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The Batman vs. Superman Movie Isn’t as Risky as You Might Think

A rapid succession of new DC movies could be headed to theaters after the Batman vs. Superman movie opens in May 2016. Source photos: Warner Bros. Pictures.

Zack Snyder's Batman vs. Superman movie -- of which I've been skeptical -- is getting more punch. Variety is reporting that Time Warner (NYSE: TWX  ) has cast actor Ray Fisher to play the role of Victor Stone, known to DC Comics fans as the superhero Cyborg. From the article:

"[Cyborg], while not a major part in the Batman-Superman feature, is a member of the Justice League, and the role will become much more significant as Warner and DC develop more films related to the Justice League universe, sources confirm."

Three's company, but is four a crowd?
As if we needed a source to know that. The Batman vs. Superman movie has been shaping up as more than a sequel for a while now. It's also a vehicle for expanding the DC Cinematic Universe. Fisher's Cyborg will join Henry Cavill's Superman, Ben Affleck's Batman, and Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman. They'll be opposed by Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor.

Or at least that's how it is right now. I've long suspected that Warner envisions the Batman vs. Superman movie as a Justice League origin story. If I'm right, fans and investors can expect lots more casting news leading up to San Diego Comic Con (SDCC).

Is that a good thing? Or is Warner's strategy of introducing so many heroes and villains, so soon, an unreasonable risk? Not when you look at the top 10 grossing comic book movies of all time:

Worldwide Gross
Est. Box Office ROI
No. of Heroes and Villains in Primary Roles

Marvel's The Avengers

$1.519 billion



Iron Man 3

$1.215 billion



The Dark Knight Rises

$1.084 billion



The Dark Knight

$1.005 billion



Spider-Man 3

$890.9 million




$821.7 million



Spider-Man 2

$783.8 million



The Amazing Spider-Man

$752.2 million



Man of Steel

$668.0 million



Thor: The Dark World

$644.8 million



Sources: Box Office Mojo, IMDB, TMF estimates.

The message? While the classic story features one hero facing off against one villain, larger casts don't always make for big trouble at the box office. Look at Iron Man 3, which scored well even as the titular character shared screen time with War Machine (or, if you prefer, Iron Patriot), The Mandarin, and the villainous Aldrich Killian.

Yet there are also plenty of instances where crowded epics failed to deliver. Take Green Lantern, which featured classic villain Hector Hammond as well as the monster Parallax and multiple members of the Green Lantern Corps. The result? A negative 63.4% return on investment at the box office.

Or how about Watchmen? Snyder's other superhero team-up movie did well enough with critics and audiences -- earning 65% and 70% approval, respectively, at Rotten Tomatoes -- yet failed to bring fans to the theater. The movie's negative 52.5% return on box office investment still casts a shadow.

Adding Cyborg will help set up DC for a Justice League movie, though a solo film could come first. Credit: DC Comics.

1 way this crowded epic could pay off big
Here, the potential upside could come via spinoffs. Rather than taking the Marvel approach of building a movie at a time into a larger epic, Warner could use the Batman vs. Superman movie as an introduction to the wider DC Cinematic Universe and its various inhabitants, then jumping off into solo movies that develop the characters in more detail before meeting again for a Justice League movie.

We've already seen Warner tease this approach on TV. Arrow has introduced us not only to Oliver Queen's emerald archer but also the Suicide Squad and The Flash. Executives recently saw a screening of the pilot starring Grant Gustin as the scarlet speedster. I'd be surprised if we don't have word of a series order by SDCC.

On the big screen, Snyder and writer David S. Goyer could take a portion of the next two years to develop cinematic spinoffs while shooting the Batman vs. Superman movie. Imagine a Wonder Woman movie in 2017 followed by a Cyborg movie in 2018 and a new Batman movie in 2019, all leading up to Justice League in 2020. Or some other schedule that makes sense. The point is that a crowded Batman vs. Superman movie could be made to serve a larger purpose that we don't yet understand.

Foolish final thought
Concurrent shooting has also become popular when developing film franchises. Think of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Or more recently, The Hunger Games movies. These combined productions help create a shared universe for audiences to engage with over and over.

