It's a story line that could come right from the pages of one of parent company Time Warner's (TWX) very own comic books. Superheroes Batman and Superman team up to muscle Warner Brothers, Hollywood's largest studio, back to the top after ending 2015 in a prolonged box office slump.
Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, which opens on March 25, is the first of more than dozen big-budget franchise-style films Warner Brothers intends to release over the next five years in a pricey bid to revive the studio's fortunes.
The film, which cost an estimated $250 million to produce and stars Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck, kicks off 10 superhero films over that span based on characters from the parent company's DC Comics unit. Suicide Squad, starring Will Smith a member of a team of DC Comics' anti-heroes, opens in August.
Next year Warner Brothers is scheduled to bring out Wonder Woman and The Justice League Part One, featuring DC Comics' characters Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Aquaman.
In November, the studio releases the Harry Potter spinoff Fantastic Beasts andWhere to Find Them and in 2017 it plans two follow-ups based on its hit animated film TheLego Movie.
The expensive rollout aims to overcome Warner Brother's string of big budget misfires last year that included the fairy tale remake Pan, which cost $150 million to produce and millions more to promote but generated only $128.4 million in worldwide ticket sales, according to the movie tracking site Box Office Mojo.
In theHeart of the Sea, the Moby Dick tale directed by Ron Howard, generated $93.8 million in worldwide ticket sales but cost $100 million to make and millions more to market.
The flops helped drag down Warner Brothers' film revenues last year, which declined by 12 percent, to $5.1 billion, the company reported in its financial statements. The studio recorded a 22 percent hike in operating earnings, however, as a result of robust video game and TV program sales. The company reported adjusted operating income of $6.9 billion, a 19 percent hike, for 2015 on revenues of $28.1 billion.
Time Warner's stock is down about 14% over the last year, compared to the roughly flat performance for the S&P 500.
A Warner Brothers spokesman had no comment.
Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice didn't have an easy route to the movie theater. Warner delayed the film, initially scheduled to be released in July 2015, to May 6, 2016. It was moved to its current date in March to steer clear of another big budget superhero movie, Walt Disney's (DIS) - Get ReportCaptain America: Civil War, which is scheduled for the same July release date.
Warner likely has a hit on its hands with the film. Two weeks ahead of its opening, advance ticket sales were running ahead of both Fox's (FOX) - Get Report monster hit Deadpool and the blockbuster Furious 7 from Comcast's (CMCSA) - Get Report Universal studio, according to industry news site Deadline Hollywood. The site also speculated that the film would chalk up as much as $140 million for its opening weekend and nearly $340 million worldwide.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held positions in Disney and Comcast.