UPDATED: Watchmen Box Office Watch - $56 Million Weekend

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Updated Monday, 7:45am EST: Depending on where you looked for a headline, Watchmen either ruled the weekend box office or underwhelmed. So which is right?

Both.

According to estimates, Watchmen grossed $55.7 million at the box office over the weekend, easily placing it at the top of the US box office charts for its opening weekend. The film also had the best opening so far this year, and one of the best openings for an R-rated film. International box office for Watchmen was $27.5 million for a worldwide box office total of an estimated $83.2 million. Imax shows amounted for $5.5 million of the total (in comparison, The Dark Knight’s opening Imax total was $6.3 million). The film earned $15,413 per screen.

Those are the upsides.

The downside? Reported studio (not to mention fan) expectations. According to Variety, Warner Bros. was looking for Watchmen to equal or beat $70.9 million domestically, which would put it on par with director Zack Snyder’s previous comic adaptation, 300. Neither domestic nor international box office receipts matched the numbers for 300.

Watchmen had a reported production budget of $150 million.

As Variety points out, Watchmen’s length may have been an issue in regards to its box office tally – at 2:40, the 3,611 theaters couldn’t show the film as many times as they were able to show 300, which ran under two hours.

Still, Warner Bros. was pleased with the debut of the film, with President of Domestic Distribution Dan Fellman saying, “Every studio wanted to attach their trailer to 'Watchmen,' so it ended up being more like three hours. When a movie is 2:40, there's only one main show a day. We're pleased with the opening."

Fellman's comments notwithstanding, how much money Watchmen will make for Warner's is very much up in the air. While Hollywood accounting is its own brand of dark magic that can sometimes prove that even blockbusters made no money, Warner Bros. isn't the only one entitled to a cut of Watchmen's box office. Paramount is distributing the film internationally (and co-financed the film with Warners), so they get a cut, while due to the settlement with Fox, that studio is owed 8.5% of the box office.

In regards to continued business, theaters will most likely cut back on the number of screens Watchmen is being shown on in the coming week as they seek to earn more money per screen by showing shorter films. The dropoff in box office for the coming weekend will also be a key indicator of the film’s legs (and sequel chances). Most films, including Warner’s apparent benchmark for Watchmen, 300 show a 50% or greater drop in business between their opening and second weekend in theaters, and given lukewarm reviews as a whole and the long runtime, Watchmen will most likely be unable to avoid dropping by half or more. Additionally, it’s unlikely Watchmen will be in the #1 slot over the weekend of March 13-15, as Disney’s Race to Witch Mountain is opening, along with the remake of The Last House on the Left, films that will more than likely attract the dollars of families and Watchmen’s target demographic, respectively.

One thing the coming week is sure to be filled with is the armchari pontifications of pundits as to what Watchmen's unspectacular opening means for the future of comic book films, especially those that skew darker.

Updated Sunday, 1:40pm EST: Watchmen is on pace totally $55.7 million at the North American box office this weekend according to studio estimates, a figure lower than most estimates going into the weekend.

Look for more on Watchmen's box office performance Monday.

Updated Saturday, 10:17am EST: Box Office tracker Exhibitor Relations is reporting Watchmen earned $25.1 million at the domestic box office Friday, which includes the $4.6m it made in midnight showings. This is actually slightly less than the $28.1m Zack Synder's 300 made on its opening frame in 2007. That film went on to tally $70.9m in its first weekend.

If standard projection models hold, Watchmen will likely gross in the $60m range by the end of business Sunday.

Updated Friday, 3/6 at 2:30pm EST: Variety reported this morning that Watchmen made $4.6 million during midnight showings Thursday evening/Friday morning, more than double the domestic midnight gross of director Zack Snyder's previous surprise graphic novel-based smash, 2007's 300.

Watchmen reportedly played in nearly 1600 theaters around the U.S. Thursday night, with all 124 IMAX showings completely sold out, prompting the company to add 3am shows in some venues. IMAX reports most of their weekend showings around their theaters are sold out.

The Hollywood trade also reports that over 92% of ticket sales on Fandango for this weekend have been for Watchmen, indicating a highly-motivated base on moviegoers anticipating the film.

According to Variety, some analysts are predicting Watchmen will surpass 300's record March opening weekend of $70.9m, though some of the Internet prognosticators are being a little more conservative, with boxofice.com projecting $70m and boxofficeguru.com coming in at "around $64m".

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