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I keep reading reports that the new Superman movie cost about $300 million to produce but that it will have to make over $600 million worldwide in order to break even. Um, I don't understand that math. Can you please explain?

By: Sarah, Franklin, Tennessee

A.B. Replies: Allow me to paraphrase the late, great Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes in instructing you to whip out those calculators, because I'm gonna break down exactly how a beloved--nay, timeless--American franchise can still cause problems for a movie studio.

First, the costs. Superman Returns had a reported production budget of somewhere around $204 million, if you believe director Bryan Singer; $200 million, if you believe Newsweek; and $260 million, if you believe everybody else. The general rule of thumb in Hollywood is that a movie's marketing budget should match its production budget. If that's the case, we're talking a total cost of $400 million to $520 million. For a single movie.

Now, the income. As of mid last week, this same Superman installment had banked about $142 million for Warner Bros. That would have been mighty impressive a few years ago, but it's nothing these days--especially considering Johnny Depp and his randy pirates have since overrun the streets of Metropolis and are swinging drunkenly from the giant globe atop the Daily Planet building.

In fact, Depp's new Pirates caper earned a record $136 million in its opening weekend alone. Meanwhile, the man in the blue tights seems to be stuck in the phone booth. No wonder Lois Lane won't take him back--it's Jack Sparrow who has all the cash.

According to insiders close to the studio, even a break-even scenario for Superman Returns would mean a loss of face. And breaking even is far from guaranteed.

Quoted in a recent E! Online story, Brandon Gray of BoxOfficeMojo.com said, "Superman's not a slam dunk to reach $200 million domestically."

However, do not be confused into thinking Superman Returns is a full-on box-office bomb. It is neither bomb nor juggernaut, nor any other cliché Hollywood writers like to sling about. It is a potential disaster, like a fat girl waiting to happen, or whatever Cuba Gooding Jr. is up to these days. It is simply too soon to say with certainty that this movie is the equivalent of Kryponite to the bosses at Warners.

Let's see...any other Superman analogies I can use to discuss this film? Ah, it appears I have run out. Oh, wait, here you go. We can now safely say Brandon Routh was not the man of steel Warners hoped he would be. With any luck, he will turn out to be a man of middling value. Perhaps a man of aluminum?