CinemaCon, the annual gathering at which studios show their wares to movie theater owners, is happening this week in Las Vegas. It’s the first “full” conference since 2019, after 2020 was cancelled and 2021 was a COVID-stunted gathering, and the studios aren’t wasting time announcing a slew of new films coming to theaters for the next few years. One of the least surprising announcements is that Matt Reeves and Robert Pattinson are returning to make a sequel to The Batman, which I desperately hope is titled 2 Bat 2 Man. Or, The Batman 2, I’d settle for a straight-forward numbering sequence, too. I’m just so afraid it’s going to be called something like Batman: The Joker’s Legacy or some such.
The Batman, one of the best movies of the year so far and one of its biggest, is now streaming on HBO Max. I know it’s made over $759 million, but the minute it hit streaming, its box office revenue dropped 69%, a sign that audiences will pivot to watching at home as soon as that’s an option. I can’t help but feel that The Batman left some money on the table. Warner Brothers is operating on a post-pandemic 45-day window, half what theatrical exclusivity used to be. I don’t disagree with shortening windows when it makes sense, but movies like The Batman often leg it out in the later weeks, pulling in low but steady box office as Johnny-come-latelys finally get around to checking out that movie they’ve been hearing so much about. But now, with a tight six weeks between premiere and home viewing, the latecomers are just watching at home.
To me, it makes more sense to pull films that underperform onto VOD/streaming fast, in the hopes that a lower-risk audience will take a chance on something weird or with mixed word of mouth, but leave the stuff that is actually performing well in theaters longer, to soak up those back-half dollars when the word of mouth really starts paying off. But even as Netflix’s recent fall from grace has everyone in a mild panic, no one is questioning if maybe studios have been too quick to abandon theaters, at least for the big moneymakers like The Batman. It will just be curious to see if this trend is better or worse by the time The Batman Redux comes out in 20-whatever. It’s not dated yet, because CinemaCon is all about headlines and hyping movie theater owners from middle America, not providing actual strategies and tangible solutions for the challenges facing the film industry today.