In the end, that's what Warner and DC want: an interconnected superhero universe that lures us in and makes us beg for more. Marvel achieved that by introducing characters one at a time and then bringing them together in the Avengers. Warner and DC no longer have that option, yet that doesn't have to be a disadvantage when it comes to connecting with fans.

Now it's your turn to weigh in. Do you see the growing cast of the Batman vs. Superman movie hurting Warner's chances of building a sustainable franchise? Please leave a comment below to let us know your take, including whether you would buy, sell, or short Time Warner stock at current prices.

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Read/Post Comments (27) | Recommend This Article (4)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

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  • Report this Comment On April 26, 2014, at 7:55 AM, rtichy wrote:

    There are "break-even" movies (Man of Steel) with $668MM in revenues?

    That's unfathomabble... unfathommabble.... it's without fathom.

  • Report this Comment On April 26, 2014, at 8:54 AM, TMFMileHigh wrote:


    Yeah, you'd think that one would have brought Warner a lot of profits. It has, but not at the box office.

    The studio spent an estimated $225 million to produce "Man of Steel" and at least another $75 million to market and distribute it. I'd put the total number at closer to $350 mil. Comparing that with half the box office haul ($334 mil.) results in a small loss from theater sales.

    So where has profit come from?

    1. Smart marketing. Warner earned at least $170 million in product placement fees:

    2. DVD and Blu-ray sales, which, according to, accounted for more than $96 mil. in sales:

    And then, of course, there are licensing and syndication deals, which will no doubt add tens of millions more in revenue.

    FWIW and Foolish best,



    TMFMileHigh in CAPS and on the boards

    @milehighfool on Twitter

  • Report this Comment On April 26, 2014, at 10:45 AM, shdwklown wrote:

    The only problem with your premise is that the top 4 movies on that list all introduced their cast previously. The only real character set up in The Avengers was The Skrull, everyone else had already been established. Iron Man 3, was just The Mandarin and his puppet master. The Dark Knight Rises had 3 villains but the back story for Bane and Miranda was interwoven so that worked out ok. Spider Man 3 was financially successful, after that it was horrible. Setting up Venom and The Sandman in one movie was a bad idea. Now you think that setting up Wonder Woman, Batman, Lex Luthor and Cyborg in the same movie with Superman is a good idea? Yes, you have to do the Batman origin. It has been done to death at this point on the big screen, but this is not Bale's batman. It is a new story so they have to set up the Wayne character for this story's universe. To properly tell those stories you would need at least 8 hours of screen time. Which is why Marvel separated their heroes into individual movies. In reality, they gave the main Avengers cast 10 hours of screen time to set up those characters then the 2+ hours of time in Avengers. Warner is foolish to let their top heroes get mashed into one movie block. It will probably make a lot of money, but I'm betting that it will be an all together forgettable story. Of course, if it makes a ton of money then they will just keep producing more crap titles. Which is fine by me, DC is inferior to Marvel anyway. Let their characters suffer on the big screen.

  • Report this Comment On April 26, 2014, at 11:04 AM, AJLUCASSEN wrote:

    Avengers is the exception to the rule that more heroes and villains are better. It only worked because they slowly built up to the movie. Spiderman 3 storyline was the worst of the franchise. It only did as will as it did because of the first two movies. Batman kept added heroes and villain and the stories kept getting worst "Batman and Robin" had 6 heroes and villains it sucked. I know DC wants to catch up quickly and this is not the way to do it. They should take their successful TV series Arrow (and soon to be Flash) and put them in the DC movie universe. If they use Arrow and Flash for the TV show in the movie, then add Ryan Reynolds, and Henry Cavill to a Justice League movie. At least half of the cast would have a solid backstory coming in. Thanks to the tv success I think they would have a good shot at the movie. All Arrow would need to do is hire Amy Adams to make a guest appearance in one episode as Lois Lane doing an article on Green Arrow to connect the movie and tv world.

  • Report this Comment On April 26, 2014, at 11:39 AM, TMFMileHigh wrote:

    @shdwklown and @AJLUCASSEN,

    Agreed that Spider-Man 3 had deep flaws that weren't reflected in the final box office tally. (Though, if you notice, it wasn't high on the list in terms of estimated ROI.)

