Mocked upon its initial announcement, 2014’s The LEGO Movie became one of the most beloved films of that year. Under the guidance of directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the project was injected with a strong amount of heart and emotion. It wasn’t merely a feature-length advertisement for LEGO sets, and the critical and commercial success of The LEGO Movie allowed Warner Bros. to develop a complete franchise of animated films based on the popular toy line. They have The LEGO Movie Sequel coming out in 2019, but first was the spinoff, The LEGO Batman Movie.
Featuring Will Arnett’s well-received take on the Caped Crusader in the lead role, LEGO Batman illustrated its predecessor was no fluke. Critics and fans thoroughly enjoyed the film (read our review), praising it for its sense of humor and story about friendship. But while LEGO Batman was able to score excellent word-of-mouth, it appears it will come up well short of the original in terms of ticket sales. Now that it’s been out for about a month, it’s time to ask the question – is The LEGO Batman Movie a box office success?
Performing Below Expectations
The main reason for posing this query is the movie’s opening weekend. Tracking ahead of its release suggested it was poised for a massive $80 million debut, taking full advantage of the (at the time) underserved family demographic. However, when the numbers came in, the haul wasn’t as large as Warner Bros. might have hoped. LEGO Batman grossed $53 million during its first three days – good enough to secure the top spot on the charts, but nearly $30 million below expectations. This was surprising, given The LEGO Movie debuted with $69 million and LEGO Batman obviously stars one of the most popular superheroes in the world. Also keeping in mind this is the Golden Age of comic book movies, LEGO Batman should have been a runaway hit instead of a more modest one.
As for what caused this, the most likely culprit was LEGO Batman’s direct competition. Whereas the first LEGO film went against the George Clooney dud Monuments Men, the spinoff was one of three high-profile new releases that opened in its first weekend. Also commanding attention were John Wick: Chapter 2 and Fifty Shades Darker, sequels to two successful franchise starters. Now, LEGO Batman had a much different target audience than its R-rated rivals, but when that many movies are playing at once, there’s only so much money to go around. There was a similar situation back in December, when Illumination’s Sing opened in Rogue One‘s second weekend. The animated musical and Star Wars-infused war drama were not one and the same, but the galaxy far, far away was too much for Sing to handle – even though the latter made $55.8 million to start.
This just goes to show that conditions of the theatrical release matter. Yes, LEGO Batman won the weekend, but it technically underperformed because Fifty Shades Darker brought in $46.6 million and John Wick 2 made $30.4. Not everyone who went to the movies that weekend was up for the miniature Dark Knight doing battle against Gotham’s greatest foes. At the same time, LEGO Batman is by no means a flop. In the early part of 2017, it’s the second-highest opening weekend (behind only Logan) and so far is the year’s top earner overall. That will obviously change as we make our way through the summer movie season, but the LEGO spinoff is in good shape financially. The $148.6 million domestic haul is smaller than some thought, but no real cause for concern.
The Worldwide Boost
As several recent films can attest, the Stateside box office is only half the battle. International markets can provide a great boost for studio tentpoles, allowing them to turn hefty profits and ultimately become a success. It’s for this reason Pacific Rim: Uprising is currently in production and the $1 billion club isn’t as exclusive as it used to be. Even if American audiences don’t take to a certain project, there’s always a chance it hits off big in a foreign country (China is a hotbed, in particular) and takes the final haul to the next level. It shouldn’t come as a shock that LEGO Batman has benefitted from the worldwide box office, which ultimately is the deciding factor in determining if it is a success or not.
The general rule of thumb is a film has to make twice its production budget in order to recoup all the costs (including marketing), and anything it makes beyond that is profit. LEGO Batman was made for the relatively small price of $80 million, meaning its break even point was just $160 million. As of this writing, it has grossed $256.8 million globally, so Warner Bros. is currently in the black for $96.8 million. In all likelihood, that figure will continue to rise, since the film is still hanging around the top of the box office charts. This past weekend, it came in fourth place. Business is starting to decline a bit now that it’s been out for a while, but it should stick around throughout March. Kong: Skull Island and Beauty and the Beast are going to be the choices of general audiences over the next two weeks, but barring any unforeseen disasters, LEGO Batman isn’t about to fall off a cliff.
It’s apparent WB was smart to keep LEGO Batman‘s budget in check. While that range is common for animation (Sing and The Secret Life of Pets cost $75 million apiece), there are some projects that can be quite costly for the studio. For instance, last year’s blockbuster Finding Dory sported a whopping $200 million tag, more than some live-action films. Fellow Disney $1 billion hit Zootopia cost $150 million to make, as did Moana. As opposed to the Mouse House (which has years of record-breaking success under its belt), WB is still getting a feel for their LEGO film series and need to see just how big they can get. The first movie, budgeted at a measly $60 million, raked in $469.1 worldwide, so as long as the studio manages their expenditures and doesn’t go overboard, they’re going to be just fine.
The LEGO Batman Movie may not make as much money as its predecessor, but that doesn’t mean it’s a commercial failure. In the grand scheme of things, it did very well for itself, and the $100+ million WB earns from its box office performance (not to mention, merchandising and home media release) is more than enough to bankroll another project set within the LEGO film universe. There’s no word yet on if there will be a LEGO Batman 2, but interest in the property is still there.
Still, LEGO Batman is going to fall well short of the final tally posted by The LEGO Movie, so it will be interesting to watch how the brand develops over the next few years. Can the franchise become a Hollywood mainstay a la Pixar, or is it more of a case of lightning in a bottle? The performance of Ninjago this fall will hold more answers to that question, but for the time being, WB should be relatively happy with the way things turned out. LEGO Batman won’t be a $1 billion smash, but it’s not a bomb either. Like many movies, it fell somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.