Here’s the thing about Wonder Woman’s opening weekend.
It broke a record: biggest opening for a film directed by a woman. It’s a bittersweet record to break, considering how few blockbuster films the Hollywood studio system has deigned to give to women directors over the years. Articles about the film still tout the “strong” opening weekend. They mention the broken record and the “strong domestic box office” of $103 million.
Wonder Woman didn't open strong. In fact, that’s really quite weak for a movie of this type. Stick with me, because it doesn't matter that it didn't open strong. What comes after is much more important.
She Started in Fourth Place…
Man of Steel, Batman v Superman, and Suicide Squad were the first three entries in Warner Bros. shared DC Comics Extended Universe. All three of them had better opening weekends than Wonder Woman. And on the all-time list, Wonder Woman’s opening weekend ranks #40. Adjusted for inflation—which you should always do—the film falls to #64. Iron Man 2, Deadpool, and 2010’s Alice in Wonderland all had better opening weekends. The Secret Life of Pets had a better opening weekend. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man had a better opening weekend, and that was in 2002 dollars.
…But She’s Going to Win in the End
I’m writing this on June 25th, 2017. The final box office numbers aren’t in for the weekend yet, but the estimates put Wonder Woman at $318 million through the weekend. Comparing Wonder Woman estimates to the rest of the DCEU, the film out-paced Batman v Superman either on Saturday (Day 23) or Sunday (Day 24), but it does pass it. The film out-paced Man of Steel on Day 12. It out-paced Suicide Squad on Day 16.
A domestic box office of $318 million in 24 days. Man of Steel didn’t reach that in its entire theatrical run. The other two? They tapped out at $325 million and $330 million.
Wonder Woman is going to crush them both this week.
By the end of the film’s first month of release, Wonder Woman will surpass the entire domestic box office take of each of the other three DCEU movies after opening weaker than all three of them. It's doing Marvel-level business. In fact, adjusted for inflation, it's already 23rd on the list of comic book adaptations. If it lands where I suspect it will, it will beat all but the top five or six Marvel Cinematic Universe films. Unadjusted, it's already 16th and will likely end up beating all but the top four, maybe five, MCU movies.
And I haven’t even talked about the foreign box office numbers.
Why Care About People Talking About the Opening Weekend?
The real story is not only more compelling, it's more important. People are obsessed with opening weekend performance. Movies live and die by it now. Films aren't given a chance to earn business they way they used to be. Look at a movie like WarCraft. Terrible opening weekend, only $24 million, and it ended up with only $47 million domestically. Meanwhile, it opened fairly weak overseas—around $70 million in two weeks before opening here—but pulled in nearly $390 million in total foreign box office. Why? Partly because foreign markets aren't slaves to opening weekends the way we are.
That's what makes Wonder Woman a really important film. It opened weak, and should have had the same second-weekend drop of about 60% as any other comic-book movie. It would not be unreasonable to expect 70%, given the drops suffered by the previous three DCEU movies. But it didn't. Wonder Woman's second weekend drop was only 43.3%. That's not just astounding, but very nearly record-setting. Wonder Woman has the second-lowest second-weekend drop for any super hero movie. Only Sam Raimi's Spider-Man is lower with 37.8%.
The real story, then, is that there is this movie, with so much riding on it, that opened with weak box office numbers, and it steadily gained ground to become the biggest film in its franchise. And not just the biggest film in its franchise, but possibly one of the biggest super hero films of all time.
Okay, but why is that important?
Measuring movies by their opening weekend is bad for movies and it's bad for us as moviegoers. It makes studios less tolerant of risk and it makes us lazy and dumb. It does—when we read that a movie like Pacific Rim had a “terrible opening” so we decide to stay home and catch it on cable, we're making a dumb choice. Wonder Woman didn't open strong and the lesson is that it doesn't matter. Listen to the reviewers. Listen to the audiences. Don't trust the initial numbers because they don't tell you whether a movie is good or not. People do.
This is how we fix the movies. Wonder Woman demonstrated that American audiences are willing to let blockbuster franchise films simmer. That's huge. That just doesn't happen. We could have followed the domestic WarCraft model, where the news would have been, “Well, Wonder Woman opened to less of a box office than all three DCEU movies, so it's a failure. Catch it on HBO sometime.” Instead, Wonder Woman went the way WarCraft did in the foreign markets. Slow start, slow burn, massive success.
And well deserved. It's a wonderful movie and if you haven't seen it yet, you should.
I told you I'd be back this week.