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‘The Batman’ wants to save Gotham, and movie theaters too

<i>Jonathan Olley/© 2020 Warner Bros.</i><br/>
Jonathan Olley/© 2020 Warner Bros.
"The Batman" — which stars Robert Pattinson as the Caped Crusader and Zoë Kravitz as Catwoman — notched an estimated $128.5 million at the North American box office this weekend.

By Frank Pallotta, CNN Business

The Batman” opens this weekend and theaters are hoping this blockbuster film will help the industry nudge closer toward normalcy.

The film stars Robert Pattinson as the Caped Crusader. It is projected to bring in roughly $100 million for its opening weekend in North America.

That would be one of the best openings for the series, but strong buzz and the character’s historical success at the ticket booth could propel the Warner Bros. film even higher. It brought in $21.6 million for its preview showings. (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, senior analyst at entertainment research firm Exhibitor Relations, told CNN Business. “‘The Batman’ is not only the film theaters want, it’s the film theaters need right now.”

But will the lingering effects of the pandemic and a nearly three hour run time keep “The Batman” from saving theaters?

The theater industry’s dark knight

Many films over the last year, from “A Quiet Place Part II” to “No Way Home,” helped theaters stay afloat. But theaters haven’t been able to re-establish their pre-pandemic footing consistently because of new coronavirus variants popping up and causing cases to surge.

“The Batman” could change that this weekend.

The film is being released as Covid cases are dropping and momentum at the ticket booth is growing thanks to hits like “No Way Home,” “Scream” and “Uncharted.” If “The Batman” can bring in crowds this weekend and over the next few weeks, it could be a bridge to the historically lucrative summer movie season.

“The box office year of 2022 will get its spiritual start in March with ‘The Batman,'” Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore, told CNN Business. “It seems like the planets are perfectly aligned for the film.”

Theater owners can be optimistic given the character’s track record at the box office. Films based on the Caped Crusader have brought in more than $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 movies from Academy-Award winning films (2008’s “The Dark Knight”), crossovers with other DC heroes (2016’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”), animated films (1993’s “Batman: Mask of the Phantasm”), animated films made out of LEGOs (2017’s “The LEGO Batman Movie”) and even one of the worst films of all time (1997’s “Batman & Robin”).

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

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

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

A ‘176-minute latex procedural’

“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 appears to have more in common with serial killer sagas like ‘Se7en’ and ‘Zodiac’ than it does anything in the Snyderverse or the [Marvel Cinematic Universe].”

That type of description could pique the interest of audiences looking for something fresh from their superhero fare. However, the film’s violent tone could also alienate families looking to take their young children to the latest Batman flick.

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

That lengthy run time will likely cut down on how many screenings the film could get this weekend, and keep away audiences who don’t want to spend that much time in Gotham City.

Yet long run time and grim tone notwithstanding, it’s likely that Batman will follow in Spider-Man’s footsteps and bring in the type of blockbuster opening numbers that could set off a much-needed revitalizing year for the theater industry.

“It’s interesting that a spider and a bat would be the saviors of theaters,” Dergarabedian said. “But ‘The Batman’s’ expected success will create an excitement and momentum that should carry forward and boost the other blockbusters that are on the calendar for the rest of the year.”

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