In a revelation that surprised no one, Zack Snyder's Watchmen came out on top of the weekend box-office. However, the numbers are apparently lower than expected. While the $55.7 million that the film grossed domestically this weekend would be considered phenomenal had it been any other film, Watchmen was obviously not just "any other film." Amid tremendous hype, highly publicized legal drama surrounding distribution rights, and constant fanboy attention, you would have thought that the impending release of this film was equivalent to the Second Coming.
Yet, projections for the film were conservatively set to at least match the $70.9 million earned in March 2007 for the release of Snyder's last film, 300. With very little competition at the box-office, Watchmen did not even meet the lofty goal of equalling a bunch of half-naked Spartans.
The film certainly didn't "bomb" in the conventional sense, but given the hype, it did fall somewhat short. What went wrong?
The Economy: Possibly, but at the same time, "the economy" is always a buzz-word thrown out to imply some kind of vague empathy towards the misfortune of others ("others" being the key word.) Do people cut back during hard financial times? Absolutely. Do they completely cut back on aesthetic luxuries? Not at a great extent. If you were hyped and planning to see Watchmen before you lost your job, then chances are, you will not let a $10-$15 evening stop you from doing so. Broke people are people too.
The Length: The pure and practical fact remains, that at two hours and 40 minutes (inflated to about three hours with trailers), the laws of time and space limited the number of showings per screen. Now, one could argue back: "What about Lord of the Rings: Return of the King? That was three hours and 20 minutes, and that raked in $72.6 million on opening weekend!" True, but being that it was the conclusion of an already massively popular trilogy of films helped a lot. Also, with a PG-13 rating, and a more widespread familiarity with the source material, it was far more feasible for a family night out. Which brings me to the next point...
The R-Rating: While this certainly did not hold 300 back from its success, the violence, and overt grittiness of that film was ultimately its centerpiece. What was the centerpiece of Watchmen? It's cerebral storyline? (Yeah, everyday moviegoers just LOVE that.) Or, perhaps ordinary moviegoers just saw it as a "generic superhero film" and the R-rating prevented casual fans who typically see films of that genre from closing the deal. What did they see instead? Given the weekend box-office numbers, apparently nothing.
Barring the economic explanation (which, thankfully, is not a theory people are embracing), I think what held the film back at the box-office actually coincided with what held it back from an artistic standpoint. The film tried too hard to appease hardcore fans, that it forgot that mainstream audiences would be paying the bills. There was just WAY too much nuance crammed into the film that inflated it to an unreasonable length. While as a fan, it was nice to see "shout-outs" to those of us who are familiar with the book, it still did not advance the storytelling and made the film less accessible to the layman.
Also, as a fan of the book, while I obviously wanted to see it translated purely, the film is far more "graphic" than the graphic novel. Some scenes were also just gratuitous for the sake of being gratuitous. (While there was a love scene, I didn't see Nite Owl orgasm in the book, and I certainly didn't need to see it in the film.) This is not a "prudish" stance (believe me, Malin Ackerman naked = win). However, it was pure indulgence at the expense of compromise. A theatrical release of the film at PG-13, cut to about two hours, with the main story in focus, would have made a lot more money.
While fanboys would have been temporarily disappointed, the revenue would have ensured that the genre would stay strong, and that any potential sequel (*shiver*) would also be supported at the box-office. With Zack Snyder releasing a massive director's cut of the film later on, it would be THAT version that could have been rated R, with all the nudity and long, indulgent scenes intact. At that point, EVERYONE would have been happy. I know that I certainly could have tolerated a PG-13 version that made more money, while in anticipation for a "Mother of All Director's Cuts" Blu-ray that would have shown the film in all its glory.
Don't get me wrong, as a fan, I liked what I saw, but I was objective enough to realize that from a business standpoint, it could have been handled far better.