Predicting the Box Office Take of 2016’s Superhero Movies

As Fantastic Four showed us last year, superhero blockbusters are not automatic hits. That movie, plagued by well-documented production problems and a considerable lack of overall buzz, went on to do just $168M. Given that it cost $120M to make, and at least another $50M to market, it was an unmitigated flop for 20th Century Fox. It scored 9% on Rotten Tomatoes. The studio scrapped plans for a sequel (despite a talented young cast) just two months after its release. While movies based on popular comic-book characters have become the Hollywood’s bread-and-butter, they’re far from guaranteed successes just because they get made.

With that being said, for every Fantastic Four there is a Guardians of the Galaxy, a movie that did a whopping $773M despite lacking an established movie star or large comics following (not coincidentally, Chris Pratt has become an A-lister and the team is now a popular one for Marvel across many mediums). The fact that Guardians made $100M more than Man of Steel remains maybe the most shocking piece of box office trivia from this decade so far. Credit the Marvel machine. Credit the brilliant marketing campaign that made sure you knew the movie would be unlike any other. Credit the critical acclaim and word-of-mouth. Whatever. If Fantastic Four proved that not all superhero movies are destined to be smash hits, Guardians proved that any superhero movie CAN be a smash hit.

On to 2016. We’re on tap to get SIX high-profile superhero movies this year (maybe seven if Gambit comes out on time, which I doubt). And the lineup is very interesting. We’re getting an R-rated superhero movie, the first real connected movies in the DC/Warners Extended Universe, a bunch of “new” X-Men, and a Marvel movie that somehow includes more characters than Avengers: Age of Ultron. I’m here to look ahead and forecast how these movies will fare. I use forecast instead of “project” because a real projection requires the use of tracking and with the exception of Deadpool and maybe Batman v Superman, it’s too early to rely on the tweeters to quantify the buzz surrounding these movies.

Let’s start, in order of when they’re coming out.


Release Date: February 12th

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Director: Tim Miller

Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, Ed Skrein, TJ Miller, Gina Carano

Easily the most interesting case study this year. Deadpool will look to appease the cult following of its main character, including the graphic violence, vulgar language, sexuality, and breaking-the-fourth-wall narrative that comes with him. To the joy of fans everywhere, the movie is a hard “R”. That’s exactly what makes it so interesting. This movie is technically another installment in the X-Men series but it’s not really selling itself as such. Its marketing campaign, based almost entirely off internet jokes/memes and fake billboards, is the most 21st-Centuryish I’ve ever seen. The studio has made it very clear this is a movie aimed at adults, and while that makes fans of the character happy, it (probably) limits its ultimate box-office take.

Some other R-rated superhero movies can help us forecast Deadpool to a certain extent. The Blade trilogy, which was ahead of its time I might add, averaged $138M per movie. Blade as a character is not as big as Deadpool, and Wesley Snipes 10 years ago was not as famous as Ryan Reynolds is right now (I think? This movie will also function as case study for Reynolds’ draw outside of rom-coms, let’s not forget R.I.P.D. and The Green Lantern). The Punisher did just $54M, but it was a much smaller movie with a more specific audience than most. Zack Snyder’s Watchmen, which got the full-service blockbuster treatment, did $185M (a less-than-stellar figure given its $130M production budget). Kick-Ass, perhaps the film that most closely resembles Deadpool in tone, was a surprising hit, doing $96M against $30M. If Deadpool receives positive reviews, which it appears that it will judging by the words of those who have seen it, I’m pretty confident it’ll shatter the numbers of all these movies. By how much is the question.

People have been talking about this film ever since it began REAL development in 2010. From then on, every bit of promotion and news surrounding the film has been met with universal acclaim. People want to see this movie, and the diehard Deadpool fans who have wanted him to materialize on-screen for two decades are likely to see it multiple times. When you look at its competition, there’s not much in the way. The Coen Bros’ Hail, Caesar! will be in its second weekend, but that’s not the type of movie that shares much of an audience with Deadpool. Kung Fu Panda 3 will still be on a roll, but again, extremely different target audience, obviously. There will be a few date-night movies out but AGAIN, completely different audience. Honestly, the biggest threat to Deadpool is probably Zoolander No. 2, and that movie isn’t tracking well (it’s been greatly mishandled by Paramount). It’s also President’s Day weekend. Fucking Ghost Rider managed to open at $52M over those four days.

It should be noted that Deadpool not being released in 3D could potentially hurt it as well, and I’m a bit worried about its overseas appeal. But it still appears to have the making of an R-rated smash. Deadpool is also rumored to have a huge presence at this year’s Super Bowl, which, in theory, could put it on the radar of potential viewers not so well-versed in internet culture.

I think Deadpool is going to open big, and the buzz surrounding it will keep it in play for a month or so. The blizzards will have cleared up.

