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Tuesday, May 6, 2008

10 Factors that Could Kill Super Heroes in Hollywood

After enduring years of sub-par super hero movies in the 1980s and '90s, comic book geeks everywhere finally got their wish when the first X-Men ushered in the new age of heroes on the big screen. Not only was X-Men the first super-hero film to truly do its comic justice, it paved the way for other super heroes to follow on the big screen. Since 2000, we've seen two more X-Men films, three Spider-Man movies, the reinvention of the Batman franchise, the return of Superman, Hulk, The Punisher, even second tier characters like Catwoman, and most recently the birth of a new franchise with Iron Man.

Although comic book geeks are basking in their own glory days of cinema, with no signs of super hero movies slowing down anytime soon, there will come a time when the tide turns. It happens with most properties in Hollywood when popularity reaches an inevitable peak, the times change, and new concepts take hold for up and coming generations. When the tide will actually turn, we're not quite sure. When the day comes, and we hope it's not anytime soon, we're preparing ourselves with a list of the "10 Factors that Could Kill Super Heroes in Hollywood."

10. Time

Just like Westerns were cool back in the day, it's safe to say that cinematic super heroes will ride off into the sunset only to reappear sometime in the future. At some point, it's likely people will ask, "Are super hero movies dead?" Although us comic book geeks are finally having our day in the big screen sun, thanks largely to the advances in technology, time is an unstoppable villain that even our greatest heroes can't defeat. Time is the one factor that transcends all forms of entertainment. Just like bands such as Warrant and Poison rode the final wave of glam-metal back in the late 1980s and early '90s, time will eventually usher in a new era of action ass-kickers. Although our favorite super heroes are already doomed to a predestined fate, it's undeniable that whatever comes next will be heavily influenced by the popularity of super hero movies. While big screen super heroes might be in their prime, you can expect Hollywood to use the genre as a springboard into something new and innovative. Think about it for a second. In 20 years, will the likes of Iron Man, Spider-Man, Hulk, Batman and X-Men be sitting atop the box-office?

9. Failed Heroes and Movies:

There's nothing worse than waiting for your favorite hero to hit the big screen only to walk out of the theater hoping no one sees you standing under the sign that reads "Now Playing - Catwoman". The fact is - just because some of our favorite super hero movies made money, doesn't mean we'll see them again, or need to for that matter. After Batman & Robin and Superman III (Superman IV, even Superman Returns) the Bat-franchise and Superman movies have been the exception to the rule. Either critically or monetarily, there have been a number of misses over the years. It goes without saying that Catwoman was a disaster. Despite being resurrected in 2008, the 2003 Hulk was a disappointment. The Punisher was critically "punished" by fans in 2004 and, although he's not your typical super hero, John Constantine/Hellblazer went down in a ball of flames in 2005. Hell, we're not even talking about the likes of Judge Dredd and Spawn. Although some heroes have lived to see another turn on the big screen, we already know others have met their untimely demise and won't be back (for at least a couple of decades of eternity). The exception to the rule... Superman, who's getting yet another cinematic turn in the next couple of years.

8. Questionable Heroes:

There's nothing better than being surprised when some super heroes unexpectedly work on the big screen. Let's be honest here - when Iron Man was first announced, most fans were intrigued and curious as to how Jon Favreau would pull it off. It wasn't like Iron Man was beyond the question, "Can Tony Stark support his own movie?" Throw in Robert Downey Jr. and a kick-ass trailer and we all felt A LOT better. Although there's a ton of territory for Hollywood to mine when it comes to established super heroes, do some of them really need their own movie? Sure, some characters have potential given their popularity, but many only appeal to a niche market of fans. In recent memory, Elektra forced us to question whether the warrior assassin really deserved her own film. As far as female super heroes go, where the hell is Wonder Woman hiding? Daredevil, as popular as he is off-screen, certainly had an uphill climb given the fact that much of the super hero market was cornered at the time by X2 and the first two Spider-Man films. Some super heroes are no-brainers while others are nothing but questionable at best. Captain America? Sure. The Sub-Mariner? Not so sure. The Avengers? Maybe. Green Lantern? Would love to see. Shazam? Not so sure. Thor? Not so sure. Luke Cage? Not so sure. Justice League? Was a maybe for us, but now not sure at all. That's eight super hero properties and a number of characters that we question whether they can truly stand on their own. It's not that we don't want to see them, but the X-Men, Spider-Man, Iron Man, and Batman franchises have set the bar so high that each one would have to blow us away on the scale of Iron Man to work. What are the chances?

7. The New Kid on the Block:

Let's see, cop movies in the 1970s, cheesy action movies in the '80s, non-linear pulp pics in the '90s, torture horror, remakes, and super hero flicks in the 2000s. If we follow historical patterns, something else always comes along to keep things fresh. It's hard to predict what will come down the pike to knock our favorite super heroes off the box-office throne. Given the latest string of war-movie flops, we doubt the Iraq war epic will get its due for quite a while. There is a ton of fertile ground with the Internet, but how that could possibly take shape (if at all) as a sub-genre is anyone's guess. We do see a ton of potential with the animated universe to break new ground as the years go by, but animation has always been popular and in play to some degree. There was a time when Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sly Stallone were as popular as Wolverine and Peter Parker, so is there any reason to think that today's successful big screen super heroes will be able to stay atop the box-office longer than The Terminator and Rambo in their day?