    >>Now you think that setting up Wonder Woman, Batman, Lex Luthor and Cyborg in the same movie with Superman is a good idea?

    I should be clear in saying that I don't think you *have* to set up the origins for all these characters. You can refer to or tease them, and then leave the spinoffs to address major story points. I do like the Marvel approach better, but I can see why DC would take a different tack.

    >>It will probably make a lot of money, but I'm betting that it will be an all together forgettable story.

    Yes. That's my fear as well.

    >>They should take their successful TV series Arrow (and soon to be Flash) and put them in the DC movie universe.

    So far, we've no indications that Warner and DC plan to cross-over like this. But I agree it would be interesting -- we know that Geoff Johns has wanted to make a Flash movie for a while now.

    >>All Arrow would need to do is hire Amy Adams to make a guest appearance in one episode as Lois Lane doing an article on Green Arrow to connect the movie and tv world.

    I think you could argue that it's already been done. The show's references to Ra's al Ghul connects it to the Batman movies. We've also seen a Ferris Aircraft jet appear in the season one episode, "Sacrifice."

    FWIW and Foolish best,



    TMFMileHigh in CAPS and on the boards

    @milehighfool on Twitter

  • Report this Comment On April 26, 2014, at 1:23 PM, Vortious wrote:

    I honestly think that they're trying to move too fast. There is already enough story with the "World's Finest" (old Superman, Batman crossover story title) that you really don't need any other heroes involved. Just have Joker, and Lex team up, and then have Superman, and Batman team up to stop them.

    The other heroes should get their own movies to establish them. Supes, and Bats have their own movies, even GL has his own movie. So give Cyborg, Wonderwoman, and the rest of the Justice League their own movies. If you're gong to add in Cyborg use it as a VERY small set of scenes that set him up as a character, and nothing else really. Ie. Have some scenes of a football game w/ Vic Stone playing, and then have him be out there in the melee of the pre-requisit big boss battle, and getting injured, and then have Supes take him to STAR labs for treatment by his dad, leaving the rest of his story for the Justice League movie. If you want Wonder Woman in the movie then call it "Trinity" (the name of the recent comics story line involving the big 3) I'd be fine with that, and if that's their goal then her Ws need to be added to the logo.

  • Report this Comment On April 26, 2014, at 1:59 PM, kenzey wrote:

    we so can't call this a man of steel sequel any more lets just call it what its supposed to be justice league

  • Report this Comment On April 26, 2014, at 2:57 PM, jf11mm wrote:

    Amy Adams to make a guest appearance in one episode as Lois Lane doing an article on Green Arrow to connect the movie and tv world. That sounds like great idea. I Have no problem with it at all. Instead of doing what marvel did there taking a different approach. I have a feeling superman will meet his new friends at the end of the movie. Someone will say to superman your not alone in your fight were here to help, hopefully it will take place in the watch tower.

  • Report this Comment On April 26, 2014, at 3:21 PM, Allend406 wrote:

    Nobody thought it was risky, your putting the two biggest names in comics in a sequal to an origin movie that made over 600 million. Most people can agree there going about strange, but it will make a billion easy, someday tim why don't try enlightening me with somthing.

  • Report this Comment On April 26, 2014, at 4:04 PM, jameseey wrote:

    Just counting the number of heroes and villians is a pretty short sighted way of analyzing the success of these movies for so many reasons. First off, there are many movies that fail with just one villian and one hero and there are many that succeed with many heroes and villains. Secondly, what about the other characters? Why don't you count Lois Lane? Or Alfred? Lois and Alfred will most likely play a bigger role in the movie than Cyborg. Why aren't people worried that they will dilute or confuse the storyline too? Just because they're not superheroes?

  • Report this Comment On April 26, 2014, at 4:11 PM, TMFMileHigh wrote:


    Let's forgive the typos -- that happens to everyone from time to time -- and focus on your take, which is that no one sees this movie as risky.

    I'd buy that if the Internet hadn't gone ape when Ben Affleck was cast as Batman, and then again when Gal Gadot was cast as Wonder Woman.

    Or how about the comments right above yours, which rightfully point out that DC's strategy is materially different from what we've seen work in recent years?

    Of course this is a risky bet for Warner. More than "Man of Steel" or any property before it, this is *the* franchise-establishing movie that DC wants, which is why we won't see it till 2016.

