(Bloomberg) -- You can pretty much count on big-screen superheroes to save the planet. Beating box-office forecasts is another matter.
Warner Bros.’ new “Justice League” achieved its first objective, as expected, saving the world for future superhero movies. But the picture underperformed at the box office in North America, with estimated weekend sales of $96 million missing analysts’ projections by a wide margin after a mauling by film critics.
The team-up featuring Wonder Woman, Batman and Superman beat a returning “Thor: Ragnarok” to claim the No. 1 spot in U.S. and Canadian theaters, ComScore Inc. estimated in an email Sunday. But the low tally was a setback for Time Warner Inc.’s film unit, which spent at least $200 million making the picture, and was forced to rewrite and reshoot portions at additional cost. It also shows comic-book characters are no slam dunk with fans.
“The reviews have been very rough,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at ComScore. This year “has been an incredible year for superhero movies -- ‘Logan,’ ‘Wonder Woman,’ ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming,’ ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ -- all those movies were well reviewed and did better than expected, so the bar has been set incredibly high.”
The poor showing for “Justice League” sent shares of movie-theater operators down on Monday. AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc., the biggest cinema chain in the U.S., declined as much as 5 percent, while Regal Entertainment Group lost as much as 4.4 percent. Cinemark Holdings Inc. fell as much as 3.2 percent.
Analyst estimates for “Justice League” ranged from $118 million to $125 million, while the studio projected a more conservative $105 million to $115 million range.
“The path for its ultimate box office is going to be different than what we had thought and other industry prognosticators had,’’ Jeff Goldstein, president of domestic distribution at Warner Bros., said in an interview, adding that there’s a big U.S. holiday week ahead with many children out of school. “Our box office is just going to come in in a different pattern than others would have thought it would.’’
As for anything the studio might do differently with DC films in the future, Goldstein said it was too early to tell. “This story is yet to be written, we have to get further into the run,’’ he said.
Overseas, the movie generated $185.5 million in its debut weekend in 65 markets, Warner Bros. said in a statement. “Justice League” gave Warner Bros. its second-biggest opening weekend ever in China with $51.7 million, the studio said.
The DC Comics-based “Justice League” was a difficult production. Director Zack Snyder stepped down in May after the death of his daughter, and Joss Whedon, who had been brought in as a writer, had to complete the picture. While Warner Bros.’ superhero films have been profitable, they routinely fall short in critics’ eyes and fail to match the $1 billion-plus sales generated by Walt Disney Co.’s Marvel division.
“Marvel has nailed it and their universe has been incredibly successful,” said Steve Mason, box-office analyst at ESPN, a Disney unit. “DC is still finding its way -- ‘Wonder Woman’ finally got it right after a number of strikeouts, but ‘Justice League’ is a tick down, a little disappointing.”
In “Justice League,” Ben Affleck returns as Batman and his alter-ego Bruce Wayne. He enlists Wonder Woman, played by Gal Gadot, to lead a team of superheroes against a powerful foe none could defeat alone.
The new squad draws in Aquaman, played by Jason Momoa from “Game of Thrones,” who has superhuman strength and the ability to control aquatic life. They’re also joined by the Flash, who has the gift of speed, the part-robot Cyborg, and Superman, who was believed dead at the end of 2016’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.”
“Justice League” received just 36 percent positive reviews ahead of the weekend, according to aggregator RottenTomatoes.com, dwarfed by the critical success this year of Warner Bros. other superhero feature: Patti Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman.”
Of two other wide releases this weekend, Lions Gate Entertainment Corp.’s young adult tale “Wonder” garnered an estimated $27.1 million, exceeding BoxOfficePro.com’s forecast of $17 million. The film features Julia Roberts in an adaptation of a New York Times bestseller about a boy with facial disfigurements entering school for the first time. The movie scored 82 percent positive reviews at RottenTomatoes.
Sony Corp.’s new animated feature “The Star” also did well critically, with 65 percent positive reviews. The Christmas-themed tale about a small, brave donkey and his animal friends placed sixth with sales of $10 million. Box Office Mojo was forecasting $8.1 million.
The film features the voices of Steven Yeun, who played Glenn in “The Walking Dead,” Christopher Plummer and singer Kelly Clarkson.
©2017 Bloomberg L.P.