Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice exploded into theaters earlier this year garnering the largest Warner Brothers opening in the studio’s history. Hundreds of millions of dollars rolled into the WB account as people paid to watch this landmark DC film that cost upwards of $400 million and was intended to jump start the DC Extended Universe. To this point, they have made $871 million at the worldwide box office, making it 46th all time. Mucking up the clear waters of success for this film have been two distinct voices of dissent that are being placed front and center on media outlets and mainstream websites around the globe: critics and superfans. These groups have an over the top investment in the product/film that skew their opinions and invoke an overprotective feeling towards the source material. Let’s dig in.
The largest gap between a critic and the general population is the overprotection of “cinema” that they seem to cling to so desperately. They appear to be searching for cinematic excellence and the standard they use applies much more to art house films than in the blockbuster films that appeal to the masses. It’s the same scenario in which a food critic might like the minuscule portions of food served at a prize bistro; the delicacies may meet the criteria for his palate but often does not meet the recipe for success that appeals to the majority of people.
The basic break between the critic and the general population is what they are looking for in a film. The majority of moviegoers are looking to be entertained and granted the ability to escape from everyday life while critics are looking for a formula that weaves directing, writing, cinematography and sound into a masterpiece of storytelling. This is not necessarily a negative as some critically acclaimed films accrue box office success. However, films that are not created to achieve this cinematic checklist rarely get that coveted thumbs up from a critic.
I am a superfan; ’80s TV, fantasy sports, and WWE are a few of the things I really hold in high regard. That being said, if a Saved by the Bell movie were to be made, I would not recommend that you depend on me for an unbiased critique. If you have questions about the content and how it relates to the original, I would be helpful. However, I have too much attachment to the source material to assume my opinion should matter to someone seeking a stand-alone film.
We are seeing this type of protective reaction to the new Batman v Superman film. Superfans are not happy with a lot of liberties taken by the director Zack Snyder. The disconnect here happened long before shooting began; the announcement of Ben Affleck as a more mature Batman was met with harsh criticism by fans who felt he would not accurately portray their caped hero.
The same rings true for the TV Show Game of Thrones. Superfans of the Song of Ice and Fire books (which Game of Thrones is based on) often shriek at the liberties that showrunners David Benioff and DB Weiss take. As someone who never read the books, I find it interesting to ask questions of those who have. At the same time, the deviation from the books does not limit my enjoyment of the series. Not being a superfan of the books means I can enjoy the television show without feeling robbed of the original content. Superfans do serve a purpose and are very helpful when I need clarification or background information.
I am not a comic book fan of anything in the DC universe. The closest I get to anything DC was my love for Super Friends in the ’70s and ’80s (my favorites were Green Lantern and Apache Chief). My Superman is Christopher Reeve and I have seen many Batmen, Affleck not being even close to the worst. While Dawn of Justice was not my favorite movie of all time, I actually liked it, and I’m not alone. It got a 67% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. That’s not what studios are aiming for but disasters like Battlefield Earth (11%), Gigli (13%), or Marvel’s 2015 Fantastic Four (19%) all have much lower scores.
Some naysayers point out that Dawn of Justice had the largest one-week domestic box office drop from Opening Week to Week 2 for any movie that opened at over $150 million. First, the people who usually return to see movies are superfans, so that would explain a large part of the drop. Secondly, Week 2 took in over $50 million which puts it top 40 all time for a sophomore week showing, hardly playing to empty theaters. Thirdly, it opened at $166 million which is higher than any movie ever released in March. This is hardly a flop in financial terms.
Critics and superfans have their place in pop culture; each has a sphere of influence that is necessary and sought after, to some level, by movie studios. In this current market of blockbuster films where entertainment is valued over cinematic achievement (right or wrong) these voices do not ring nearly as loud as they once did. Once upon a time, I listened to critics and superfans when considering movies to watch. Those voices have faded more and more with experience and now are barely considerations when I make my selections.
The negative critiques have not gone without consequence, however. We’ve already seen a shake-up at the top of the Warner Brothers DC franchise due to negative fan sentiment. On the other hand, Captain America: Civil War has absolutely slain the worldwide box office and is still going strong four weeks later due in part to a production that paid particular attention to the comic fanbase. It was also the thirteenth movie in the current Marvel Universe which has a built-in following ready for any related theatrical release.
Ideally, you want to appeal to both the superfan and the everyday movie goer, but appealing to just one doesn’t automatically spell box office disaster. With the super expensive X-Men: Apocalypse already getting mixed reviews, it will be interesting to see the effect that the critics and superfans have on the future of that franchise.
*Writers Note: If you haven’t gotten together with friends for an initial viewing of Birdemic: Shock and Terror you are really missing out.