Summer 2015 just got a lot less crowded last night, as Warner Bros. announced that they were delaying their proverbial Man Of Steel 2 from July 17th, 2015 release date to a new May 6th, 2016 date. The move isn’t a surprise, since there have been rumblings about problems behind the scenes, with creative differences over just what the film was supposed to be. Is is a true Man Of Steel sequel? Is it a backdoor Justice League film? Will the Wonder Twins make a cameo? At heart, the project seemed the result of Warner Bros. and DC Comics needing to announce something “cool” for last year’s San Diego Comic Con (“It’s Superman… vs. Batman!”) and then figuring out how to make a movie off of that pitch in just two years. Putting aside rumors about Ben Affleck sustaining an injury, the extra ten months gives everyone a chance to slow down and find their bearings. But the real surprise is Warner Bros.’ choice of a new release date. They are sacrificing their best release date merely to play a game of chicken with Disney.
Warner Bros. is choosing May 6th, 2016 to open their Batman vs. Superman adventure in the summer kick-off slot. Putting aside that Marvel actually has an “untitled Marvel movie” set to open on that date as well (I’ll get to that in a moment), this is literally the first time that a Warner Bros. movie will have kicked off the summer season since they basically invented they redefined how early summer could start with Twister‘s near-record $40m debut in 1996 (the fifth-biggest opening weekend at the time. That’s obviously one of the best opening days on the calendar, by virtue of being the first out of the gate. Putting aside obvious mega-openings Spider-Man ($114m in 2002) or Deep Impact ($41m in 1998), it’s safe to say that being the first major summer film provided a cushion for otherwise questionable propositions to flourish. Would The Mummy have opened with $43m in 1999 if it were just another summer would-be blockbuster? And surely Van Helsing only opened with $51m because it broke the fast.
But it’s prime real estate that has almost exclusively been held by Marvel films since Spider-Man in 2002. Aside from 2004 (Van Helsing), 2005 (Kingdom of Heaven) and 2006 (Mission: Impossible III), every summer since 2002 has started with a Marvel Comics film. If Marvel blinks, it will be the first time a non-Marvel film has kicked off the summer in a decade. That Warner Bros. is trying to “free” that prime release date is interesting and arguably beneficial to studios that don’t have Marvel movies to drop in that prime date. But in all seriousness, this is at the moment a d***-measuring contest. DC Comics is planting their prized tentpole in Marvel’s backyard and daring it to run scared.
I don’t know if Marvel will run away, and I’d argue it depends on what that mysterious Phase 3 Marvel film happens to be. If it’s something original like Doctor Strange, they will probably bolt. If it’s Thor 3, I’d imagine they sweat it out. The irony is that all of this is unnecessary, as the would-be game of king of the mountain is costing Warner Bros. their own most valuable release date. I’m talking about their precious and valuable mid-July slot. If Marvel Studios and other Marvel properties have flourished as summer kick-off films, then Warner Bros. has struck gold over and over again in mid-to-late July. It’s basically the second weekend after the Fourth of July holiday, and it’s been Warner Bros. lucky star for nearly ten years.
In 2005, Warner Bros. opened their Tim Burton-helmed Charlie and the Chocolate Factory remake to $56 million. In 2007, they opened Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix in mid-July (the fluke second weekend in July exception to this pattern), primed to release just as the seventh and final book was debuting, and scored a $139m five-day debut. In 2008, they broke protocol and opened The Dark Knight on July 18th, the first Batman film not to open in June, and scored a record $158m debut weekend. In 2009, they infamously delayed Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince from November 2008 to July 17th and scored a $158m five-day debut for their troubles. 2010 was Inception, which was the savior of summer 2010 and scored $62m on opening weekend. 2011 closed out the Harry Potter franchise ($169m, a record at the time) while 2012 closed out the Nolan Dark Knight films ($160m).
2013 was a complicated situation. Warner Bros. opened Man Of Steel in mid-June, the same slot that had flourished in the early 1990?s (the Batman sequels, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves) and even up to 2002 (where Scooby Doo opened to a then-record for June $54m). They stole back the June opening weekend record ($128m in 3.25 days) but fell victim to an uber-crowded summer block heading into the July 4th weekend, something that wouldn’t have happened had it basically closed out the summer as its July releases tended to do. And Warner Bros. had to slot Pacific Rim in the weekend after July 4th weekend because their precious mid-July date was the same weekend as last year’s SDCC, and it faltered domestically. But irony of ironies, the film they did have for July 19th was The Conjuring, which opened with a smashing $41m and had an inexplicably leggy run to help close out the summer. This year Warner has the Wachowskis’ Jupiter Ascending for July 18th, with hopes that it will be the original “savior of the summer” ala Inception.
So when Warner Bros. announced July 17th, 2015 for the release date for their Superman/Batman film, I wasn’t remotely surprised. When I read yesterday that the film was getting delayed not to July 22nd, 2016 (which is currently unoccupied), I was shocked. This whole Superman/Batman vs. Untitled Marvel film doesn’t have to happen. Yes, there is something a little disingenuous about studios calling dibs on a prime release date without even telling anyone what the movie is. It’s akin to calling “Bingo!” before you actually have the bingo. But this is a face-off that hurts both parties, especially when Warner Bros. is sacrificing its own best release date purely as a needless boast.
July 15th, 2015 has Ice Age 5 while July 29th, 2016 has Planet of the Apes 3, but July 22nd, 2016 is wide open. If Marvel runs, then I guess DC scores a token victory and Batman/Superman has a massive opening weekend and gets two weeks before facing off against X-Men: Apocalypse and Alice In Wonderland 2 over Memorial Day weekend. But if Man Of Steel 2 moves to July 22nd, they can still snag a massive opening weekend and basically ride out the rest of the summer on top of the world, with the probable legs to show for it. Putting aside that the current May 6, 2016 date depends on Marvel Studios doing something that is not in their best interest, I would argue that it is more beneficial overall for Batman/Superman to move to its own prime release slot, July 22, 2016.
Yes, I just used the date change to do another covert “box office history” piece, but you probably guessed that after the first paragraph. Should Marvel call DC Comics’ bluff or should it take refuge in the many unoccupied dates between May 6th and July 8th (when their other “untitled Marvel film” opens)? Should Superman/Batman stay put or go for their lucky mid-July release date? Should Chewitel Ejiofor play Lex Luthor or should LexLuthor be played by Chewitel Ejiofor? Sign off below!