How many DC and Marvel superheroes can dance on the head of a pin?
Dunno, but let's leave those arguments to the fanbases on both sides. They can crunch the numbers behind the record-breaking debut of "Wonder Woman" this weekend and decide what it means that the DC heroine's origin-story movie opened lower than the other movies in the DC Extended Universe but higher than many origin-story movies and even some sequels in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. (Take that, Captain America.)
What's important is that "Wonder Woman" defied early predictions by cracking the $100 million glass ceiling in its first three days. Its estimated $103.1 million debut is the largest ever for a movie directed by a woman, for a movie about a superheroine, and for a female-protagonist comic-book adaptation. It's also the sixth largest June opening of all time and the 16th biggest superhero-movie debut ever.
Here are the ways "Wonder Woman" defied the odds and lassoed the gold.
1. Fans Really Wanted to See It
If anything, the movie may have benefited from the fact that its success seemed so unlikely. Previous attempts to make a Wonder Woman movie had failed; not even Buffy creator and future "Avengers" mastermind Joss Whedon could pull it off.
The track record of the three previous DCEU films wasn't promising; they've all earned well, but their grim, humorless tone have made them a chore to sit through. And Warners initially projected that "Wonder Woman" would open with just $65 to $75 million. Granted, studios often lowball their own predictions so that the movie will either look like a surprise hit or at least a non-disappointment. Still, it wasn't until the past few days, once glowing reviews came out, that analysts realized the movie had the potential to do much, much better.
2. People Really Liked the Movie
Seems obvious, but it's hard to overstate how important this is. True, fellow DCEU movies "Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice" and "Suicide Squad" opened even higher despite disappointing a lot of hardcore fans, but imagine how much better they could have done if they'd had more going for them than mere FOMO.
Look also at last month's other potential summer blockbusters-that-weren't, including "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales," "Baywatch," and Warners' own "King Arthur: Legend of the Sword." There was a simple reason audiences didn't want to waste their hard-earned money on those films. Fortunately, "WW," with its 93 percent "Fresh" Rotten Tomatoes score among critics and its great CinemaScore A grade among regular viewers, didn't have that problem.
3. Girl Power
Warners took great care to make sure the movie had feminist bona fides, from the star (Israeli army veteran/beauty pageant winner/"Fast & Furious" franchise alumna Gal Gadot) to the director (Patty Jenkins, who helmed Charlize Theron's Oscar-winning performance in "Monster") to the marketing campaign. That all made sense, given the character's Amazonian roots, yet it was still rare to see a Hollywood studio this determined to take the tastes of female moviegoers into account.
And for the most part, Warners and its promotional partners among outside retailers stayed on message, to the point where buying a ticket to the movie -- and thus supporting actress-driven films and female directors -- was supposed to feel like a feminist act. The message even resonated beyond the United States, as the movie has already earned an estimated $122.5 million overseas.
4. Males Liked It, Too
There was some advance grumbling that the feminist bent of the film and its publicity campaign would turn off male viewers, but that didn't happen. Women did dominate the viewership, but not by much, since 48 percent of the audience had Y chromosomes. Turns out that, if you make a good comic-book movie, even one with a female lead, the fanboys will come. Who knew?
5. Timing and No Real Competition
It didn't hurt that "WW" was opening in the wake of the big bellyflops that marked the debuts last weekend of "Pirates" and "Baywatch." Neither movie had an ardent enough fanbase to offer much resistance when the Amazon warrior stormed the multiplex this weekend seeking summer popcorn moviegoers.
And of course, the only other new wide release this weekend was "Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie," a superhero saga about as different from "WW" as possible. The DreamWorks cartoon, based on the popular kids' books, did very well among the under-12 crowd (which made up the majority of its audience), but while kid-ticket sales drove the superhero spoof to a $23.5 million premiere and second place, it's really not in the same league as the Justice Leaguer.
Yes, someday, it won't be big news to see a woman hired to direct a $149 million superhero movie, or for that superhero to be a woman, or for a comic book that's been telling a woman's story for more than 75 years to finally have a stand-alone movie. But today, it's still pretty unusual. Curiosity alone over whether Warners could pull it off could have been a major draw.
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