6/17 Update:Green Lantern pulled in $3.35 million in its midnight launch at 1,810 locations. That was slightly less than X-Men: First Class's $3.37 million midnight start and a bit more than Thor's $3.25 million, and each of those were also at around 1,800 locations.
Forecast: This weekend, Green Lantern ignites on over 6,500 screens at 3,816 locations (3D count unavailable at this time), while Mr. Popper's Penguins waddles onto more than 4,300 screens at 3,338 locations.
Green Lantern marks the third comic book superhero movie within a month and a half, following Thor and X-Men: First Class. Thor (also in 3D) kicked off the summer with $65.7 million, while X-Men: First Class launched with $55.1 million, and both were ultimately middling as far as big superhero movies go.
In general, only the superheroes that have seeped into the mainstream culture have achieved true blockbuster success (Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, X-Men) with one exception in Iron Man, which was essentially a bright, robo-Batman. No other comic book superhero movie has grossed over $200 million.
As prominent as the character may be in the DC Comics universe, Green Lantern is still a B-lister in the mainstream, and it doesn't help that The Green Hornet was recently released, adding confusion to the uninitiated. To address the general public's unfamiliarity, Green Lantern's studio Warner Bros. has mounted arguably the most ubiquitous and exposition-laden marketing campaign of the summer so far.
While Super 8's marketing largely played coy, Green Lantern's has been full disclosure. A new Green Lantern trailer seemed to spring up every week, which reeked more of desperation than swagger. Perhaps fearing a total fanboy affair, Warner Bros.' even issued a trailer late in the game that was mostly voiceover explaining what in tarnation was going on, but Green Lantern still looked like goofy sci-fi fantasy mumbo jumbo, riffing on Star Wars with its "force" talk and computer-generated alien characters. Apparently, Green Lantern can conjure whatever he imagines to slam evil and he can fly around like Superman, but he comes off as invulnerable and, hence, not terribly dramatic.
One major deficiency in Green Lantern's marketing is the lack of a clear, strong villain, beyond glimpses of an amorphous "yellow" force and a human with a swelled head. A super villain is a key ingredient to a superhero movie reaching the stratosphere. Green Lantern may be following the model from Warner Bros. stable mates Batman Begins and Sherlock Holmes by having weak or unclear villains, saving the juicy ones for a second movie (Joker in Dark Knight, Moriarty in the upcoming Holmes sequel).
Green Lantern looks most reminiscent of Fantastic Four and Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, only less grounded. Those movies debuted to $56.1 million (nearly $69 million adjusted for ticket price inflation) and $58.1 million ($66 million adjusted), respectively. Like Chris Evans in Fantastic Four and Robert Downey, Jr. in Iron Man, lead actor Ryan Reynolds provides humor to make Green Lantern seem less ridiculous, and the movie's likely to have greater kid appeal than Thor and X-Men: First Class, given its colorful action and space fantasy.
All of this raises the question: If launching a property like Green Lantern is so laborious and expensive (a reported $300 million or so all in), was it really worth adapting in the first place? The point of an adaptation like this is to have a sizable built-in audience or at least an easily understood and highly appealing premise. The source material just makes it clear to the consumer that Green Lantern's a comic book movie, which can be just as ghettoizing as it is enticing. An original movie would have effectively had the same amount of stock with the general public, only without the baggage. Through sheer force of will, Warner Bros. should get a sizable sampling for Green Lantern this weekend, but at what price?
Despite its Liar Liar alienated father angle, Mr. Popper's Penguins is shaping up to be a miss for Jim Carrey, who used to knock this kind of movie out of the park. The movie seems like an odd duck for June, and the live penguins aren't as warm and inviting as other critters, anthropomorphized or otherwise. Animated penguins have had some success in Happy Feet and as supporting players in the Madagascar movies, but Surf's Up wiped out in June 2007. Live-action penguins are untested outside of March of the Penguins, but Mr. Popper still is no Ace Ventura or Doctor Dolittle or even Evan Almighty. The movie has largely had a one-note, slapstick-oriented marketing campaign, aiming for young children, and it's hard to imagine many will follow recent ads' suggestion to "take your pop to Popper" for Father's Day.
In Box Office Mojo's reader polling, Green Lantern's nearly 40 percent opening weekend score trailed Thor (53.6 percent) and X-Men: First Class (58.5 percent) at the same point, but it was higher than the Fantastic Four movies (36.5 and 38.3 percent). Green Lantern's comps suggest an opening weekend range from around $40 million to a bit above $60 million. The results for Mr. Popper Penguins were downright chilly: its 6.4 percent opening weekend score suggested an opening weekend range of $11-19 million.
Also in theaters, The Art of Getting By gets a barely nationwide release at 610 locations. Meanwhile, Super 8's staying power will be tested after its unspectacular-but-not-too-shabby $35.5 million opening last weekend, but the signs point to a standard drop-off.
Bar for Success Anything less than $70 million would put Green Lantern on shaky ground to get a sequel. Warner Bros. bet big, so the pressure's on. The bar is high for major June superhero movies: even Batman and Robin debuted to the equivalent of over $73 million, adjusted for ticket price inflation, while Hulk's start equaled $81 million adjusted, and they didn't have 3D.