'Superman Returns' Solid If Unspectacular
Dormant for 19 years, Superman relaunched on the big screen at a time when superheroes and super-inflated opening grosses run rampant in theaters, and, while his reception was much softer than newer men in tights like Spider-Man and X-Men, he hovered slightly above the debut of Batman's reboot last summer.

Swooping onto about 8,200 screens at 4,065 locations, Warner Bros.' Superman Returns rocketed to $84.6 million in its first five days, selling about as many tickets initially as the first X-Men, which was also directed by Bryan Singer. Included in the tally was an estimated $5 million from 76 IMAX theaters, the highest-grossing IMAX opening on record, eclipsing Batman Begins' $3.1 million. By its seventh day, July 4, Superman's total levitated to $108.1 million.

Among recent Independence Day starts, the Man of Steel's $52.5 million weekend trailed War of the Worlds' $64.9 million last year and Spider-Man 2's $88.2 million in 2004 but was ahead of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines' $44 million in 2003. Fellow Warner Bros. and DC Comics revival, Batman Begins, grabbed $48.7 million in its first weekend and ultimately grossed $205.3 million.

"We're looking at $110 million for the first seven days," said Dan Fellman, Warner Bros.' president of distribution, on Sunday. "If you can join that $100 million club in the first seven days, you have to be proud. Considering Batman Begins, which was a great success for us last year, and what it did in its first week, you can't be more pleased." The studio's exit polling indicated that 57 percent of moviegoers were male and 63 percent were over 25 years old.

If Superman Returns disappointed, it's in relation to cost and hype. When a picture is one of the most expensive of all time, expectations inevitably soar. Superman Returns's budget (excluding prints and advertising) was over $260 million, which reportedly includes $40 million from more than a decade of false starts.

Like last year's King Kong, Superman Returns's marketing was as confused as it was ubiquitous, constantly shifting in a barrage of trailers, television spots and posters. Some commercials were geared towards women, pumping up the romantic angle between Lois Lane and Superman. Some targeted young men with action effects scored to rock and techno music. Others harkened back to the Christopher Reeve original. Superman Returns tried to have it all ways, relying on John Williams' famous Superman theme music for a sense of awe and majesty.

Superman is one of the three most popular superheroes, along with Batman and Spider-Man, and the first movie of each franchise was a milestone in box office history, shattering weekend records. Promising that "you'll believe a man can fly" in 1978, Superman: The Movie delivered $134.2 million by its close, which would equal around $380 million today, adjusted for ticket price inflation. Superman II also set a new weekend record in 1981, but the third movie faltered and the fourth, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, was a failure in 1987, grossing $15.7 million.

Long gone are Superman's record-breaking days. Superman Returns was about rebuilding, like Batman Begins. Both franchises had sputtered out creatively and commercially by their fourth movies, and the Superman brand was further diluted by several television shows, including the current Smallville. Any expectation of smashing grosses was unrealistic, and whether Superman Returns is as effective as Batman Begins down the road remains to be seen—Batman Begins was more consistent, both as a movie and in its presentation to the public.

With a relatively more impressive debut, The Devil Wears Prada garnered $40.1 million in five days at 2,847 theaters, including a $27.5 million weekend that was a personal best for both Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway in lead roles. 20th Century Fox's $35 million comedy based on the best-selling novel of the same name counter-programmed for success, promising some of the sass of Legally Blonde and the makeover appeal of The Princess Diaries.

"I never thought it would be this big," said Bruce Snyder, Fox's president of distribution. "I've never seen a predominantly female movie open quite this large, unless it was a romantic comedy." According to Fox's research, the audience composition was 79 percent female and 61 percent over 25.

The Devil Wears Prada's trailer was essentially the opening scene of the movie, a unique approach instead of the usual chop job that helped the picture stand out.

Beyond Superman Returns and The Devil Wears Prada, the Independence Day weekend was characterized by sharp declines for holdovers, averaging 52 percent. Overall business, though, was up eight percent from last year, when War of the Worlds invaded the top spot.

NOTE: This report was originally written on Sunday, July 2 and was revised on Wednesday, July 5 with actual grosses.


• Review - Superman Returns

• 6/29/06 - 'Superman' Solid on Opening Day

• 7/5/05 - 'War of the Worlds' Booms

• 6/20/05 - 'Batman Begins' in the Shadows


• All Time Independence Day Openings

• 'Superman' Franchise

Weekend Box Office Results