The cult graphic novel “Watchmen” flew into this weekend’s No. 1 box-office spot with $55.6 million — a performance that fell below most analysts’ expectations.
Warner Bros’ superhero drama broke out of the gate with an impressive $25 million take on Friday, but Saturday’s earnings were not enough to overtake director Zack Snyder’s “300,” which made $70 million in its March 11, 2007 opening weekend.
Box-office experts had predicted “Watchmen” would land in the $50-70 million range.
Still, “Watchmen’s” $55.6 million take is 2009’s biggest debut so far and the sixth biggest opening ever for an R-rated film. Snyder’s long awaited adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ book is the seventh film Warners has released since November, six of which opened at No. 1.
But there are at least four men — or boys — no one is watching. “Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience” fell hard into the No. 9 spot, taking in only $2.8 million — a 78 percent drop from the $12.7 million it made last weekend. To add insult to injury, almost 7,000 IMDb users have voted it the worst movie of all time.
Dergarabedian chalked up the Brothers’ plummeting numbers to bad press following its disastrous opening weekend. “A movie immediately looses momentum if it doesn’t perform well," he said. "Once so much bad press comes out, people kind of jump on the bandwagon of not wanting to see it. The young kids who were going to see it saw it opening weekend and that was it. A movie like this has a short shelf life.”
Dan Fellman, Warners president of domestic theatrical distribution, said he was very pleased with “Watchmen’s” numbers given the film’s long running time. “You have to remember that the movie is two hours and 45 minutes long,” he said. “With trailers and cleaning and filling the theater, usually it’s a four-hour process. Unfortunately, that makes it difficult if you run one showing at eight – then your next show is at midnight.”
Fellman pointed out that “Watchmen” scored $5.5 million in IMAX theaters — the second largest IMAX opening since “The Dark Knight.”
“I don’t think $70 million is a drop in the bucket and neither is $55 million,” Fellman said.
Paul Dergarabedian of Media by Numbers said box-office prognosticators expected too much from “Watchmen.” “The expectations were way overblown. Snyder has a small but strong track record. ‘300’ was a total surprise and very rarified. All in all, I think ‘Watchmen’ did very well.”
Dergarabedian said that Snyder chose to stay faithful to Moore and Gibbons’ 1986 tome — considered a masterpiece among comic-book fans and the only graphic novel on Time magazine’s list of the 100 best English-language novels — rather than minimize its violent story line for a PG-13 rating.
“I like that they stayed true to the book, by making it an R-rated film even though that lessened its chances at big box-office,” Dergarabedian said. “They were chasing the vision, not the box-office.”
The box-office as a whole remained strong this weekend, jumping18 percent from the same frame last year. “Tyler Perry’s Madea Goes to Jail” continued its strong run at No. 2 with $8.8 million, followed by “Taken” with $7.5 million.
“Slumdog Millionaire,” in the No. 4 spot, edged closer to ousting “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” as the highest grossing 2008 Oscar best-picture nominee. “Slumdog” reached $125 million in domestic grosses this weekend; “Benjamin Button” currently stands at $126 million.