Back in May, I couldn’t wait to write this column. I started this yearly recap of comic book films mainly as a counterpoint to the number of articles in the mainstream media bemoaning the fact that comic book films exist at all and the journalists who are trying to speed up them going out of favor.
So, when The Avengers broke big, setting all sorts of box office records and becoming not only the highest grossing film of the year, but also the third highest grossing film of all time, I thought 2012 was going to turn out to be one of the best years for comic book films in their entire history.
And it was. But it was also one of the worst years as well.
In the early morning hours of Friday, July 20, James Eagan Holmes entered the crowded Theater 9 of the Century 16 multiplex in Aurora, Colorado. The theater was full of fans eager to be the first to see The Dark Knight Rises, the last film in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. They would become victims of one of the most violent crimes in recorded history. Holmes, dressed in armored clothing and carry numerous firearms with him, opened fire in that crowded theater. By the time shooting had stopped, 58 people would be injured, and 12 people would be killed.
It is impossible to talk about the year in film in any context without talking about the Aurora shootings. The joy of seeing a film in a crowded theaters full of your fellow fans is forever tainted. This type of exuberant film fan became prey that night.
Now, four months on, it is still easy to look back on that night and see only the darkest part of human nature. An evil man methodically came up with a way to kill as many people as he could. It doesn’t get more sinister than that.
But I found that when great darkness shows its face to the world, there is always a bright and shining light that rises up to greet it. It’s natural to focus on Holmes and his despicable acts. But I also look towards the example of Matt McQuinn, who shielded the bodies of his girlfriend and brother with his own, sacrificing his life to save theirs. I look to Jarell Brooks, a young man who was wounded getting a woman and her two small children, people he didn’t know, to safety. I look to Emma Goos, who stayed in the theater to tend to the wounds of an injured victim while the shooting was going on. I look to All C’s Comics Collectibles, the Aurora comic shop that started the Aurora Rises charity to help benefit the victim’s and their families and I look to the numerous comic artists and writers that helped make that charity an ongoing endeavor I also look to Christian Bale, who, on his own with no fanfare and publicists in tow, visited the Aurora area after to shootings to give his fans whatever comfort he could.
Yes, the Aurora shooting gave us a glimpse of the worst that humanity had to offer, but it also gave us a glimpse of the best that humanity has to offer as well. And while we filmgoers will never be free of the paranoia that night in July caused (especially when just two weeks ago a plot to do a similar shooting in Missouri during a showing of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 2 was, thankfully, stopped before it could be put into fruition), we should never let that fear stop us from doing the things we enjoy. We might never be able to stop bad things from happening, but we can always be there to help each other out when they do.
Now that I’ve said what I needed to say on that, let’s go back to the frivolous world of comic book films.
As of last night, comic book adaptations hold three of the top five spots on the yearly highest grossing films list. I’m sure Skyfall and the aforementioned Breaking Dawn, Part 2 might have some say if The Amazing Spider-Man stays in the Top 5, but even if it does fall out, we will have three comic book adaptations in the Top 10. And that has never happened. The closest we came to that was in 2008 when The Dark Knight and Iron Man were one and two and the original superhero comedy Hancock was number four. Add to that the fact that a sequel to another comic book adaptation, Men in Black 3, was #11 this year and you have a very good year for the comic book film.
Even Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, a film with a well-deserved 18% fresh over at Rotten Tomatoes and which debuted an underwhelming third in its opening weekend was able to make over $132 million worldwide against a $57 million dollar budget. Yes, I am a fan of comic book movies and even I am stunned by that fact. That’s why Nicolas Cage keeps on getting to make movies.
The only true flop of this year’s six comic book adaptations was Dredd, whose $30,931,946 worldwide take was considerably less than its $50 million budget. I can only assume that the Sylvester Stallone version killed just about any interest anybody might have had in the character, which was a shame. I found the film a faithful adaptation of the original source material which held up well as a film on its own.
As lucrative as this year was for the comic book film, it is a year in flux. The Avengers marked the end of the first phase of Marvel’s film slate, and Phase 2 begins next year with Iron Man 3 in May and Thor: The Dark World in November. It will be interesting if they can carry any Avengers momentum over into those releases, or will fans force the studio to prove itself all over again.
And The Dark Knight Rises closes the Nolan era on DC/Warners’ Batman property. They start anew with their Superman franchise with The Man of Steel in June. There’s a lot riding on this new take on the character, as Warners is looking to not only get a franchise to replace Nolan’s Batman films on their docket, but also potentially use the film as a springboard into their planned Justice League film and to bring other DC comic heroes to the big screen.
In addition to those three films, there are at least nine other comic book adaptations scheduled for next year, including Hugh Jackman returning as Logan in The Wolverine, sequels to Red, Kick-Ass,300 and Sin City, and properties from publishers such as Dark Horse, Boom! and other smaller companies. 2012 proved that people still are willing to go to see comic book films. However, odds are that not all of the films released next year will be great successes, so we can expect the mainstream doubters to start the chorus of the comic book films doom next year. But for now, let’s bask in the highs the comic book film rose to, and take a moment to contemplate the lowest lows they experienced this year.