2010 has been a rocky year for the comic book film. There were two blockbuster smash hits. The first, Iron Man 2, which $621 million worldwide box office take more than tripled its estimated $200 million dollar budget. So what if this edition was less favorably received by the critics than its predecessor, that haul guarantees a sequel, which is already been scheduled.
The second, Kick-Ass, is sort of a phantom hit. It made only $48 million in the United States, just over a 50% profit on its $30 million budget. However, it duplicated its U.S. take over seas making it a healthy hit and a sequel all but certain, when schedules align.
After that, it gets a bit dicey. The Losers, and underrated film if there ever was one, made $29 million worldwide against an estimated $25 million budget. That’s barely covering your costs if you don’t add in advertising.
Then there are the flops. Jonah Hex made $10.9 million at the box office, less than a quarter of its relatively modest $47 million budget. And Scott Pilgrim vs. the World made only $31.5 million domestically, half of its$60 million budget. It made another $12.7 million overseas, which only means that it made three fourths of its budget back instead of only half.
With two sizable flops such as the ones listed above, talk begins anew about the death of the comic book film. This time, the talk might be right on, although the performance of RED this past weekend gives us hope.
The reason why we should worry is because the failure of Jonah Hex and Scott Pilgrim can be laid at the feet of one thing–the movie studios.
The Jonah Hex we got differs quite a bit from the one that was on paper. The script I read was closer to the original comic book stories. There were no superpowers for Hex, no superweapon for him to stop. I believe that a majority of this original script was shot. The climax between Hex and Turnbull from the script makes its way into the film as a dream sequence, so we know it was filmed.
However, there were a number of reshoots done on the film. If I was to hazard a guess, I’d imagine that a studio executive saw a cut of the film made from the script, question where Hex’s superpowers were and why the film wasn’t more comic book-y, and demanded reshoots to bring the film in line with what his idea of a comic book film should be.
The result is an awful movie. Characterization was truncated, exposition was given in big info dumps of dialog, and the more blockbusteresque aspects added were laughable. Would the original version be any better? Maybe not. But it certainly wouldn’t be any worse.
Quality was not an issue with Scott Pilgrim. The film was a visual masterpiece and incredibly inventive. While changing quite a bit from the original text, it kept true to the tone and feel of the original graphic novel.
The problem came in the way it was marketed. It was sold mainly as a comic book action film. It was marketed as a story of a young man who must fight the seven evil exes of his current paramour. That leads to fairly straightforward expectations–we’ll see Scott Pilgrim fight his girlfriend Ramona Flowers’ exes from the onset. I’d imagine many people were fairly surprised when the first 10 to 15 minutes of the film details Scott’s relationship with another woman, Knives Chao. Ramona Flowers isn’t introduced until much later and the fighting doesn’t come in until later still.
By marketing it as a frenetic version of your typical comic book film instead as a layered romance and story of a man growing up, it set up unrealistic expectations on the film. And when these expectations weren’t met, audiences rebelled.
RED is a sign of hope, mainly due to the fact the studios got it right. Instead of marketing the film to the typical comic book movie audience–the 18 to 35 demographic, they skewed 35 and above. The film made $25 million in its opening weekend, not enough to cop the number one spot but far better than its rather mediocre reviews call for. It’s too soon to tell if RED will truly be a hit, but making half its budget back right out of the gate and well before it opens internationally is a very good sign.
Of course, this does not mean that the future of comic book films is guaranteed to be rosy. Yes, there are a lot of comic book films in the pipeline, but there are a lot of potential question marks in the road as well.
January brings is The Green Hornet, not truly a comic book property but close enough. It’s release has been delayed and it has the makings of being the kind of campfest that destroyed the first Batman film franchise. Marvel’s Thor is scheduled for May. While Marvel’s films they do in house seem to be can’t miss opportunities, Thor leads more to the epic fantasy genre than the conventional superhero one. Outside of The Lord Of the Rings trilogy, these kind of films are hit or miss.
June brings us X-Men: First Class and Green Lantern. The former is a prequel to the X-Men franchise, focusing on the early days of Charles Xavier and Magneto. Granted, it is understandable that FOX would want to get a little bit of separation from Brett Ratner’s disappointing X-Men: The Last Stand, but is this taking the franchise too far back for the fans to follow?
And Green Lantern has a solid script that could be turned into a very good comic book film. But this is put out by Warner Brothers, the same studio that ruined Jonah Hex. Since GL is more of a conventional superhero flick anyway, I can’t see Warners needing to meddle at all. But if they do, the results could be disasterous.
After that we have Captain America: The First Avenger in July. On paper, this seems to be a can’t miss proposition. A man dressed as an American flag fight Nazis in Europe during World War II? In a film that stylistically resembles the Indiana Jones franchise? Directed by the man who made one of the best, if severely underrated comic book films of all time in The Rocketeer? I’d buy ticket to that right now if I could. But would anybody else?
And after that? Well, we have a Ghost Rider sequel nobody really asked for or wants, the culmination of Marvel’s cinematic universe build with The Avengers, sequels to The Dark Knight and Iron Man 2, both which should be decent, and revamps of the Spider-Man and Superman film franchises, the former which was unnecessary and the latter which will be rushed–to say the least. Lots of potential pot holes in the future.
The continued success of the comic book film depends on how well studios understand the reality that each comic book film is unique and should be treated as such. If the studios come to that realization, then the genre will remain vibrant. If not, then the naysayers who hope that the comic book film will just go away will get their wish.