The Way of the Word

29. April 2010

Are Comic Book Movies Doomed?

Several comic book based movies in the last couple of years have… let’s say not performed as expected. Superman Returns had a reported budget of $270 million and earned back $391 million worldwide. Punisher: War Zone cost $35 million to make and earned back $10 million. Watchmen, with a budget of $130 million, earned back $185 million. Box Office Mojo offers no numbers about what The Spirit cost (according to Wikipedia, it was $53 million), but it only earned back $39 million.

This month, two comic book movies opened essentially back-to-back. One of them is Kick-Ass (which I have already reviewed). With a budget of $30 million, it earned back (so far, it’s still in cinemas) $66 million. Since the opening weekend barely managed to gross $20 million, people cry out how this movie is a failure. Looking at the above numbers, I’m tempted to ask, “Really?” Because it did better, relatively speaking, than any of the above.

The other is The Losers. It cost $25 million to produce, and in the week it has been out it has earned back $11 million. I’ll grant you that this one looks very much like a failure in the making to me. But do two movies, one a perceived failure and one a probably failure, mean that the time of comic book adaptations is at an end?

I don’t think so. One thing is that none of the above count DVD sales. And more than one movie has been made profitable by DVD sales. Actually, considering that Kick-Ass has already earned back twice its budget means a sequel is virtually guaranteed. And The Losers might become a cult hit on DVD.

So before you cry about the end of days for comic book based movies, ask yourself this:

– Would Kick-Ass, which should have appealed more to a younger demographic, have done better if it hadn’t been rated R? Probably.

– Does anyone even know The Losers is based on a comic book? Probably not. If I really wanted to make the effort, I could search the internet to dig up the old sales numbers from August 2003 through March 2006.

What we have here, then, is one comic book based movie that is only a “felt” instead of actual failure, and another one that is probably not even perceived as a comic book adaptation. Rather, in marketing, The Losers comes across as a low-budget A-Team rip-off. Considering that the actual A-Team gets the big-screen treatment in just a few weeks, closely followed by the incredibly cast Expendables (yet another misfit solders fighting against the odds-movie), it’s more likely that the audiences saved their movie budget for either or both of the still-upcoming movies, rather than this not very well reviewed one. (I’ll wait with reviewing until I’ve actually seen it.)

Some people say that R-rated comic book movies don’t work, because they exclude a major part of their natural audience. That’s actually very likely. Some people say that deconstructionist superhero movies don’t work, because movie audiences still prefer their heroes iconic and inspirational. That, unlike comic book readers, movie audiences don’t yet feel the need for deconstructionist superhero movies. It’s very likely. The superhero movie genre isn’t that old yet, and hasn’t been sufficiently explored yet to need deconstruction. Until then, the audiences prefer to laugh with the heroes, rather than at them.

(Which is also why I think the upcoming Green Hornet movie will fail. By all accounts, it’s going to be camp. Now, camp worked to make Batman a popular TV show back in the 1960s. About 40 years ago. However, people have a different kind of humor these days. A movie that 40 years ago would have been celebrated as camp would today be considered a cheesy, unimaginative spoof.)

Bottom line: I don’t think movie audiences are tired of superheroes just yet. We’ll see how Iron Man 2 will do next month. Rather, the perceived failure of two comic book properties (which, as we’ve seen, has been blown wildly out of proportion — thanks to various agendas) has led to some overreactions.

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