With Time Warner's (NYSE:TWX) Batman v Superman nearing the end of its theatrical run, and coming up well short of the $1 billion mark, it's time to take a look at some of what went wrong with the movie that's serving as the launch pad for the DC Extended Universe (DCEU). This franchise has another 10 films slated for release through 2020.
In comparative terms, Batman's cinematic showdown with Superman can be likened to a 2016 version of Sony's (NYSE:SNE) 2014 misfire, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, a movie that was also intended to springboard an expanded movie universe. Ultimately, however, it collapsed those franchise plans, and necessitated a change in course that saw Spider-Man films come under the direction of Disney (NYSE:DIS) and its Marvel film wing.
Warner's ownership of DC Comics means Batman and Superman probably won't be joining The House of Mouse anytime soon. There are serious questions about the viability of a DC Comics movie universe after the Batman v Superman misfire, and big changes for the franchise could be on the way.
How bad is Batman v Superman for Time Warner?
The concept of Batman and Superman battling it out on the silver screen, then going on to resolve their differences through the shared struggle for a greater good, has been teased and tinkered with for decades. It packs a certain built-in appeal that could have helped Warner's movie universe leapfrog the carefully staged buildup that helped make Disney's MCU films so successful.
At a time when superheroes have never been bigger, Warner had a huge opportunity with Batman v Superman -- and it's fair to say that the studio was mostly unable to capitalize. With a production and marketing budget in the $400 -million range, and accounting for the varying shares of ticket revenues taken by theaters in domestic and international markets, the movie's roughly $870 million in ticket sales suggest that Time Warner will not see a big profit on the picture.
When factoring in paid advertising spots in the film, the numbers probably look better for Warner, as the company's 2013 Superman film, Man of Steel, reportedly featured roughly $160 million in ad placement. The presence of in-film advertising in Batman v Superman can be taken as a microcosm of the curious lack of identity that threatens the success of a DC Cinematic Universe.
Batman v Superman failed to deliver a strong reason why its eponymous heroes should be fighting, or why they should join together as a team. It also came up short in terms of world building for the greater franchise.
Introductions for future Justice League members and solo-film recipients Cyborg and Aquaman were executed in almost laughably bad fashion. They made scenes that depicted Lex Luthor eating Jolly Rancher candies, or a prominently displayed Olay skin-care product, stand out as burdensome and jarring inclusions in a movie that couldn't manage a cohesive narrative despite a 153-minute runtime.
Ben Affleck did a fine job as Bruce Wayne and Batman, and Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman can probably best be described with faint praise, but Batman v Superman squandered valuable characters and stories. It also did very little to build the prestige of the DC Extended Universe.
Time Warner needs bold moves to save the DC movie franchise
With Time Warner counting on its film division for strength while it weathers turbulence from its cable networks business, and a greater than $10 billion in combined ticket sales for Disney's MCU films evidencing the incredible potential of superhero movies at the box office, getting the DCEU back on track is serious business. Poor critical reception and bad word of mouth weighed on Batman v Superman after its explosive $425 million global opening, and also weakened the outlook for future entries, so there's a good chance that Time Warner is reconsidering the timeline and personnel for its DCEU films.
After missed opportunities with Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, it's not unreasonable to think that Time Warner is reconsidering director Zack Snyder's role as the DC Extended Universe's lead architect. Snyder is currently attached to direct a two-part Justice League movie, with the first entry slated for a 2017 release. It wouldn't be shocking to see some manner of shakeup hit DCEU productions reminiscent of what happened with the Amazing Spider-Man series.
Following disappointing commercial and critical performance for Amazing Spider-Man 2, Sony initially indicated that it would stand by development plans and have director Marc Webb make additional Spider-Man pictures. Ultimately, it changed the personnel and approach, and a similar situation could play out following Batman v Superman.
The DC Extended Universe won't get canceled as did Sony's Amazing series, but some manner of release swapping and movement away from Snyder's vision for the franchise is probable. Time Warner's upcoming August release, Suicide Squad, now faces extra pressure to perform and re-energize the company's superhero slate.
While the movie looks to be more fun and less dour than Batman v Superman, it will have to create series momentum rather than benefit from it. Another misfire in such rapid succession could wind up damaging the DC Extended Universe's prospects.
Keith Noonan has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Time Warner and Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.