Estimated (4-day) Weekend Domestic Opening: $64 million

Estimated Final Worldwide Total: $377 million

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice


Release Date: March 25th

Studio: Warner Bros

Director: Zack Synder

Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot

This is the big one, right? The first time the caped crusader and the man of steel have shared a movie screen (plus, it’ll introduce Wonder Woman, Cyborg, The Flash, and Aquaman, all of whom are scheduled to have solo movies in the next four years). If you’ve followed this blog at all, you’re well aware I’m not fan of Zack Snyder, Superman as a whole, or Man of Steel. So while I like much of the cast here, the look of the footage in the trailers (photographed like Man of Steel, resembling a bad video game) give me serious doubts as to whether this movie will be any good. But that’s not the point of this post.

Obviously, BvS is going to be a hit. It’s one of those too-big-to-fail movies. Even if it’s bad, it’ll have a chance to cross $1B. But this movie cost over $200M to produce, and probably close to another $200M to market. There will be merchandising revenues, but for the film to be considered a success it has to do $800M, right? That’s basically a guarantee at this point. Early tracking data suggests it could cross a billion. While Man of Steel wasn’t as huge as the studio expected, it circulated the streaming and TV ranks for a couple years pretty heavily. It has fans. Adding Ben Affleck and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) should help, as will the fact that it’s being positioned as a must-see if you want to follow the DC movies moving forward.

The promotional material has made a clear attempt to appeal to those outside the typical comic-book movie audience (if such thing even exists anymore, given how popular most of these movies are). For the most part, it appears to be working. People are talking about this movie, even if some of the more serious fans are talking about it harshly. The Avengers did $207M domestically its opening weekend. This movie should come close to that, and its final take may come down to whether or not it’s any good.

Estimated Domestic Weekend Opening: $169M

Estimated Final Worldwide Total: $1.24 billion

Captain America: Civil War

Release Date: May 6th

Studio: Disney

Directors: Anthony & Joe Russo

Starring: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Paul Rudd, Paul Bettany, Chadwick Boseman, Elizabeth Olsen, Don Cheadle, Emily VanCamp, Jeremy Renner, Frank Grillo, Daniel Bruhl, William Hurt

On top of all the established popular characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Captain America: Civil War will attempt to successfully bring Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) into the fold (his solo movie scheduled for 2018 will be directed by RYAN FUCKING COOGLER). This is a guaranteed hit. Avengers: Age of Ultron underperformed and still made $1.4B. The Russo Bros, who did Captain America: Civil War, probably the best movie in the MCU, are helming this one.

Here’s what makes this interesting. Despite reportedly giving Downey Jr. a record-setting deal to do the movie, the promotional material thus far has sold that movie as “Cap 3” rather than “Avengers 3” (it’s very early, the TV spots aren’t really there yet, probably due to the presence of BvS). The main human conflict of the story, based on what we have so far, is Cap’s relationship with Bucky/Winter Solider (Sebastian Stan). I personally have no problem with Disney making this “Cap 3” (mostly because I liked Cap 2 much more than Age of Ultron). Everybody already knows that this movie will see a gigantic number of heroes group up and fight each other, so maybe they’ve already sold that just by putting “Civil War” in the title. It’s just strange to see Downey, unquestionably the biggest star in this movie, being relegated to second fiddle. I’m sure that won’t be the case in the actual movie, but it’s weird right now. Could people seeing this as Cap 3 instead of an Avengers movie hold it back? Cap 1 did $370m while Cap 2 did $714M. Those are very respectable figures given the positon of the MCU at their respective times, but you have to assume Disney is hoping this one breezes past a billion (given that, like BvS, it’ll likely cost $500M to make/market/distribute once it’s all said and done).

I think it’ll be fine. A billion dollars seems like its floor. It might end up coming down to whether more casual moviegoers are getting tired of the MCU (and judging by the number of trailer views, they aren’t). While internet tracking at this point says there’s more interest in BvS, much of that likely has to do with the fact that Disney hasn’t fully launched their campaign for Civil War yet, and they don’t have try as hard because folks are well aware of the MCU already.

Estimated Domestic Opening Weekend: $176 million

Estimated Final Worldwide Total: $1.29 billion

X-Men: Apocalypse

Release Date: May 27th

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Director: Bryan Singer

Starring: James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender, Oscar Isaac, Nicholas Hoult, Rose Byrne, Tye Sheridan, Sophie Turner, Olivia Munn, Lucas Till

The last X-Men movie, Days of Future Past, also directed by Bryan Singer, did $748M on its way to becoming the highest grosser in the series. I don’t think the newest entry is going to beat that. My reasoning:

  • It comes out just three weeks after Captain America: Civil War, two weeks after Matthew McConaughey’s Civil War drama The Free State of Jones, and one week after Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising. It also comes out the same day, Memorial Day weekend, as Alice Through the Looking Glass (the last Alice movie did over a billion). The May slate is loaded. There’s a ton of competition.
  • The last X-Men movie really played up the “converging of two timelines” shtick with all the stars to boot, including fan favorite Wolverine (Hugh Jackman). He’s not in this one.
  • Reaction from diehard fans to some of the stills released has been very negative. They’ll still get in line, but will they bring their friends?
  • The two prettiest faces in the movie, Jennifer Lawrence and Oscar Isaac, will be blue most of the time. WHERE’S THE SEX APPEAL. You comic diehards may not think this matters, but to most, it certainly does.
  • X-Men: First Class, despite being (imo) the best movie in the whole series, only did $353M, and it’s the closest thing to Apocalypse as a business model.