    It'll be expensive to make, and almost as expensive to market and distribute. I'd guess $450 million in all, which would put box office break-even at $900 million.

    FWIW and Foolish best,



    TMFMileHigh in CAPS and on the boards

    @milehighfool on Twitter

  • Report this Comment On April 26, 2014, at 4:18 PM, TMFMileHigh wrote:


    Good to see you again.

    >>Just counting the number of heroes and villians is a pretty short sighted way of analyzing the success of these movies for so many reasons.

    Of course not. We've done several pieces on Batman vs. Superman. I think of this as part of a broader series. (Which is why you see hyperlinks in the piece.)

    This time, because there's so much talk about the risk of a crowded cast with ASM2 and now this film, I decided to focus on that one point -- is it the risk factor some believe it to be?

    >>Secondly, what about the other characters? Why don't you count Lois Lane? Or Alfred?

    Because they're supporting characters and therefore don't move the plot as directly as the heroes and villains.

    I agree they are important, but they also require less development time as a consequence of their roles.

    Thanks for writing and Foolish best,



    TMFMileHigh in CAPS and on the boards

    @milehighfool on Twitter

  • Report this Comment On April 26, 2014, at 4:24 PM, Jeffrey2 wrote:

    Interesting piece. I too am surprised MOS broke even basically and that Thor 2 made a 26% ROI.

    Thor 2 cost 50 million less to make and earned 25 million less. Are you assuming a much lower marketing cost - you upped the "official" WB marketing cost for MOS. Did you do the same for Thor 2?

    I think JL will come much sooner than 2020.

    As a Superman fan, your schedule puts a potential true MOS sequel past 2020 when WB would basically have to reboot. A sequel can't be done 7 years after the first film. LOL - as I said I'm a Superman fan waiting for a true MOS 2 and hope your schedule is wrong.

    Still, thank you for the analysis.

  • Report this Comment On April 26, 2014, at 4:45 PM, TMFMileHigh wrote:


    Thanks for reading and for the kind words.

    When it comes to Box Office ROI, returns are driven more by cost than revenue.

    In this case, we know that MoS cost $225 million to make and *at least* another $75 million to market. I'd put total marketing cost at $125 million for a total of $350 million.

    Thor 2 didn't enjoy nearly the same marketing push as MoS did, costing between $235-$255 million to make, market, and distribute.

    All in all, I'd guess a net cost difference of $70-$100 million between these two, which is huge when calculating ROI.

    FWIW and Foolish best,



    TMFMileHigh in CAPS and on the boards

    @milehighfool on Twitter

  • Report this Comment On April 26, 2014, at 5:05 PM, Jeffrey2 wrote:

    Thanks for the reply Tim. I will go with the WB marketing number, no offense, as I don't want WB to stop making Superman films. That's the fanboy in me coming out!!

  • Report this Comment On April 26, 2014, at 5:29 PM, InvisibleZombie wrote:

    I just disagree with the "do what Marvel did" crowd, even if they tried a lot of what Marvel did successfully was a product of the times, you can't replicate that. If we waited for them to give every member of the JLA a separate film AND hope that those were individually successful, I doubt it would ever come about.

    TAKE a risk. Stop plodding around thinking things will come together. I'm starting to appreciate the makers of the 1997 JLA TV movie for at least putting it out there. Building a rough model and see what worked and what didn't. It's not like there's not enough material to incorporate into a story.

    Take "Green Lantern" (please!). The first third was a given, the origin. The second third was spelled out, the training with the Corp. 2/3rds of the film wrote itself. All they really had to do was come up with a third third of a plot and , well...

  • Report this Comment On April 26, 2014, at 6:21 PM, stargazer1682 wrote:

    You have Man of Steel ranked at the bottom of your list, with only the last installment of Thor - a character whom, at least in my opinion and observation, has been the veritable weak link in the shared Marvel movie franchise - and the purported plans so far to the MoS follow-up aren't as risky as we think?

