So you’ve probably already heard that Wonder Woman (WW) has eclipsed Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (GOTG2) to become the biggest grossing film of the summer. However, there’s a larger story that you’re probably not as aware of.
This weekend give or take a few days, Wonder Woman will hit $400 million at the U.S. box office (only 26 films in all of film history have reached this height). This would make it a first for a female superhero lead as well as for a female director. But besides being a trailblazer and record-maker, WW is notable for the way it got there. It’s an extraordinary story and one that points the way to the future.
See, a lot of noise is made about a film’s opening weekend. The biggest opening of the summer by far was GOTG2 with $146.5 million. Spiderman: Homecoming had the second biggest opening with $117 million. Wonder Woman came in third with $103 million. Just by judging these numbers, it would be quite tempting to expect GOTG2 to be the summer’s highest gross. With a $43.5 million lead, it seems like a no-brainer.
But that fails to take into account what really drives film-goers. We aren’t interested in just seeing what the biggest movie is at the moment. We want to see the movie that people are talking about, the ones our friends are raving about, the ones that have good Rotten Tomatoes scores. And once a film has proved itself worthy on the level of word-of-mouth, then the film takes on a different trajectory.
Measuring word-of-mouth is what in the industry is known as “legs,” how well a movie does AFTER its touted opening weekend. And it does this by quantifying the film’s multiplier. The multiplier is defined as the total amount grossed divided by the opening weekend. For GOTG2, which is nearing the end of its theatrical run, that means its $388 million gross divided by its $146.5 million opening equals a multiple of 2.65.
2.65 isn’t terrible, and typically a big blockbuster movie like this would be happy getting close to a multiple of 3. The DC Extended Universe movies thus far have dealt with relatively low multipliers.
Man of Steel = 2.50.
Suicide Squad = 2.43.
Batman Vs. Superman = 1.99
1.99? Ouch. Batman Vs. Superman opened with a HUGE $166m, but this goes to show you…Don’t be fooled by a big opening! A multiplier below 2 typically tells you the word-of-mouth was bad bad bad. People were told to stay away, and they did in droves.
But if you looked at WW’s multiple, you’d get:
$400 million / $103 million = 3.88. Wait…..Holy *&#$* 3.88!!!!
And that’s with me being conservative.
WW will likely gross well beyond $400m, possibly up to $410m. And this is possible since, if WW goes for an Oscar push as observers have suggested it will, there’s no doubt the film would get a re-release in theaters followed by more ads. If so, then its multiple would ramp up to 4 and beyond. With this level of success, WW can rightly be seen to be rescuing the DC Extended Universe almost single-handedly.
WW’s multiple is virtually unheard of for a summer film of its size in the modern era. What I mean is that today so much importance is placed on the opening weekend that films usually open big and have huge drop-offs thereafter. The modern era has exchanged smaller multipliers for bigger openings. Sure, many small indie movies or older films have had huge multipliers as the word-of-mouth spreads slowly, but their openings were paltry. So it’s rare that a film has both a big opening and and a big multiplier.
WW’s is certainly the highest multiple for any superhero movie period AND for any summer movie opening above $100m. It’s a gigantic multiplier, a true game-changer, and that cannot be ignored.
The closest comparison I can think of is Spider-Man, the Sam Raimi film that arguably launched the modern-day superhero film. It similarly blew everyone away with its huge summer gross at the time. Its multiple = 3.52.
So what’s the lesson for Hollywood? Well, I believe that the reason for this insane multiplier can be found in WW’s reaching out to the female audience. The themes clearly resonated and translated into word-of-mouth for women, which is relatively rare for a superhero movie. So many women were telling me that I had to see it, and many were saying that they’d see it in theaters again! And they had never felt or said anything like that before about a superhero film! Obviously that’s anecdotal, but based on those stories (and my own reaction to the film), I had a hunch a month ago that WW would reach $400m, an idea ridiculed on the popular film website where I post regularly. No one saw this coming, least of all film geeks.
But just putting a woman or women in the cast isn’t enough, or else the Ghostbusters remake would have been a hit too; women seem content to avoid the cineplex if there’s nothing good playing. No, the superhero film has to connect emotionally and thematically and authentically for them. Frozen provided that. Titanic did too. And those films’ multipliers also went through the roof (but as winter releases they are admittedly very different animals).
Hollywood should take notice. If it wants to create more big hits that can sustain its current superhero craze, it would do well to pay attention to an underfed audience that seems hungry for more quality pickings. If it won’t listen to opinion, maybe it’ll listen to the numbers.