Movie audiences ignored critics and flocked to see Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, pushing the latest super hero offering from Time Warner (TWX) studio Warner Bros. to a record March debut.
The film dominated the weekend box office, bringing in $170.1 million domestically and $424.1 million worldwide. That haul gave the film the largest March opening weekend gross on record, according to box office tracker Box Office Mojo, replacing Lions Gate's (LGF) The Hunger Games. If estimates hold, Batman v Superman will also be the largest ever opening for Warner Bros., replacing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows ¿ Part 2.
The film holds the spot for the fourth-largest global opening on record, with China contributing the most overseas ticket sales at $57.3 million.
Batman v Superman had negative reviews leading into the weekend thanks in part to a compiled critic score of 29%, as reported by critic score aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.
Warner has a lot riding on this film. If successful, the company will be able to launch a DC Comics universe similar to what Disney's (DIS) Marvel Studios has been able to accomplish. Even fringe characters from the Marvel universe have strong box office performances thanks to the success of superhero films from the early aughts that rejuvenated the genre.
In 2014, Warner Bros. and DC Comics announced a plan to release at least 10 new super hero movies based on DC Comics characters over the next six years. Fan favorites like Wonder Woman and Aquaman are scheduled for stand-alone films in 2017 and 2018 respectively, while the Justice League movie that "Batman v Superman" served as the prelude for is scheduled for release in 2017.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice had a production budget of $250 million, and the studio spent another $150 million promoting the film. For Warner Bros. to recoup film's enormous budget, the film would have to earn over $800 million globally when accounting for revenue splits with theaters, according to the New York Times.
Time Warner's stock was reaping the benefits of the film's strong weekend showing, rising over 2% midday to $71.74. Year to date, the stock has risen nearly 11%, but over the past 12 months, the company's shares are down nearly 16% after reaching a high of $90.84 last summer.
The film's opening weekend topped the estimates from industry publication Deadline Hollywood, which predicted that the film would earn $350 million worldwide.
Whether DC's universe will prove to be as lucrative as Marvel's remains to be seen. But the stable of iconic characters mixed with the success of Batman v Superman, chances are Warner Bros. is in line for even stronger openings in the future.