    Looking at your chart, one of the major flaws I see immediately is how you conflate the number of heroes and villains in a movie, by putting them all in one column. Let's make no mistake, bringing on the likes of Batman, Wonder Woman, Cyborg and any other Justice Leaguer into the next Superman movie, is going to have only comparable peer - The Avengers. Whatever "heroes" you think there were in the other movies mentioned, The Avengers is the only entry where the heroes are headliners in their own right, and either stood to gain their own independent line of films, like Black Widow or Mark Ruffalo's Hulk; or they already had them, and proven their staying power on their own, which was the vast majority of cases. There were only two unknown quantities with The Avengers; how well Mark Ruffalo would be received as Bruce Banner, since there had already been two separate actors before him to recently fill the role on the big screen, neither of which doing so to Marvel's satisfaction; and how well such a large cast of heavy hitters could be balanced in one movie. These are factors in Batman Vs Superman; the former though - the new actor in an otherwise familiar superhero role - is compounded exponentially with each major character/hero (or villain) they add to the cast. Not only are the actors in these rolls not an assured asset to the movie, but the characters themselves have not been defined. Ruffalo, and Marvel, had two movies to at least partially prop up his character with; and not be a complete stranger in The Avengers. This movie was already facing enough of an uphill battle introducing a brand new, undefined Batman, following so closely to the Nolan franchise; made more contentious with the casting of Ben Affleck. The casting of Lex Luthor has similarly raised eyebrows; a live action Wonder Woman hasn't been seen in decades, and very few writers in generally have even managed to do the character justice **in the comics**. Now they're adding yet another character who isn't that well known outside of the average comic book reader; and has only one live action incarnation - on Smallville, were the character's iconic outward appearance of a human visible fused with cybernetic components, was - pun only partially intended - scrapped, to make it more mainstream, and worthy of the likes of the WB...

    All of this is going into the cinematic follow-up to a movie that has barely demonstrated an ability not to suck. By this article's own comparison of other genre movies, MoS falls on the low end of the spectrum of success; and in that success, it managed to generate a great deal of its own contention with some of its creative decisions - decisions that will reflect on follow-up movies, and those who will decide whether or not they will see it. This doesn't mean that it's going to be a bad movie, it might be quite good, but it all equates to a very risky proposition; that if it fails, could tank a lot of pegged prospects by Warner Brothers for any future with these properties. Apparently they've never heard the saying about putting all of your eggs into one basket....

  • Report this Comment On April 26, 2014, at 7:37 PM, LocalMan22 wrote:

    I suspect that "Batman vs. Superman" will, in fact, be mostly a Man of Steel sequel that re-introduces Batman to a shared universe. I suspect that Wonder Woman, Cyborg and other Justice League members will only make a cameo appearance -- just enough to show that the characters exist, but not feature them significantly. The characters will be "fleshed out" in their individual movies or other later films. (While Wonder Woman certainly merits a solo films, I'm not sure that Cyborg does. Flash certainly does -- but I'm not convinced that DC will do a solo Batman film -- Batman may be the "glue" between films kind of like Nick Fury is for the Marvel films.) DC will want to get to a Justice League film as soon as they can, but it does need to be set up properly, with a villain worthy of such a huge team of heroes.

  • Report this Comment On April 26, 2014, at 8:02 PM, ChuckT63 wrote:

    Ofcourse it's risky, why do you think we have seen so many pre-production stories about it? In my opinion it's going to bomb...BIG, and noone will ever take another Time Warner DC hero movie serious, ever again. It started going bad with Ben Affleck, and now has finished it off, with a pretty boy as Cyborg.

  • Report this Comment On April 26, 2014, at 9:01 PM, Dowjonesup wrote:

    This is a riverboat gamble getting more risky by the week.

    Cavill can't act himself out of a box so they bring in Gadot? Hello. Same problem.

    Affleck can act but he has baggage - he should be directing. Not Snyder. As you showed, MOS was the worst such film in terms of profit. Isn't a risk to bring the director who failed with that film onto Batman/Superman?

    Bringing in more characters works maybe. If they can act and if they have dominant roles. Ray Fisher can act circles around Cavil and Gadot but if he is in a cameo role what is the point?

    WB needs to go back to square one after the failure of MOS and reboot Batman with a new actor and Affleck directing. Then do WW with a talented actress.. Then move onto Justice League.

    Right now this is a disaster in the making and maybe someone at WB will realize it and call a halt to the project.

