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With the release of The Batman this weekend, director Matt Reeves and actor Robert Pattinson have proven DC's 83-year-old Caped Crusader is still worthy of being considered a box office heavyweight champion. Set during the second year of Bruce Wayne's crime-fighting career in Gotham City, the Warner Bros. release — which clocks in just shy of a whopping three hours — outperformed early projections ($100 - $125 million) with a total of $134 million from domestic ticket sales, making it the biggest release of the year so far as well as the second-largest North American opening of the COVID-19 era.
Moreover, the DC-inspired project became only the second blockbuster release of the pandemic to crack $100 million domestically in its very first weekend of playing on the big screen. Sony Pictures' Spider-Man: No Way Home was the first to defy that particular coronavirus obstacle and continues to hold the largest North American bow of any pandemic offering ($260 million, to be exact).
Internationally, Reeves' bleak and gritty take on the Dark Knight swooped upon $120 million for an impressive global debut of $254.5 million. No part of that worldwide tally comes from Russia, whose privilege of getting to see the film this weekend was indefinitely revoked as a response to Vladimir Putin's ongoing invasion of Ukraine. WB was one of several major Hollywood studios that decided to impose entertainment sanctions alongside the political, economic, and cultural ones already enacted by the U.S. and nations around the planet.
Elsewhere, AMC Theatres raised eyebrows by announcing an experimental strategy of "variable pricing" (aka charging more money for specific screenings), though it doesn't seem to have deterred audiences from turning out in droves.
"Movie theaters were looking for another superhero and they got one with The Batman, a film that pushed the limits of the genre and came out a winner by simultaneously being a commercially successful blockbuster and an artistic triumph," Paul Dergarabedian, Senior Media Analyst at Comscore, tells SYFY WIRE. "Matt Reeves' creative vision — along with the perfect casting of Pattinson, Kravitz and the other amazing actors in the ensemble — sparked the imagination of audiences and the film became a 'must-see' event on the big screen, and is the perfect latest step in the evolution of the Batman character for both today's and tomorrow's audiences. This is truly an exciting moment for DC fans!"
He adds that "great old fashioned word-of-mouth, new school social media buzz and the reporting of the box office" helped make The Batman "a FOMO worthy not-to-be-missed movie event and that moved the numbers even higher than the Sunday estimates."
That's because the initial weekend gross was pegged at $128.5 million before it jumped up by an addition $6 billion Monday morning. "The same happened with Spider-Man: No Way Home that had a Sunday estimate of $253 million and on Monday, was upgraded to $260.1 million," Dergarabedian concludes.
The big question is whether The Batman is capable of emulating or even surpassing Spidey's success with $1 billion or more throughout the course of its theatrical tenure. "With a healthy global debut, The Batman is likely targeting somewhere close to $800 million by the end of its run," says Shawn Robbins, Chief Analyst at Boxoffice Pro. "A planned release in China will go a long way toward that goal."
He continues: "The film is playing strongly among die-hard Batman fans and adult male audiences, but it's still a gritty, lengthy film that makes for an apples-to-oranges comparison with other comic book movies that have reached the $1 billion threshold thanks, in part, to a higher degree of audience accessibility, as well as staggered pandemic recovery stages in certain markets. Maybe The Batman's wings will spread a little further than expected, though, as minimal competition won't be hitting theaters until April."
Given the sizable and promising financial curtain-raiser, however, it's probably safe to assume that WB is itching for a sequel — or better yet — an entire trilogy. The studio has already shown its commitment to this rebooted universe by developing a trio of small screen spinoffs (one about the Gotham City Police Department, one about Colin Farrell's Penguin, and one about Arkham Asylum) for HBO Max.
"We are talking and thinking about the next movie, but to be honest with you, at the moment, the most important thing is that after five years — I started this in 2017 — this movie's finally coming out," Reeves, who co-wrote the movie's screenplay with Peter Craig, recently said. "I really want the audience to connect to it and I really believe they will because I think Rob [Pattinson] is an incredible Batman."
The film foregoes the usual Batman beats (the tragic murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne, Bruce honing his hand-to-hand fighting skills, Bruce designing his arsenal of gadgets etc.) by dropping the viewer into a shadowy and rain-soaked version of Gotham that already has some experience with the brooding superhero (played by Pattinson). He's feared by petty criminals and distrusted by most of the town's citizens, especially the members of its police force. The only individual in a position of authority willing to go to bat for the Bat is Jim Gordon (Jeffrey Wright).
When a sadistic and puzzle-loving killer known as the Riddler (Paul Dano) starts targeting high-profile officials like Mayor Don Mitchell Jr. (Rupert Penry-Jones), Batman and Gordon work to uncover a far-reaching conspiracy involving corruption, drugs, murder, and embezzlement. Leaning into the comics' depiction of Batman as the world's greatest detective, the project draws creative inspiration from some of the greatest mystery-based thrillers and/or film noirs ever made like Chinatown, All the President's Men, and two David Fincher touchstones: Se7en and Zodiac.
“I wanted to do a story in which the corruption of Gotham was one of the most important aspects of the story, because Gotham is a sick place," Reeves explained to MovieMaker Magazine. He later added: “This idea of a place that is corrupt, and you try to swim against the tide in order to fight against it and make a difference, is quintessential Batman. And at the center of those noir stories is almost always the detective, right? And that’s why he is the world’s greatest detective. And so this story is, in addition to being almost a horror movie, and a thriller, and an action movie, at its core, it’s also very much a detective story. It’s very narrative."
During his investigation, Bruce crosses paths with future members of his iconic rogues gallery such as Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Zoe Kravitz) and Oswald "Oz" Cobbleplot/Penguin (Farrell). John Turturro (Carmine Falcone), Peter Sarsgaard (Gotham DA, Gil Colson), Jayme Lawson, (Gotham mayoral hopeful, Bella Reál), and Andy Serkis (Alfred Pennyworth) round out the ensemble cast.
The Batman currently holds an 85 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, making it the fourth-highest rated Batman movie in the franchise's history after The Dark Knight, The LEGO Batman Movie, and The Dark Knight Rises. Some critics have not only described it as the best Batman movie of all time, but one of the greatest superhero movies of all time.