While DC and Warner Bros. stole headlines this past weekend with plans to integrate Batman into Man of Steel 2 (a.k.a. Batman vs. Superman, or vice versa, as writer David S. Goyer confirmed), it's Marvel and 20th Century Fox that look to immediately capitalize on all the geekdom hoopla this weekend with The Wolverine, the second standalone film for Hugh Jackman's titular X-Man, which has made him one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood. What's changed since the release of X-Men Origins: Wolverine just four years ago? For starters, it appears that Fox has abandoned plans to make standalone films for each of their comic-book properties, instead offering X-Men: First Class as a means to reboot the entire franchise, while anchoring Wolverine on his own for two films until…wait for it…X-Men: Days of Future Past, which will finally bring all of our favorite mutants together again, marking four X-Men films in just six years.
Iron Man 3 rocketed off the 2013 summer blockbuster season with a blistering $174 million opening weekend, a tally that bested Iron Man 2's debut by a whopping $46 million. What happened in between that caused such a significant increase? Probably a little film called The Avengers, which still holds the opening-weekend box-office record with just over $207 million. A few weeks later, Fast & Furious 6 became the highest opener of the franchise, amassing $117 million over the Memorial Day holiday. What these franchises have in common, besides increasing grosses with each successive entry, is that the following film had already been announced before the “new” one even hit North American screens. In the case of Iron Man 3, discussions centered less around the film as a singular effort, but more toward what clues it would avail for The Avengers 2: Age of Ultron in 2015. With Fast & Furious 6, word got out that James Wan had been tapped for Fast & Furious 7, which will supposedly conclude the most complicated franchise in Hollywood.
Thus, The Wolverine joins these films as the next entry of the “already-a-sequel-in-the-works” category, a relatively new development that makes the “high-concept” days of 1990s studio films seem like a beacon of sincerity and good faith. Comic-Con 2013 absolutely cements these cultural developments, where future films aren't even contingent upon the previous film's success. Or, if the previous film grossed a little less than expected, well, it's time for studios to go The Avengers route and combine the properties for one mega-franchise (I, for one, can't wait for Despicably Furious and Paranormal: Impossible in 2025). The brilliance from a marketing standpoint is that viewers likely identify The Wolverine with The Avengers 2, because of even the slightest possibility that the two franchises will meet up in the near (or distant) future. The Wolverine functions simultaneously as “film” and advertisement for the franchise machine.
In light of these developments, The Wolverine appears primed to continue the upward trends of mega-franchising by matching, or even besting the $85 million opening of X-Men Origins: Wolverine. However, that Gavin Hood-directed effort received poor reviews from critics (a tepid 38% Rotten Tomatoes score) and earned about 47% of its total domestic gross on opening weekend, reflective of poor word of mouth. While X-Men: First Class managed a lesser $55 million opening by comparison, which only amounted to 37% of its total domestic gross, it lacked the star and character power that Jackman brings to the new film. Even though director James Mangold claims The Wolverine stands alone from the forthcoming entry, the pending reunion of all the characters together, in one film, cannot be denied, which lends The Wolverine the immediacy of its Marvel brethren. Nevertheless, Twitter buzz is low and being absent from Fandango's Top 5 as of Tuesday afternoon is troublesome for a huge opening, but chalk it up to Comic-Con malaise. Expect the Marvelites to be out in full force this weekend.
Other openers: The To Do List, starring Aubrey Plaza, opens in roughly 500 theaters and should struggle to crack $2 million, giving it almost no shot at the Top 10. On the other hand, Fruitvale Station expands nationwide into around 1000 theaters, which gives it a good chance at besting the second weekend of R.I.P.D., which is hilarious.
Box Office Weekend Predictions
1. The Wolverine: $85.3 (NEW)
2. The Conjuring: $22.6 (-46%)
3. Despicable Me 2: $15.2 (-39%)
4. Grown Ups 2: $11.5 (-42%)
5. Turbo: $11.3 (-47%)
6. Pacific Rim: $7.8 (-51%)
7. Red 2: $7.6 (-58%)
8. The Heat: $5.8 (-38%)
9. Fruitvale Station: $4.9 (+662%)
10. R.I.P.D.: $4.8 (-62%)