The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Guess who's 'Wolverine's' biggest box office cheerleader?

May 4, 2009 | 12:30 pm


You'd think that because News Corp. owns both the Wall Street Journal and 20th Century Fox, which released "Wolverine" over the weekend, that it would be the WSJ that provided the most unabashedly upbeat appraisal of the film's box office performance -- especially if you were going to compare the WSJ coverage to that of Variety, which supposedly provides independent, influence-free coverage of showbiz events.

But, of course, you'd be wrong. Even though the WSJ had every reason to blow smoke about "Wolverine's" box office, it actually had a far more -- ahem -- objective, evenhanded take on the movie's performance than Variety, which basically offered a string of superlatives, finding the "blue sky" in every possible dark cloud.

While Variety's Pamela McClintock was calling "Wolverine's" opening Fox's "best-ever non-holiday bow at the domestic box office" -- an achievement somewhat top-heavy with obscure qualifiers -- the WSJ's Peter Sanders, while paying tribute to the film's $87-million opening, offered a far more sober qualifier, saying that "Wolverine" "wasn't able to outshine the year-ago comparison, however, when "Iron Man," another comic book character, brought in more than $98 million in its first weekend."

In addition, when Variety reported that "Wolverine" dropped 15% from its Friday box office take to Saturday, it quickly provided rationalization, saying it was a "relatively small decline compared to other fanboy-driven films." But in the next sentence, the trade, in acknowledging that "Wolverine" couldn't match the opening grosses for "Iron Man," explained it away by saying that "Iron Man" "drew a young audience." So, wait a minute -- first Variety says "Wolverine" is a fanboy movie, then it says it drew an older audience than "Iron Man"? If the latter is true, shouldn't the film's Friday-to-Saturday decline matter more?

It certainly felt to me that I was getting less studio spin from the WSJ. When the paper wrote about "Wolverine's" international opening, it played it straight, saying the film took in $73 million in 101 countries. Variety seemed to be working off a studio press release. Instead of quoting the actual number of countries, it offered the following starry-eyed judgment: " 'Wolverine' all but matched the $76.3 million international launch of 'X-Men: The Last Stand' when accounting for fluctuating currency exchange rates."

Hey, if you have to start accounting for fluctuating currency exchange rates, you're in the spin biz, not the reporting trade.



Photo: Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. Credit: James Fisher / 20th Century Fox.