These days, a film generating a healthy amount of buzz on the internet weeks or months prior to its release is nothing unusual, but the amount of hype surrounding the March 6th release of Watchmen is bordering on unhealthy. Don’t get me wrong, I hope Watchmen kills at the box office and I suspect it likely will. It’s not like it has a lot of competition, and a big opening weekend could give it the momentum it needs to be a certified blockbuster. Nevertheless, it certainly has some factors working against it. Are any of these things enough to turn Watchmen into a full on box office disaster?
5. It’s Rated R
Big deal, right? Well, yeah, it is kind of a big deal. It’s certainly not impossible for an R-rated movie to do big numbers at the box office. Some of the top grossing movies ever were rated R. The problem is, that box office dominating violence and sex fests are rarely comic book movies. In fact, it’s yet to be seen. A successful comic book movie has to appeal to a much wider audience than, legally, an R rating will allow. It isn’t the type of thing that is going to transcend demographics and appeal to damn near everyone. A comic book flick, especially one like Watchmen, has a very specific audience. If any of that audience is shut out because they can’t con their parents into taking them to see it, it could spell trouble for Watchmen. On the bright side, the sixth highest grossing R-rated film of all time…was 300 (by Watchmen Director Zack Snyder).
4. There Are No Real “Stars”
As far as making a quality film goes, not having big stars is not necessarily a detriment. Hell, quite often it’s a good thing. That may very well be the case here. And no “stars” doesn’t mean “bad actors.” Jackie Earl Haley slayed in Little Children, and by most accounts, he does the same in Watchmen. But understand, I’m not talking about whether Watchmen will be a good movie. The point of this article is will Watchmen live up to the hype at the box office? It’s a given that a healthy majority of internet types are going to turn out in droves. But you know what? The internet probably turned out in big numbers for Snakes On a Plane also. Unfortunately, they were the only ones. Don’t take it as a given that internet hype, Billy Crudup and the chick from The Heartbreak Kid will translate to sustained box office dominance. And actors aren’t the only lesser knowns to worry about.
3. The Characters Aren’t That Well Known By the General Public
It’s really a bit unfair to even call Watchmen a comic book movie. Anyone who has read it knows that Watchmen is not your typical comic book. These aren’t “superheroes” we’re dealing with. Up to this point, even the more “artistic” comic book movies, like The Dark Knight or, on the more horrifyingly bad side of things, Spiderman 3, have featured well known comic book icons that everybody, whether a comic book fan or not knows and sometimes loves. The type of superhero that, on name alone (Batman), will bring in a certain demographic that doesn’t necessarily read comic books but likes watching people fly through the air and beat gun wielding villains with their bare hands. Nothing about the current advertising for Watchmen implies to the average moviegoer that this what they should expect.
I know what you’re going to say next…what about Sin City? Good question. If you want the short answer to why it was financially successful, re-read point #2. But also, I implore you, understand that I’m not talking about whether Watchmen will be any good. I’m asking will it be financially successful. Sin City, because of how it was filmed, was made on the cheap. Watchmen had a $150 million budget. That’s a lot to recoup, even before you factor in the lawsuits.
2. There Will Be Backlash
Do you know where we are? We’re on the internet, baby! No matter how the opening weekend numbers turn out, the internet is going to howl. If it kills opening weekend, the fanboys will unleash their fury over what was left out, which is apparently a lot, and scream about how the essence of the original work was lost and watered down in an effort to make the film more palatable for a wider audience. If it fails to draw the crowds, they will bemoan the decision to bring on Zack Snyder as director and begin pontificating on all of the things he could have done to make it a better film. Either way, they are going to bitch. Anyone who has ever held a fast food or customer service job has had the following preached to them time and again…a happy customer will tell one friend about their experience, an unhappy customer will tell ten friends.
Translating a work like Watchmen to the big screen cannot be done without leaving a lot of unhappy customers in its wake. Opening weekend numbers will assuredly be impressive, it will be interesting to see if they can be sustained though.
1. People Are Broke
Hopefully you haven’t spent too much time debating the merits of a Watchmen film without the squid to notice that something else of equal importance is brewing stateside right now. People are fucking broke. People that aren’t broke yet are saving money like never before in anticipation of the day when they are. While that has been in the news for quite awhile now, it’s really in the news right now. Watchmen is the first should be blockbuster to test the economic waters that have been the focus of American life since the beginning of the year. Can a lawsuit plagued, R-rated comic book movie with no major stars overcome the economic uneasiness and do big business at the box office? I think it can. I hope I’m not wrong. But really, we’re just talking money here, money none of us will ever see. In the end, I just hope Zack Snyder can deliver a great movie and do an epic graphic novel the justice it deserves.
So. I’ve said my piece. What do you think? Will Watchmen tank or soar to new box office heights?
- Interview with Jeffrey Dean Morgan
- Interview with Jackie Earl Haley
- Watchmen Review
- Win a Free Watchmen T-Shirt
- Top Ten Greatest Comic Book Movies