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Can Batman Save the Box Office?

Feb 21, 2022


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With box office takings battered by the pandemic and swaths of movie theaters shutting their doors permanently, the global cinema industry is holding out for a superhero. And Batman is ready to answer the call.

There’s much riding on the March 4 release of the latest Caped Crusader movie, The Batman, starring Robert Pattinson. Not only does the film seek to reboot the franchise, it’s also on a mission to reboot moviegoing by packing cinemas worldwide. But, with a dark tone and a nearly three-hour running time, is this really the movie to bring the crowds back?

Hollywood needs it to be. With many cautious film fans choosing to stay home and consumers now conditioned to the pandemic practice of streaming movies instead, box office receipts have not bounced back as hoped from the impact of Covid.

The situation would have been far worse had it not been for Spider-Man: No Way Home swinging into cinemas late in 2021 to become by far the biggest hit of the year. That film earned over $750 million in North America and a further $1 billion in the international box office to almost single handedly save the day. But now it’s up to another superhero to keep filling the seats, and it’s not just Commissioner Gordon sending out the Bat-Signal, but cinema operators the world over. Warner Bros has more riding on this success than anyone, as the new movie is supposed to spawn two sequels and a pair of spin-off TV shows.

Set during Batman’s second year as a crimefighter, The Batman stars Pattinson as a 30-year-old Bruce Wayne/Batman battling the baddies while wrestling with his own demons. The hotly-anticipated film is directed by Matt Reeves, who made the most recent Planet of the Apes movies, and is said to have a noir take on Gotham City.

The producers of the $100 million blockbuster know what’s at stake, but if they are feeling the pressure to deliver, they’re certainly not showing it. Michael Uslan has been a producer on every Batman movie from Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman right through to this latest Caped Crusader caper in 2022. Uslan says the key here is the same as with any other film—to shut out the noise and focus on the things that will bring business success regardless of whether it’s a Batman movie or anything else.

Speaking exclusively to New Thinking, he said: “We are in an industry called ‘show business,’ To me, that means half is ‘show,’ or creative, and the other half is business. I believe that this only works if you have an appreciation for and an understanding of both sides of this coin.”

Also a lecturer and author, Uslan shared the ten rules he has for making a successful motion picture: 1. Story, 2. Story, 3. Story, 4. Story, 5. Story, 6. Character, 7. Character, 8. Character, 9. Story and 10. Story.

Those cover the show side of filmmaking, but for the business side of The Batman, Uslan starts with the same questions he would ask on any movie project: “Those are questions such as: Is this commercially viable, not simply today, but will it be so through a lens looking two or three years from now? Will it play internationally? Is this a potential branded global franchise with possible revenue streams coming also from animation, publishing, location-based entertainment, music, merchandising, NFTs etc? Who is the audience for this? Does it fall within what in the olden days we called a ‘four-quadrant picture?’”

“At the end of the day,” he added, “it’s all ‘show business.’”

Hollywood certainly hopes The Batman delivers in bringing back lost business. But just in case it doesn’t, the industry has taken out an insurance policy—more superhero movies!

The release calendar for 2022 has plenty of them, including Doctor Strange in The Multiverse of Madness on May 6, Thor: Love and Thunder out July 8, Dwayne Johnson in DC’s superhero film Black Adam coming July 29, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever on November 11 and Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom set for December 16.

Also due out on December 16—provided the special effects get finished—is Avatar 2, the sequel to the biggest box office movie of all time. While Avatar 2 is about the closest thing you can get to a sure bet in such an unpredictable business as movies, the filmgoing landscape could look very different by the time it’s released at the end of the year.

Because the question has to be asked: if by then The Batman and his fellow superheroes have failed to deliver big ticket sales, how many cinemas will be left to fill by December?


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