“The Batman” wants to save Gotham, and the cinemas too

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By Frank Pallotta, CNN Business

‘The Batman’ opens this weekend and theaters are hoping this blockbuster film will help the industry get closer to normalcy.

The film stars Robert Pattinson as the Caped Crusader. It is expected to gross around $100 million for its opening weekend in North America.

It would be one of the series’ best openings, but strong buzz and the character’s historic box office success could propel the Warner Bros. film. even higher. It made $21.6 million for its previews. (Warner Bros., like CNN, is a unit of WarnerMedia.)

“‘The Batman’ is the most anticipated film since [December’s] “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” and we all know how that delivered the goods,” Jeff Bock, principal analyst at entertainment research firm Exhibitor Relations, told CNN Business. “‘The Batman’ isn’t just what cinemas want, it’s what cinemas need right now.”

But will the lingering effects of the pandemic and a nearly three-hour runtime prevent “The Batman” from saving theaters?

The dark knight of the theater industry

Many movies over the past year, from “A Quiet Place Part II” to “No Way Home,” have helped theaters stay afloat. But theaters have been unable to reestablish their pre-pandemic position consistently due to the emergence of new coronavirus variants and rising cases.

“The Batman” could change that this weekend.

The film comes out as Covid cases dwindle and box office momentum builds thanks to hits like ‘No Way Home’, ‘Scream’ and ‘Uncharted’. If “The Batman” can pull in crowds this weekend and over the next few weeks, it could be a bridge to the historically lucrative summer movie season.

“The year 2022 at the box office will begin spiritually in March with ‘The Batman,'” Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore, told CNN Business. “It looks like the planets are perfectly aligned for the movie.”

Theater owners can be optimistic given the character’s box office track record. Movies based on Caped Crusader have grossed over $5 billion at the global box office since the first film, 1989’s “Batman.”

The moody superhero has starred in a prolific and eclectic number of Oscar-winning movies (“The Dark Knight” from 2008), crossovers with other DC heroes (“Batman v Superman: Dawn of justice” from 2016), animated films (from 1993 “Batman: Mask of the Phantasm”), animated films in LEGO (“The LEGO Batman Movie” from 2017) and even one of the worst films of all time (“Batman & Robin” from 1997).

“Batman is one of the most beloved and revered characters in all of cinema,” Dergarabedian said.

He added that Christopher Nolan’s take on “Batman” across three films from 2005 to 2012 reinvigorated the franchise, transforming the iconic crime fighter from a “classic camp hero into a serious cinematic character.”

That serious tone for the Batman universe continues this weekend with a film that’s not only catching the attention of audiences, but critics as well.

A “176-minute latex procedure”

“The Batman” holds an 86% score on review site Rotten Tomatoes, with critics praising the film’s direction and Pattinson’s brooding take on the character.

David Ehrlich, IndieWire’s chief film critic, called the film “a sprawling 176-minute latex procedural that often seems to have more in common with serial killer sagas like ‘Se7en’ and ‘Zodiac’ than it does. does anything in the Snyderverse or the [Marvel Cinematic Universe].”

This type of description might pique the interest of audiences looking for something new in their superhero fare. However, the film’s violent tone could also alienate families looking to take their young children to the latest Batman movie.

Another issue that could keep the film from hitting the box office heights of other superhero films is that “The Batman” clocks in at two hours and 56 minutes.

This long running time will likely reduce the number of screenings the film might have this weekend and alienate audiences who don’t want to spend so much time in Gotham City.

Still, despite the long run and dark tone, it’s likely Batman will follow in Spider-Man’s footsteps and deliver the kind of blockbuster opening acts that could spark a year of much-needed revitalization for the theater industry.

“It’s interesting that a spider and a bat are the saviors of theaters,” Dergarabedian said. “But the anticipated success of ‘The Batman’ will create excitement and momentum that should continue and boost the other blockbusters that are on the schedule for the rest of the year.”

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