  • Report this Comment On April 26, 2014, at 9:02 PM, CaptainMarvel wrote:

    While I admit to being more of a Marvel fan, I do enjoy DC stories and i want to see them succeed at the box office. Heck, I find Green Lantern to be totally re-watchable. But this continually expanding Superman vs. Batman concept seems to be spinning towards a self inflicted vortex. Too many almost seems like Snyder is recreating Watchmen through a DC lens. Slow down and quit trying to catch up with Marvel by cloning. Make it original, unique and absorbing!!!

  • Report this Comment On April 26, 2014, at 9:21 PM, drewarevalo64 wrote:

    Television is a superior storytelling tool in comparison to cinema. WB knows this. Green Arrow has his own show on CW, and it's been a huge success, the highest rated CW program in 5 years. Now it's well on it's way to a 3rd season. A Flash spin-off is coming soon and it's more than likely to be a hit. We're approaching the summer and there's roughly 2 years between now and the opening day to the Man of Steel sequel. WB should introduce all the DC heroes and villains on TV, instead of going through the unnecessary trouble of making movie after movie. Give Wonderwoman, Green Lantern, Aquaman, and all other heroes and villains to be featured in the Justice League film, their own tv series each, then integrate them onto the big screen in the Man of Steel sequel. The extensive amount of airtime will be more than enough to provide a very strong origin story for each hero and villain leading up to May 6, 2016. Such a tactic is far more intelligent than producing a dozen stand-alone movies like Marvel did. WB can totally pull it off. They will find massive success doing it this way, and those Marvel guys will be on antidepressants for the rest of their lives. If WB takes this approach, we can have ourselves a Justice League vs Avengers film by 2020. Forward this to every comment thread related to DC vs. Marvel.

  • Report this Comment On April 26, 2014, at 9:42 PM, Dowjonesup wrote:

    TV is not so easy. Arrow is down 17% year to year. Its renewed but if its downward trend continues it may not get to a fourth season. There is no easy fix and WB seems to act as if there is.

  • Report this Comment On April 27, 2014, at 12:01 AM, koalat53 wrote:

    Really?! The Skrull in the Avengers?! I don't think you were paying attention to that part. That, sir, was Thanos!

  • Report this Comment On April 27, 2014, at 2:47 AM, AudieMurphy wrote:

    They've insisted all along that this is MOS2 and push that Adams, Fishburn and the rest are all starring along with an older Batman. They've said Miller's story is an inspiration so it seems to me the story will be Batman, seeing what a danger this alien could be, sets out to test/stop him. It could feature some good stuff out of costume with the detective visiting the Daily Planet, etc, but the extra heros will probably be a cameo to either show what they've set up to stop Superman or maybe better (and more traditional, but Goyer doesn't care for Superman tradition) end it with all these people comming forward to be heros, taking inspiration from Superman.

  • Report this Comment On April 27, 2014, at 1:02 PM, zilla1442 wrote:

    Who would think this film would be "risky"? Having these two characters in one film will guarantee success. Man of Steel was terrible and it still was a box office smash.

  • Report this Comment On April 28, 2014, at 8:58 AM, TMFMileHigh wrote:


    Thanks for your additional comments.

    If you've yet to see it, Warner confirmed to The Wall Street Journal that Zack Snyder will direct a "Justice League" film after "Batman vs. Superman."

    Find the article here (though reading may require a subscription):

    No surprises there, right?

    In reading the piece, three things stand out:

    1. We won't see this film before 2018, which means the timing I laid above remains plausible.

    2. Spinoffs are part of the plan, including - if the right script comes along -- a Wonder Woman spinoff.

    3. In the meantime, Warner is pursuing lesser-known properties, including "Shazam," "Metal Men," "100 Bullets," and "Fables."

    FWIW and Foolish best,



    TMFMileHigh in CAPS and on the boards

    @milehighfool on Twitter

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Tim Beyers

Tim Beyers first began writing for the Fool in 2003. Today, he's an analyst for Motley Fool Rule Breakers and Motley Fool Supernova. At, he covers disruptive ideas in technology and entertainment, though you'll most often find him writing and talking about the business of comics. Find him online at or send email to For more insights, follow Tim on Google+ and Twitter.

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