Shortly before its midnight release, Watchmen had already scored more advance tickets at MovieTickets than director Zack Snyder’s 300 did in 2007 -- and that pic became the highest March opener of all time at $70.9M. The site also reports Snyder's newest Warner Bros pic (which was the subject of a lawsuit by 20th Century Fox to gets its legal piece, while Paramount has international) sold out more than 80 midnight performances and accounted for 82% of ticket sales as of today. Fandango reports that Watchmen is snagging 91% of its online ticket sales.
As for box office, I can report that every Hollywood studio appears in agreement that the vigilante superhero thriller is going to have an enormous weekend opening and easily gross in the $60sM despite a long running time of two hours, 43 minutes, and likely hit $70M if Thursday's 1,600 midnight shows are included in the total. For one thing, there's no competition. For another, the studio's distribution honcho Dan Fellman has upped the Hard R-rated pic to an unprecedented superwide release by grabbing 3,611 theaters from Friday through Sunday. (The previous widest R-rated release was 3,603 venues for The Matrix Reloaded.)
Of course the comic book fanboys will turn out for their long awaited graphic novel to come to the big screen. But what about everyone else? Turns out that Watchmen is tracking most heavily with older males -- which makes sense since the movie is set in an alternate 1985 America (although Nixon has been played down in the pic). Awareness, interest and first choice is being led by over age 25 males followed by under 25 guys. On one tracking service, younger males have lower awareness but higher interest from those that are aware. Here's what's also interesting: there's high awareness and positive interest from the Latino segment as well as African Americans which is translating into strong first choice numbers in both of those ethnic segments. What does it all mean? "I think that the movie is obviously poised to have an incredible opening," a top Warner Bros exec told me confidently.
The studio is even optimistic about attracting moviegoers from outside Watchmen's sweet spot of males ages 17-to-34. I'm told it's solid across all demos, and even doing well with females. That may be due to Warner Bros' $50 million marketing budget for the movie -- about average for a tentpole these days. The studio invested in a very aggressive campaign that spent big in the outdoor market and on TV advertising. But what's amusing is that rival marketing gurus say they're surprised and impressed by the campaign that's also left them confused what the movie is about or even who the good guys or bad guys are and why. As one of them admired: "The campaign was about planting a big flag in the ground as if to say, 'We are an event. And if you don't understand that, then you're not cool enough to get it'. "
That was indeed the challenge for Sue Kroll and her marketing crew, which is why they created a lot of value-added content to flesh out the very graphic characters. Surprisingly, they chose low-rated NBC to air the most important spots -- showcasing Dr. Manhattan during a National Treasure movie on the network, and Rorschach the comedian during Heroes. Strangely, the Warner Bros team resisted the obvious tagline for Watchmen that "someone is killing off superheroes". As close as the marketing came was "We want our superheroes". The difficulty was staying true to the graphic novel as a social and cultural phenomenon but not oversimplifying it. That meant doing something movie marketers rarely do: accepting that Watchmen is an acquired taste based on a restrictive idea and written as an inaccessible story and then made into a movie that isn't for everyone. This may be a fine strategy to open the pic. But what about the following weekend when Watchmen's negatives like its intrinsic violence and muddled plot are watercooler talk? "I hate to think that, after 2 fucking years of marketing, we're a one weekend movie," a Warner Bros exec confessed to me.
But that's exactly what Hollywood is anticipating. The real disagreement in Hollywood this weekend is whether Watchmen will have legs. As one rival marketing guru quipped, "Probably not. But if you open to $70+M you can get to $150M on your knees." As another agrred: "They will get a lot of initial interest because it's an event movie in March -- and then the bottom falls out. Whether Warner Bros can broaden the campaign to sustain interest in Watchmen is what movie analysts will be watching after this Sunday.
I was going to try a midnight showing but then I was like "Fuck that noise." but then I was like "SHIT!" and here I am regretting that. So. Yeah.