By LINDSEY BAHR
AP Film Writer
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Batman has his fair share of pressures, from saving Gotham to saving movie theaters. And while they’re both still decidedly works in progress, “The Batman,” starring Robert Pattinson, managed to give a little glimmer of hope to both by grossing $128.5 million in North America, according to studio estimates Sunday.
The latest relaunch of the 80-year-old comic book character is well above Warner Bros.’ conservative estimates going into the weekend, which had the film pegged for a debut in the $90 million range. It’s the best opening of 2022 and the second best of the pandemic, though it’s more than $100 million shy of “Spider-Man: No Way Home’s” still unbelievable $260 million opening weekend in December.
“The Batman” opened this weekend exclusively in theaters in 4,217 locations on over 12,500 screens in North America. There were some fan events on Tuesday and Wednesday leading into Thursday pre-shows in about 3,300 locations. All told, by the close of Friday, “The Batman” had already grossed $57 million. No other major studio dared compete with their own new film.
Internationally, “The Batman” earned $120 million, bringing its global total to $248.5 million. Warner Bros. halted its release in Russia following the country’s invasion of Ukraine, saying that the company would monitor the situation as it evolves. Many major studios made similar decisions with their films.
Reviews have been largely positive for this new iteration of the caped crusader. Director Matt Reeves and co-writer Peter Craig set “The Batman” in Bruce Wayne’s second year of donning the cape. Corruption is rampant in Gotham and some well-known villains are not yet fully formed, but there’s a serial killer afoot and Pattinson’s Batman and Gordon, played by Jeffrey Wright, are on a mission to find the mysterious Riddler (Paul Dano).
It’s been a long road for “The Batman” to make it to theaters. The original plan was for it come out in June 2021, but that was pushed several times due in part to COVID-related production shutdowns.
The film cost around $200 million to produce, not to mention the millions spent on marketing and distribution. And a lot is riding on “The Batman,” with future films and an HBO Max spinoff series both planned.
As the omicron variant surged in December, Warner Bros. was faced once more with a hard decision: Delay the release further or commit to the March opening. Under the advice of epidemiologists, in January they decided to go forward and start spending significant money on marketing.
“We knew the movie was exceptional. We knew fans would embrace it. But we didn’t know what the pandemic would hold,” said Jeff Goldstein, Warner Bros.’ president of domestic distribution. “Theater owners really stepped up and showed their showmanship … it was really a collective win.”
“The Batman” is also the first movie in over a year that Warner Bros. has released exclusively in theaters. In 2021, the studio adopted a hybrid release strategy debuting films from “Dune” to “Suicide Squad” in theaters and on HBO Max simultaneously, which may have helped streaming subscriptions, but not the box office or movie theaters.
“The box office is back with a vengeance,” said Paul Dergarabedian, Comscore’s senior media analyst. “This is a real turning point for the industry. The box office year has been moving in fits and starts. There have been some solid performances but no blockbuster breakout opener in 2022. This is great for movie theaters.”
So how does Pattinson’s stack up against his predecessors? It’s the fourth biggest opening for a Batman movie in North America. As far as lifetime profits, only time will tell, but Batman as a $1 billion franchise is a relatively recent phenomenon.
Tim Burton’s “Batman” starring Michael Keaton and released in 1989, made around $252 million in North America and just over $400 million worldwide. None of the Batman movies crossed $500 million worldwide until 2008. Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight,” starring Christian Bale, broke the $1 billion mark, which repeated with “The Dark Knight Rises.” The Ben Affleck/Zack Snyder era peaked with “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” which grossed $873 million worldwide.