'Wonder Woman' Had a Huge Opening Weekend...For a Movie

The female superhero movie also just broke through what was once No Women-Director's Land.

The female superhero movie also just broke through what was once No Women-Director’s Land.

Patty Jenkins is being celebrated for being the first woman director to open a movie with $100M or more. Her Wonder Woman grossed $103M in its first weekend (with another $123M coming in from overseas for a global total start of $226M). And she deserves the applause. But the box office achievement here isn’t just great for a woman. It’s pretty darn awesome for anyone, any kind of movie, with any kind of protagonist, in any year.

Let’s not forget that not a lot of women are allotted the kind of budget that Jenkins received for Wonder Woman nor are a lot of women handed blockbuster movies, superhero kind or otherwise. There’s no doubt that many women could open and could have opened to the tune of $100M had they had more of an opportunity to do so. Had a woman directed any installment of the female hero-driven Hunger Games franchise, it still would have debuted to the same $100M+ figure.

But let’s look at how Wonder Woman compares to other top-opening women-directed movies:

  1. Wonder Woman (Patty Jenkins, 2017): $103M
  2. Fifty Shades of Grey (Sam Taylor-Johnson, 2015): $85M ($93M adjusted for inflation)
  3. Twilight (Catherine Hardwicke, 2008): $70M ($86M adjusted)
  4. Deep Impact (Mimi Leder, 1998): $41M ($78M adjusted)
  5. Brave (Brenda Chapman and Mark Andrews, 2012): $66M ($72M adjusted)
  6. Frozen (Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, 2013): $67M* ($71M adjusted) *first weekend in wide release
  7. Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel (Betty Thomas, 2009): $49M ($57M adjusted)
  8. What Women Want (Nancy Meyers, 2000): $34M ($55.1M adjusted)
  9. Doctor Dolittle (Betty Thomas, 1998): $29M ($54.7M adjusted)
  10. Kung Fu Panda 2 (Jennifer Yuh Nelson, 2011): $48M ($52M adjusted)

Budgets for these movies, save for Fifty Shades, were mostly in the high double digits, with the animated features more in the $150M range. For the older movies, Deep ImpactDoctor Dolittle, and What Women Want all would have cost more than $100M today. So Wonder Woman, which did cost more than $100M today — and it was made a big deal that Jenkins was the first woman to work with so much money — proved to have done the most with such a high cost.

Now let’s see how Wonder Woman compares to other DC superhero movies (all adjusted):

  1. The Dark Knight (2008): $195M
  2. The Dark Knight Rises (2012): $183M
  3. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016): $171M
  4. Suicide Squad (2016): $139M
  5. Man of Steel (2013): $136M
  6. Batman Forever (1995): $107M
  7. Wonder Woman (2017): $103M
  8. Batman Returns (1992): $97M
  9. Batman (1989): $90M
  10. Batman and Robin (1997): $83M

Clearly, Batman is a popular character, though Batman Begins (2005) only opened with $67M (adjusted), perhaps because the mid-aughts were still rather weak  considering the glut of low-quality superhero movies. Superman Returns (2006) did only slightly better with $71M (adjusted). Other movies Wonder Woman surpassed include Green Lantern (2011), Watchmen (2009), Catwoman (2004), The Lego Batman Movie (2016), and all the Christopher Reeve Superman installments (1978-1987).

Of course, Wonder Woman was on many more screens — its per-screen average is much lower than BatmanBatman Returns, and Superman II — meaning there were fewer sell-outs and turn-aways than you’d see in the old days. Still, it did pretty well even compared to today’s other DCEU entries, especially for not featuring Batman and for not being a sequel. There’s not too big a gap between Wonder Woman and Man of Steel considering there was a substantial gap in reported budget ($149M vs. $225M).

Shall we see how Wonder Woman compares to MCU characters’ introductory (non-sequel) solo superhero ventures? Okay then (all adjusted):

  1. Spider-Man* (2002): $175M *Non-MCU debut
  2. Iron Man (2008): $126M
  3. Wonder Woman (2017): $103M
  4. Hulk* (2003): $91M *Non-MCU debut
  5. Doctor Strange (2016): $86M
  6. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011): $72.4M
  7. Thor (2011): $72.1M
  8. The Incredible Hulk** (2008): $68M **MCU debut
  9. Ant-Man (2015): $61M

Wonder Woman still topped the MCU sequels Thor: The Dark World (which Jenkins was once set to direct) and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and hit just marginally below the first Guardians of the Galaxy ($103.2M vs. WW‘s $103.1M). It opened bigger than most of the X-Men movies, including this year’s Logan (the only solo Wolverine to close was the first one, at $101M), the two Amazing Spider-Man movies, and all Fantastic Four movies.

Did it help that Wonder Woman was actually introduced in Batman v Superman prior to her solo outing? Perhaps, but there’s nothing in the MCU to compare her to there. We’d have to see how a first solo movie for Black Widow, Hawkeye, or Black Panther would do — we will have the opportunity with the last of those next year with the release of Black Panther. Maybe Spider-Man: Homecoming will be an interesting comparison. For all Marvel characters, the Wolverine spinoffs are the best parallels (see above for that).

There’s no dismissing that Wonder Woman broke the opening weekend records for female director and female superhero. That’s great. It also very easily broke the opening weekend record for World War I movies (but possibly only because there’s no way to compare what Lawrence of Arabia or Sergeant York would have done with the same release strategy and screen count). And after the Star Wars and Hunger Games franchises, it’s the best opening for a movie led by a female action hero (for female heroes in general, however, there’s also Alice in WonderlandBeauty and the BeastFinding Dory, and the Twilight series).

At the end of the day (or weekend, as it were), Wonder Woman‘s opening is just a terrific achievement for any kind of movie these days. It’s great for a DC movie, it’s great for a solo superhero movie, it’s great for a superhero movie in general. It’s 69th in the ranking of all domestic debuts, adjusted for inflation (non-adjusted it’s 43rd), which really isn’t too shabby. And for this year, which is almost halfway through, this is how it compares to other 2017 releases:

  1. Beauty and the Beast$175M
  2. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2$147M
  3. Wonder Woman$103M
  4. The Fate of the Furious$99M
  5. Logan$88M

Unfortunately by even the end of this month, we could see Wonder Woman bettered by Transformers: The Last Knight and Despicable Me 3, though both are predicted to go low for their franchises. The only other movies that are guaranteed to open bigger than Wonder Woman are Spider-Man: HomecomingThor: RagnarokJustice League (which features Wonder Woman), and of course Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Last year only eight movies opened higher than $100M. This year it’ll probably be seven or eight. Most years it’s less. That’s not a bad winner’s circle to be a part of, for women or anyone.

This column was updated with actual reported figures, replacing estimates, on Monday afternoon.

Christopher began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called 'Read,' back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials.