Image from 'Watchmen' film
Watchmen opened at number 1 in U.S. movie ticket sales, but slightly below expectations. It may mark the peak for this type of film, S. T. Karnick writes.

The long-awaited Watchmen film (reviewed here), opened at the top spot in U.S. box office returns during the past weekend, as expected, but it fell a few million short of what industry insiders had predicted.

The film sold an estimated $55.1 million worth of tickets in U.S. theaters over the three day period, which is a very solid performance but less than the $60 million-plus that was expected and significantly less than the $71 million Watchmen director Zack Snyder’s previous film, 300, brought in during its first weekend two years ago.

Watchmen was of course buoyed by a large fandom for the comic book series on which it was based, but was held down by an R rating, not very enthusiastic reviews, and a lack of big stars. The latter, however, kept production expenses down to a manageable $120 million, which bodes well for the film’s ultimate profitability.

The Watchmen adaptation’s high amount of graphic violence, equally graphic sex, copious nudity (which was avoided in the comic book), and highly philosophical, non-realistic narrative make it an interesting cultural product indeed. Its combination of adolescent fascination with highly basic human functions, paired with a significantly more mature approach to philosophical, social, and political themes, and all done in a highly grand, operatic style, make it perhaps the paradigmatic modern action fantasy film.

It’s a film style perfected many years ago by the great Fritz Lang, and it achieved mass popularity in the past three decades after the launching of the Star Wars film series.

It may be possible that Watchmen will mark the peak of popularity of this type of film and we will see a waning of its appeal in the coming years. It will be difficult indeed for future filmmakers to top Watchmen in its combination of all the elements that make up these films.