Watchmen clocked in with a vibrant $55.2 million on approximately 7,500 screens at 3,611 theaters, handily topping a weekend where overall business was up nine percent over last year but cooled down from 2009's prior blistering pace.
The $150 million adaptation of Alan Moore's graphic novel notched the 13th highest-grossing opening weekend for a comic book movie, behind The Incredible Hulk (though it drops to 21st when ticket-price inflation is factored). With the biggest theater count ever for an R-rated movie, Watchmen had the sixth-highest grossing R-rated start (though, again, adjusting brings it down to 14th), behind The Matrix Reloaded, The Passion of the Christ, 300, Hannibal and Sex and the City. Among Alan Moore adaptations, it doubled the openings of V for Vendetta and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Distributor Warner Bros. revealed who was watching the Watchmen. Their exit polling indicated that 65 percent of the audience was male and 54 percent was over 25 years old.
Less than three and a half percent of Watchmen's theaters accounted for nearly ten percent of its weekend gross. At 124 IMAX venues, the movie pulled in $5.4 million. That's the second largest IMAX launch ever behind The Dark Knight, which began with $6.3 million at 94 sites (and which, unlike Watchmen, had 24-hour showings) or about four percent of that picture's record-breaking debut. "This solidifies in our mind that we're the choice for the fan boys, and we love having them," said Greg Foster, Chairman and President of Filmed Entertainment for IMAX. Watchmen's trailer was attached to all Dark Knight IMAX prints from the start.
Unrealistically, Watchmen was hyped as a contender to 300's records and beyond in the media. 300 was the previous picture from Watchmen's director Zack Snyder and was prominently cited in Watchmen's advertising. However, just because a picture has a massive marketing campaign or a fervent fan base doesn't mean it's going to be a blockbuster. 300 set the March opening benchmark at $70.9 million on around 4,800 screens at 3,103 sites (which included $3.6 million at 62 IMAX venues). While technically 300 was a comic book adaptation like Watchmen, that's where the similarities ended, because 300 was first and foremost promoted as a harrowing, clearly-wrought tale based in history with a then-striking visual style.
As visually punchy as Watchmen's marketing tried to be, the movie's story was left obscure to the uninitiated. Considering that style and mystery took precedence over clarity and relatability, Watchmen's opening was swell. Eventually, ads vaguely revealed that someone was killing off superheroes and that the Watchmen had to figure out why. However, the superheroes in question were not previously well known to the general public, making it an uphill battle to earn audience investment, especially given the picture's ensemble nature. Typically, the biggest superhero movies are the ones where the superheroes are already ingrained in the culture, like The Dark Knight, Spider-Man, Superman and X-Men. Watchmen's source material had a following but never reached a high level of cultural saturation. What's more, the advertising presented no heroes to root for and no villains to root against (a potent combination that worked like gangbusters with The Dark Knight); instead raising the question "will they save us or destroy us?"
Watchmen was the sole new nationwide release of the weekend, so grosses were mostly business as usual beneath it. The most striking development was how steeply Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience tumbled in its second weekend. Always destined to flame-out, it nonetheless had a bigger drop than Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour from last year. Jonas plummeted 77 percent to $2.8 million for a $16.8 million tally in ten days. Hannah was down 67 percent (despite being initially promoted as a one-week engagement that would have boosted its first weekend) with a $53.2 million total through the same point. The bottom fell out on Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li as well. The video game adaptation faded 69 percent to $1.5 million for $7.3 million in ten days, and it's unlikely to sell as many tickets as the first Street Fighter did in its opening weekend alone.
With the best third weekend hold yet for a Tyler Perry movie, Tyler Perry's Madea Goes to Jail came in second with $8.5 million, down 47 percent for a $76.2 million total in 17 days. Hanging tough, Taken was third with $7.3 million, off 26 percent for $117.9 million in 38 days. Slumdog Millionaire retreated a sizable 43 percent to $6.8 million for a $125.3 million tally, and, in an unusual move, 20th Century Fox will release the Best Picture winner on DVD on Mar. 31, even though it's still generating significant grosses. Holding strongly again, Paul Blart: Mall Cop rounded out the Top Five with $4.1 million, easing 26 percent for $133.6 million in 52 days.