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Bat of Africa

In one corner, we’ve got Bruce Wayne / Batman. He’s been played by many of Hollywood’s most in-demand leading men; a billionaire playboy vigilante; trained in combat and psyche manipulation by a secret society of ninjas; fueled by bottomless pockets and a pinch of schizophrenia.

In the other we have Meryl Streep at 5’6″. She’s a 14-time Academy Award nominee (two wins) from New Jersey; she is known for her ability to master any accent and is considered by many, if not most, movie critics as the greatest living actress.

Not exactly a nail-biter, eh? As with most matters, your opinion all depends on your point of view…

Last weekend, The Dark Knight destroyed box office records. All but the highest expectations of monetary and cinematic achievement were met and exceeded. Massive grassroots buzz (lead by an overwhelmingly successful viral campaign) combined with mounting critical praise and Heath Ledger’s sensationalized & untimely death to create a perfect storm of ticket sales. The Dark Knight took in $155.7 million, smashing box office foes and stamping it’s name upon the history books of Hollywood. (By the way, I saw it and thought it was fabulous. I recommend holding out for the IMAX experience, if you’ve the patience and the means.)

Whither is Meryl? She is laughing all the way to the bank. As other movie studios run scared from opening against the picture house monster that is Batman (The Dark Knight is the fourth Batman film to break the all-time opening weekend record.), Mrs. Streep is very close to becoming the go-to when it comes to something the studios called counter-programming.

Last year, when Superman Returns hit the silver-screen to the tune of $52 million, Meryl was bringing the pain as the iconic Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada. (Oh, and you may have see this coming, but she was nominated for an Oscar in the role.) Devil hauled in $27.5 million against The Man of Steel. After that, it was time to take on The Cape Crusader.

Cue the ridiculously catchy disco hooks… Last weekend, Streep lead an ensemble cast , fighting back against the bat, in an on-screen revival of the ABBA-inspired Mamma Mia! from Universal Studios. It took in a very similar-sounding $27.6 million by Sunday night.

So the studios look at the Warner-Bros. Batchise and quake in their boots. What’s a movie exec to do? If you can’t beat em’ go play somewhere else, right? Movies like Mamma Mia! and The Devil Wears Prada are designed to appeal to the crowd that the bat leaves cold. Comic book dorks and crime-thriller fiends don’t want to see a silly-singing and dancing feel good pic with dual mother-daughter coming of age story at it’s center. And that’s exactly what Universal wants. They offer an alternative since they can’t compete, and it’s good business. It’s a media marketing tactic called counter-programming, and it obviously works. (It’s the same reason why they show Prince of Tides on cable during The Superbowl.)

Masked adveturers, beware: Meryl has your number. She may not be your next on-screen arch-villain, but when it comes to the ticket line she holds her own, and then some, where others fear to tread.

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