So while I’m a bit more bearish on this movies draw than most, obviously it’s still going to make big bucks. But being opposite Alice scares me, a lot.

Estimated Domestic Weekend Opening: $67 million

Estimated Final Worldwide Total: $597 million


Suicide Squad

Release Date: August 5th

Director: David Ayer

Starring: Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney

DC’s most famous team of antiheros are coming to big screen, and helming the project is none other than the great David Ayer (End of Watch, Fury). The cast looks great, specifically Robbie as Harley Quinn. Every single piece of promotional material released for the film thus far has been lauded by fans, and the presence of Will Smith and Jared Leto (as the Joker) should help this appeal to a wider audience (also, Batman is almost surely in it). If it’s as good as I think it’s going to be, the buzz for its 2nd and 3rd weekends will be huge.

An interesting box office storyline with this one is the draw of Will Smith. He hasn’t had a hit since Men In Black 3, and that felt like more of a last-effort cash grab than anything fresh. There was a time when Smith was the biggest movie star on the planet. He could carry non-franchise movies to big openings off his name alone. Now, he’s relying on a franchise ensemble movie to resurrect his stardom. Concussion was a bomb, Focus did okay. The thing is, the marketing campaign for this film doesn’t appear to be focusing on Smith all that much. It’s all about Robbie as Harley and Leto as the Joker.

Suicide Squad selling itself as an alternative superhero movie should help in a market with so many superhero movies to choose from. There’s a significant amount of internet buzz for the film, but it’s too early to pull much from it.

Estimated Domestic Weekend Opening: $101 million

Estimated Final Worldwide Total: $762 million

Doctor Strange

Release Date: November 4th

Studio: Disney

Director: Scott Derrickson

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton, Mads Mikkelsen, Michael Stuhlbarg

Marvel has gotten a bit experimental with their attempts at introducing new characters into their cinematic universe. You had Guardians of the Galaxy (smash hit) and Ant-Man (relative smash hit), and now we’re looking ahead to Doctor Strange, a film that appears to have the makings of a psychedelic-horror epic, with a true horror auteur directing. As Guardians proved, any Marvel movie can do huge numbers if it’s good and the marketing is right. There are many reasons to believe that Doctor Strange will do just as well.

The biggest reason is of course Benedict Cumberbatch. Marvel has not seen a star of his caliber step into a title role. Marvel made Downey Jr., Pratt, Hemsworth, and Evans the megastars they are today. Cumberbatch is already an established star and he has a lot of overseas appeal as well. Rounding out the cast are some critically acclaimed actors and current Oscar-nominee Rachel McAdams. These names alone will put some people in the seats who may not otherwise go see a Marvel movie.

More so than any other superhero movie this year, Doctor Strange needs to actually be good in order to be successful. All we have to go off right now is some concept art and a still of Cumberbatch in costume. The title character is far from the most popular in the Marvel world and there will be some people thrown off by what this movie tries to do. With that being said, it seems like a given that this movie will tie together a lot of the space/magic stuff happening in the MCU, hopefully positioning it as essential viewing for Marvel fans (unlike Ant-Man). Ultimately, I think it’ll come close to what Guardians did.

Estimated Domestic Weekend Opening: $78 million

Estimated Final Worldwide Total: $730 million

Channing Tatum’s Gambit has been rumored to be on tap for a 2016 release, but it hasn’t even started shooting yet. It didn’t even hire its director (the great Doug Liman) until two months ago.



One thought on “Predicting the Box Office Take of 2016’s Superhero Movies”

  1. Some very well thought-out reasoning. A lot will naturally depend on how good the movies in question actually are. Deadpool, Batman vs Superman and especially Civil war getting a lot of positive early buzz though, so lets be hopeful.

    Deadpool will certainly a success for its budget, but we shouldn’t expect too much from it outside of America, because the viral marketing only reached those, who are routinely in the English speaking internet, which are less than one might think. The R-rating is naturally hurting it, especially since China, one of the biggest markets, has opted to ban it.

    Batman vs Superman I am very unsure about, simply because I am not sure how much the more general audience is interested in seeing another dreary looking Superhero movie, no matter who fights in it. The Avengers had five movies to built up to the big event, but DC had only one, which got really mixed reviews. And then there is the length. Apparently the movie is very long, which means less screenings are possible in any given day.

    For Civil War think everything between The Winter Soldier and Avengers numbers is possible. And being Captain America 3 is more a plus than anything else, since The Winter Soldier is widely considered the best of the MCU movies. Throw in Iron man AND Spider-man AND the first appearance of Black Panther on the big screen, you should have a winner.

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