studio bean counters have to figure out what they can possibly expect from the likes of Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and the Flash -- all of whom would require $125m+ budgets to have a shot at not looking ridiculous on the big screen -- in light of Superman's disappointing performance. If nothing else, tighter budgets will certainly be the rule of thumb, and casting decisions will be made with an eye towards hedging bets, opting for celebrities with demonstrated box office cred, meaning unless Joss Whedon can snag Mel Gibson to play Steve Trevor at a discount, he will likely have to look past his Serenity posse and the rumor du jour, Priyanka Chopra, for Wonder Woman.

Are you ready for Jessica Simpson and her invisible jet? If her latest album doesn't bomb, it's certainly a possibility.

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