Superman Returns has its first $100 million in the bank. But to pull its own weight, its Man of Steel hero is going to need to pull in more dollars. A lot more.
In the tricky matter that is estimating Hollywood production budgets, Superman Returns has been pegged at as "little" as $204 million (by director Bryan Singer), and as much as $260 million (by BoxOfficeMojo.com, among others).
In its first seven days in theaters, the franchise restarter got about half-way to those benchmarks, with a $108.1 million gross, Exhibitor Relations said Wednesday.
BoxOfficeMojo.com put Superman Returns' first-week gross at $105.1 million, having subtracted the estimated $3 million the movie took in at late-night, sneak-peek screenings last Tuesday.
Either way, the question is: Does Superman Returns have the strength to conquer the next $100 million summit? Or the one after that?
"Superman's not a slam dunk to reach $200 million domestically," BoxOfficeMojo.com's Brandon Gray said Wednesday.
The numbers show Superman Returns is behind the pace of recent summer hits such as War of the Worlds ($121.2 million in its first week), X-Men: The Last Stand ($141.3 million) and Star Wars--Episode III: Revenge of the Sith ($191.4 million). Per BoxOfficeMojo.com's budget estimates, not one of those movies cost more to make than Superman Returns; Revenge of the Sith cost less than half.
Budget-wise, Superman Returns' closet peer is Spider-Man 2. The superhero sequel cost a reported--and whopping--$200 million to produce in 2004. Within a week, its studio, Sony, nearly had its money back, thanks to a $192.1 million first-week take--the biggest ever, per BoxOfficeMojo.com.
According to stats, only 66 movies in Hollywood history have made as much as Singer says Superman Returns cost to make; only 33 have made as much as the $260 million-pushing pundits say it cost to make.
If Superman Returns struggles to break even in theaters, it will have plundered its purpose, observers say.
"When you spend that much money on a picture, the picture is intended to devour the box office," Gray said. "It needs to be better than strong, it needs to be record-breaking."
An unnamed studio executive was even blunter last week with Slate.com: "If what you can say at the end of it all is, 'We broke even,' that's awful."
To cross the $200 million (at least) mark, Superman Returns will have to do much of its work opposite what is expected to be the 800-pound gorilla of the summer box office: The Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, opening Friday.
Publicly, Warner Bros., the studio behind Superman Returns, is not worried about its man in tights. Warners executive Dan Fellman told Monday's Los Angeles Times that the film will be "extremely profitable."
To be sure, Superman Returns has only begun its run--DVD and other ancillary money-making venues await. But in an age where Hollywood hits such as The Da Vinci Code ($211.2 million domestically; $718.7 million worldwide), routinely double, or triple, their pleasure in foreign lands, the international box office is not as kind to superhero movies, Gray argued. Exhibit A: X-Men: The Last Stand, 2006' top-grossing movie to date, which has relied on domestic audiences for the majority of its $425.5 million worldwide ticket sales.
For sheer efficiency, Superman Returns was no match over the Fourth of July holiday for The Devil Wears Prada. The fashionable Meryl Streep comedy strutted home with $40.1 million, or about $5 million more than its estimated budget.
Here's a complete rundown of the Top 10 films for the five-day weekend (Friday-Tuesday), based on stats compiled by Exhibitor Relations:
1. Superman Returns, $76 million.
2. The Devil Wears Prada, $40.1 million
3. Click, $29.1 million
4. Cars, $22.5 million
5. Nacho Libre, $9.7 million
6. The Lake House, $7.1 million
7. The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, $6.3 million
8. Waist Deep, $4.6 million
9. The Break Up, $4.5 million
10. The Da Vinci Code, $3.7 million