Will ‘Wonder Woman’ Be a $90 Million Wonder This Weekend?

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To say that expectations are high for the new “Wonder Woman” is pretty much to state the obvious. Time Warner Inc.’s (NYSE: TWX) Warner Bros. film opens this weekend and is expected to post domestic ticket sales of $80 million to $90 million, slightly more than half its $150 million production budget. The studio’s estimate is a more cautious $65 million to $70 million.

The film, starring Israeli actress Gal Gadot, is the first major superhero movie to be directed by a woman. Director Patty Jenkins’s only other film, 2003’s “Monster,” grossed just $60 million worldwide, but Charlize Theron won that year’s Academy Award for Best Actress. The film’s production budget was $8 million.

The 76-year old  ‘Wonder Woman’ character was introduced to the Warner/DC Comics Extended Universe in last year’s “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” the best box office performer among the three Extended Universe films, with domestic receipts of $330 million and worldwide ticket sales of $873 million.

“Wonder Woman” is an original origin story, if you will. It is the first live-action film featuring the Amazonian warrior princess and it is a movie that fans have been waiting for for years. Joss Whedon was signed by Warner Bros. in 2005 to write and direct a Wonder Woman movie. The creator of TV’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” Whedon’s script was never produced and he went on to write and direct “Marvel’s Avengers” and “Avengers: Age of Ultron.”

Last year Warner/DC Comics also released “Suicide Squad,” and while that story of a band of misfit superheroes was a critical flop (Rotten Tomatoes had a 26% rating), the film grossed $746 million worldwide ($325 million domestically) on a $175 million production budget.

The early reviews of “Wonder Woman” that were released Monday were much more positive. Rotten Tomatoes had a 97% rating on the film, and reviewer Kelly Lawler of USA Today gave the film 3.5 out of 4.0 stars, according to The Hollywood Reporter, and said the movie “is a genuinely surprising film that plays with genre and throws out the now very tired superhero movie formula.”

The formula may be “tired,” but it still rakes in mountains of cash, and the studios are counting on the formula working at least through 2020. Warner/DC has eight films on its release schedule between now and 2020, only two of which so far have titles (“Justice League” due out in November and “Aquaman” due in December 2018).

Walt Disney Co. (NYSE: DIS) has nine Marvel superhero epics on its release schedule between now and 2020, including a “Thor: Ragnarok” due in November. Sony Corp.’s (NYSE: SNE) “Spider-Man: Homecoming” is due on July 7 and the company has three more on tap in through 2020. Twenty-First Century Fox Inc. (NASDAQ: FOXA) also has three films scheduled for the period, bringing the total for Marvel Comics-based movies in the next three and a half years to 15 films.

New York City’s Alamo Drafthouse NYC theater has scheduled two screenings of the film for female (or “guests who identify as women”) audiences only and may schedule more if demand ratchets up. This has not gone down well with some folks (surprise!) and there may be more noise in the next few days about this than about the movie itself. From all accounts, that would be a shame.