Watchmen's opening weekend gross of $55.7 million was, depending on whom you listen to, either a triumph or a disappointment. But what really happened this weekend, and what does it mean?
Firstly, to placate the nervous: Yes, $55.7 million is a lot of money; Watchmen's first weekend is the third-largest March opening of all time (even including adjustments for inflation), second largest IMAX opening (behind The Dark Knight), 12th largest superhero movie opening (20th when adjusted for inflation) and 6th largest R-rated opening (14th when adjusted for inflation), none of which is to be laughed at. Furthermore, Warners domestic distribution president Dan Fellman has said that the studio is "pleased" with the opening weekend. The New York Daily News is even predicting that the movie's success will usher in even more superhero movies - although, admittedly, the examples it cites were all greenlit before the movie opened.
(And you knew there was a "however," didn't you?)
Even ignoring the fact that all the talk of Watchmen beating Zack Snyder's previous movie, 300 to take the March crown was optimistic at best (Although I'm unconvinced by the "The length of the movie meant that it never had a chance" arguments, I have to admit; Watchmen is only 13 minutes longer than The Dark Knight, after all, and the latter outperformed the former by more than 100% per theatre in its opening weekend), there are still signs that Watchmen's performance may cause headaches for its producers after all. The worrying drops of the three days from the movie's weekend - $25 million to $19 million to $11 million - is noteworthy, although whether it's because of negative word of mouth or simply what happens when all the fans see the movie on opening night and then you're left with an somewhat-disinterested general public is open to question. We'll get to see in following days, and especially this coming weekend, whether non-fans are taking to the movie (as well as, perhaps, how much repeat business the movie gets from its most eager supporters).
More worrying to those involved now, however, is whether Watchmen will make any money for Warners at all in its initial run; the Hollywood Reporter isn't sure that it will:
Judging by a NYU's professor's regression model on how opening weekend box office numbers predict total movie grosses, and adjusting downward due to expected higher-than-normal opening weekend geek fandom, we'd expect this film to eventually gross about, or just above, $130 million domestically when all is said and done (Paramount holds overseas rights). Funny enough, that happens to be the same figure as the reported budget of the film.
That's not factoring in the money spent on promotion or the payout that Warners owes to Fox as a result of the lawsuit, of course (which may go as high as 8.5% of Warner's take). While Devin Chud is right that pretty much all movies make money at some point of their existence - especially considering the inevitability of numerous "Director's Cut" versions on DVD in the future selling to the hardcore fanbase - there's no escaping the fact that, if the Reporter's projections are right and this movie doesn't turn a profit for Warners in theaters, Watchmen's performance can definitely be viewed as a disappointment.
All of this may be beside the point for some; there is definitely an argument to be made that like it or not, the fact that the movie was made at all could be considered an achievement, and a more important one than box office could ever be (Man, where were those people when Speed Racer tanked?), but it'd be shortsighted at best to think that Watchmen's performance is entirely unimportant or won't affect other unknown comic properties. For now, we're all watching Watchmen... if only to see whether the movie will, accidentally, have as big an effect on superhero movies as the comic did on superhero comics.