Box Office Preview: Will They Watch “Watchmen”?

The geeks are already lining up … but what about the rest of us?

Last Updated: March 7, 2009 @ 10:32 AM

Update: With Thursday midnight preview grosses of $4.6 million (the film also sold out all 124 of those midnight shows that were in IMAX), "Watchmen" earned a total of $25.135 million on Friday, promising a huge weekend for the R-rated comic-book adaptation, according to Media by Numbers.

 

Earlier:

Comic book fans are asking, “Who won’t watch the Watchmen?” But box-office prognosticators aren’t so sure.

 

Warner Bros.’ adaptation of Alan Moore and illustrator Dave Gibbon’s brooding, brilliant graphic novel is a lock sweep into the box office’s number one spot. The film has already sold more advance tickets on MovieTickets.com than director Zach Snyder’s “300” did in 2007.

 

The site also has sold out 80 midnight screenings throughout the country, and "Watchmen” accounts for 82 percent of its ticket sales. On Fandango.com, tickets for “Watchmen” comprise 90 percent of sales.

 

Also, the only other significant opening is Lionsgate’s horror-thriller “Horsemen” in a mere 75 theaters; “Watchmen” will open in a record 3,611.

 

But will it topple Snyder’s “300,” which clobbered the competition in 2007 with a $70 million opening?

 

“I think it will certainly be number one at the box office,” said Joel Cohen, executive vice president and general manager for MovieTickets.com. “I don’t think it’s your typical superhero movie that is stirring up a lot of intrigue.”

 

Dan Fellman, president of Warner Bros. Domestic Theatrical Distribution, declined to predict how many tens of millions of dollars “Watchmen” will reap. But he is optimistic.

 

“Its tracking is excellent. Everybody from 17 year olds to 80 year olds are interested in seeing this movie,” Fellman said. “Warners is well experienced at opening tent-poll movies. That’s what we’re all about.”

 

However, the Los Angeles Times cited recent surveys that found teen-aged and twenty-something males are less interested in “Watchmen” than Warners would prefer.

 

The film’s R rating could shut out younger audiences who are so critical to pushing comics-based movies to new financial heights. Younger fans who manage to sneak into screenings might also be turned off by “Watchmen”’s multiple storylines, complex characters and almost three-hour running time.

 

The film has also garnered mixed reviews.

 

“It’s not a simple movie,” Cohen said. “You have to be willing to dive into a movie like this and try to understand it, or you’re a big fan of this novel and have been waiting for it to come out.”

 

An executive from a rival studio, who declined to be identified, said, “There are two schools of thought: some say it will do $50-60 million, others say it will make $70 million or more. I was in the first school a few weeks ago, but now I’m firmly planted in the later.”

 

But $70 million is a drop in the bucket compared to the $158 million Warners’ “The Dark Knight” claimed in its first weekend or Paramount’s “Iron Man”’s $102 million. Both were rated PG-13.

 

And then there’s the track record of the movies based on Alan Moore’s graphic novels. The three other movie adaptations of his works — “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” “From Hell” and “V for Vendetta” — were box-office disappointments.

 

“Gentlemen” — also an ensemble superhero movie — made $23 million in its opening weekend, almost half of what its competitor “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” made that week. “Hell” was number one on its opening weekend in October 2001, but made only $11 million. And “Vendetta” lost the number-one spot to the 2006 remake of “The Pink Panther.” 

 

Moore and Gibbon’s tome — the only graphic novel on Time magazine’s list of the 100 best English-language novels — has a rabid following among both comics fans and literati. Market research has also found that women and minorities are highly interested in the film – two demographics that have controlled the box office as of late.

 

Female and minority moviegoers were largely responsible for “He’s Just Not That Into You,” “Friday the 13th” and “Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Goes to Jail” breaking records in recent weeks, driving a thriving box office.

 

Why "Watchmen" Is Serious, People

 

How Other Comic Books Fared