The Death of Guaranteed Comicbook Film Success
Some of the biggest box office successes, both recently and of all time, have been from movies that adapt comicbooks or graphic novels, such as The Dark Knight, Iron Man, Spider-Man, and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, resulting in movie studios making the general assumption that the transition from shiny page to silver screen was inherently profitable. The problem is that this is no longer true – if it even had been before.
Watchmen, The Incredible Hulk / The Hulk, and Fantastic Four all hinted at what is now apparent, breaking through to the general public’s sensibilities with Kick-Ass: devoted comicbook fans can only produce a certain level of financial success on their own. The smash hits that were the two recent Batman movies, and the likely box office greatness that will be the Last Airbender, have the added, but important, quality of actually being good movies that appeal to an audience not exclusively consisting of nerds.
If the definition of comicbook movies is expanded slightly, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra could be considered the shot across the bow, although it’s apparent that studio executives didn’t understand its implications. While the devotion of fans may be strong, no matter how bad the reviews, movie critics are still a necessary piece of a box office success, and a key, common element with failed comicbook adaptations is their overall panning by the likes of Roger Ebert – the exorbitant price of a movie ticket has had the interesting side effect of moviegoers doing more research before paying for their night’s entertainment.
In the case of Kick-Ass, a movie about normal people who decide to become superheroes (note: no special powers or ethical obligations), Roger Ebert, among others, found it “morally reprehensible” and without a point, and many seemed to agree, since it produced less than $20m in its opening weekend – The Dark Knight, by way of comparison, made almost that amount on its opening night. Although excuses are being made, the simple fact is that not only did it fail to live up to expectations, it also failed to produce as promised.
This is not to say that there will be no more movies based on comicbooks or graphic novels, especially with various sequels and highly expected first-runs coming soon, but simply that they can no longer be assumed to generate massive income for the studios that produce them. Movie success is, and has always been, always been an odd combination of marketing/promotion and quality – the latter half is finally catching up with Hollywood’s golden goose of the past decade.
Pending a breakthrough adaptive hit, it’s now highly unlikely films will be produced from relatively unknown, or even well known, original series, as they simply aren’t a sure bet to counterbalance the amount of money often needed to bring them to fruition. Sad, perhaps, for fans of some esoteric print productions, but both the industry and moviegoers end up coming out on top, since the name and aura of a project is once again less important than the project itself.
Kick-Ass deserves credit where it’s due.