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Why ‘Batman v Superman’ Needs to Be a Hit for Warner Bros.

As if the $250 million budget and marketing weren’t enough, the studio’s putting its future on the line with the DC Comics epic

With a $250 million production budget and a proportionately massive marketing campaign behind it, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” is obviously a huge financial bet for Warner Bros.

But the stakes are far higher than the bottom line would indicate for the studio that developed and will distribute the superhero epic.

Everything about “Batman v Superman” is large-scale, including its star-laden cast topped by Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill, its storied DC Comics heritage and its global rollout, which will see it screen in a saturation-level 4,200 theaters in North America and on more than 29,000 screens in 65 foreign markets including China by Friday.

Analysts project a domestic opening in the $150 million range and a weekend haul of $350 million worldwide for the Zack Snyder-directed “Batman v Superman,” though the studio is more conservative and sees a $140 million domestic debut.

Executives at Warner Bros. seemed confident on Tuesday and they should be, given the very positive readings from advance sales, social media activity and reaction to early screenings. But the reviews are just coming in, and have been bleak so far.

For all of the positive buzz, there has to be some apprehension, if only because the studio has so much at stake:

The DC Universe is On the Line
Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara opted to fight Disney’s Marvel superhero fire with its own from DC Comics, and the studio has set release dates for 10 movies — in addition to stand-alone Batman and Superman films — over the next five years. If “Batman v. Superman” is a home run, it’s going to provide major momentum for those films and validate the CEO’s vision. The first to feel the impact will be “Suicide Squad,” written and directed by David Ayer, which lands in August. The next will be Gal Gadot‘s “Wonder Woman.” If these three work, imagine the heat behind “Justice League, Part 1” in November 2017. On the other hand, if it underwhelms …

Some Jobs Could Be On the Line
Warner Bros. finished third in domestic market share in 2015, decent at some studios but not for this traditional powerhouse. Tsujihara could have made changes in his film unit’s executive team but he didn’t, with the expectation that his show of confidence would be rewarded. The turnaround hasn’t materialized and the studio currently ranks eighth in market share. That’s mainly because it has only had one wide release this year, the romantic comedy “How To Be Single,” which has done well, grossing $46 million domestically and another $49 million abroad. But it’s time for the rebound to begin.

Keeping Ben in the Pen
When Affleck’s career veered off the tracks in the mid-2000s, Warner Bros. gave him a shot to direct with “The Town,” and the well-made crime thriller was a hit. That changed the momentum for Affleck, whose next film for the studio was “Argo.” He starred in and directed the Middle East hostage drama, which grossed $154 million on a $35 million budget and won the Best Picture Oscar. To land him as Batman, the studio gladly agreed to let him direct one of the upcoming standalone films. He also stars in “The Accountant,” set for an October release via WB, and the crime saga “Live by Night” is in post-production and scheduled for October 2017. Affleck has become a major asset for the studio, which needs to keep him, and keep him happy.

Will Wonder Woman Work?
Warner Bros. deserves credit for getting a female superhero onto the big screen, but at the end of the day it simply makes financial sense (paying attention, Hollywood?). Success for “Batman v Superman,” in which Gal Gadot‘s character has a significant role, will beget success for the standalone “Wonder Woman” film set for June 2017, in which she’ll be front and center. Misfire on “Dawn of Justice” and there will be more pundits wondering why her costume is skimpier than that of Batman and Superman.

Distribution Debut
With day-and-date releasing, multi-platform rollouts and long-term scheduling more critical and complex than ever, studio distribution operations are playing an increasingly significant role, not mention being the frontline in relations with movie theaters, Netflix and Amazon, IMAX and China. “Batman v Superman” will be Warner Bros.’ first rollout with blockbuster potential since “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “San Andreas’ last May, and the first since veteran distribution chief Dan Fellman exited. The new team, with marketing chief Sue Kroll heading worldwide operations, Veronika Kwan-Vandenberg guiding international with Nancy Carson’s assistance and Jeffrey Goldstein running domestic, is experienced and individually has plenty of scores to its credit. But “Batman v Superman” will be their first major test as a unit, and a big win here would mean a lot.

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