There's been a lot of negative speculation levied against Time Warner's (NYSE:TWX.DL) 2016 superhero actioner Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The movies in Disney's (NYSE:DIS) "Avengers" universe have set a very high bar in terms of commercial performance and critical reception, and reasons explaining why the introduction of the Justice League will come up short have been put forth in abundant supply.
The film was originally slated for a 2015 release, and the push into the following year signaled that production wasn't going as smoothly as anticipated. Its currently slated May 6, 2016 release date sees the project going up against Marvel and Disney's Captain America 3, a movie that could pose a sizable threat after the resounding success that was The Winter Soldier. There are also casting and directorial concerns, with no shortage of doubts about Ben Affleck's turn as Batman, Jesse Eisenberg's portrayal of Lex Luthor, and Zack Snyder's ability to improve upon the product that was 2013's Man of Steel. While all of these elements are worth considering, none of them will stop Dawn of Justice from crossing $1 billion at the global box office.
An abundance of recognizable heroes is a good thing
One of the most common reasons for doubting Batman v Superman is that the film appears to be aiming to accomplish too much in one series entry. While Disney and Marvel gradually introduced the members of their superteam leading up to 2012's seminal Avengers, Warner is aiming to introduce the majority of its Justice League in one movie. It's easy to see why.
Warner Bros. is behind in the superhero game and doesn't want to go the long route to establishing viable comic book properties. The nine films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe have a combined gross of approximately $6.38 billion, and Warner thinks it can take a quicker path to similar success.
Dawn of Justice will see the introduction of Batman, Wonder Woman, Cyborg, and Aquaman to the universe established in Man of Steel. Casting has yet to be announced for rumored characters like Green Lantern and The Flash, but it wouldn't be surprising to see them show up. While this may seem like a lot to juggle in one film, it's likely that most of the focus will be placed on Superman's conflict with The Dark Knight and problems kicked up by Lex Luthor and other dastardly agents.
It's also worth pointing out that Warner's superheroes are much more established than characters like Iron Man, Thor, and Black Widow were at the inception of the Disney's cinematic superhero empire. Players like Batman and Wonder Woman are iconic enough that they don't need to be introduced with solo films in Snyder's universe.
Brand matters more than critical reception
It's entirely possible that featuring so many high-profile heroes could bog down the 2016 film. The hypothetical issue could lend to the movie playing very poorly with critics. For an indication that such a scenario would't prevent Batman v Superman from earning massive sums, just look to recently released Transformers: Age of Extinction from Viacom (NASDAQ:VIA) and Paramount. The film has the worst critical average of any big-budget blockbuster released this year, but it's on track to be the summer's highest-grossing movie both domestically and internationally. Its opening weekend brought in approximately $302 million at the global box office.
Mixed reviews also didn't stop last year's Man of Steel from earning approximately $668 million worldwide. Combine the appeal of the Superman character with the fact that the last two Batman movies crossed the $1 billion mark and Dawn of Justice starts to look critic proof.
The American box office has never been less important
It's still well within the realm of feasibility that either Warner or Disney will blink and opt out of the May 6, 2016 release window. Even if Batman v Superman goes head to head with Captain America 3, it won't spell doom for DC's big screen heroes. Again, look to Transformers: Age of Extinction. The movie's Chinese gross is currently ahead of its stateside total, indicative of massively transformative changes that will reshape the film industry in coming years. Even if DC and Marvel heroes square off in a stateside box office battle and Dawn of Justice's performance is affected, there should still be plenty of breathing room overseas.
How will success be defined for Warner's most important film?
Batman v Superman should sail across the $1 billion mark without too much trouble. Just how good of a start that would represent and how well the movie sets up future series entries are the more relevant questions. Coming in below the $1.52 billion bar established by The Avengers is to be expected, but failing to sustain interest for 2017's Justice League and establish characters like Wonder Woman as viable solo properties would be a massive loss for Warner.