6. Fatigue:

What's better, to be teased with little bits and pieces of your favorite upcoming super hero movie or to be slammed over the head every day for an entire year until the movie hits theaters? After the hype surrounding Iron Man, fans or not, there's no doubt that some people will simply become exhausted by the buzz. Sure we were all looking forward to Iron Man, but it came damn close to being over-exposed by the time it was released. With the glut of super hero projects in the works, fans could possibly see three or four super hero movies a year for the next three to four years. If each film comes with the same barrage of hype and marketing, it's inevitable that some fans will suffer burn out. Although the hardcore comic book fans will be there, several super hero projects will need a wider mainstream audience to bring in the girlfriends and wives. Like it or not, fatigue will be setting in at some point. When? Who knows. As always though, too much of anything will kill any good property, super hero related or not.

5. Sequels:

When it comes to the topic of sequels, it's a two-sided debate. There's good and bad, but the battle of attrition will eventually win out on the downside. For studios, sequels are often money in the bank because of brand loyalty. For the fans, it's a 50/50 crap shoot. An interesting question comes to mind - how many movies is it going to take to put the X-Men and Spider-Man franchises to bed for a few years? We all know it's coming. What 20th Century Fox is doing with the upcoming Wolverine spin-off movie appears to be a smart move to continue the X-Men universe on the big screen. Also, given the reports of an upcoming Venom movie, the Spidey franchise looks set to live on in a varied form for a few more years aside from the inevitable Spider-Man 4. Add to that, despite our concerns whether he even warrants a movie as a lead/title character, the Silver Surfer will be surfing into his own big screen adventure from the last Fantastic Four film. Yeah, we know it's the Silver Surfer, but it's not like he made such an impression last year that people are still talking about him today. We hope we're wrong. As far as sequels go, there are a lot of points in favor of future success. However, as much as the spin-off sequel formula might ensure a certain longevity, no super hero sequels to date have been met with the same reception as the initial films. Reaction to X-Men: The Last Stand was much less positive than the first, and the same can be said about the third Spidey movie. Batman Begins was met with mostly positive reaction but there was still a mixed sector of fans. Don't believe me... go look up old reviews and forum posts. At this rate though, The Dark Knight will ease our sequel fears for now. However, it's only going to take a couple atrocious sequels, maybe two, to kill X-Men and Spidey for a few years. It's a fate almost all super heroes will eventually meet on the big screen, even Batman and Superman at some point.

4. The High Cost of Marketing:

If you haven't figured it out by now, there's a reason why Cloverfield was marketed in such a low-cost, viral manner. We all know that the most successful super hero movies have cost hundreds of millions of dollars to make. Given the financial evolution of Hollywood blockbusters and summer tentpole movies, some films have been nearly half a billion dollars (plus) in the hole before the start of production. In order for a big budget super hero film to get the proper amount of cash for a large marketing campaign, studios need to know ahead of time that there will be a sizable return at the box-office to still make money well beyond production costs, casting, marketing and distribution. Although it's not quite like the days of Cleopatra, which almost bankrupted 20th Century Fox into becoming a cinematic memory, we're wondering how many studios will be able to finance other films if it costs $200 million just to market one blockbuster, super hero movie or not. Extrapolate those numbers over a few more years and some super hero movies won't be feasible. Like I mentioned, there's a reason why Cloverfield was marketed in such a viral manner. It didn't cost nearly as much as larger films but it made a ton of cash. Throw in a bunch of no-name actors, and Paramount didn't have a lot of costs. Look at the marketing for The Dark Knight, it's similar in its viral nature to Cloverfield. After the huge marketing costs associated with Spider-Man 3 (some estimates of $120 million), studios have had no choice but to explore other options if they want to even think about making another super hero movie.

3. Crap:

There may come a time - and it might be here sooner than we think - when there could be so many sub-par super hero movies coming down the pike that fans will lose faith in the genre. Actually, you can take some of the factors already mentioned on this list and roll them into one neat pile called "eventual crap". I remember having long discussions with other webmasters prior to the release of X-Men and almost everyone was in agreement - it's only going to take a few consecutive stinkers to render our favorite super heroes powerless in Hollywood. Obviously it hasn't happened yet, but in relation to #10 and "Time", eventually the day might come when you won't be able to pitch a super hero project to anyone in Hollywood without someone laughing you out of an office. That's when it'll all come full circle. We're not sure how many actual nails it takes to hammer a coffin shut, but, in relation to the many upcoming super hero based movies in the works, just imagine a string of eight or nine potential super hero stinkers at the box-office over a two year period. We're not sure if the combined forces of Wolverine, Iron Man, Spidey, and Batman would be able to save the super hero day if that happens.

2. Hollywood:

Just like with every hot commodity in Hollywood, super heroes are the current "flavors of the day." It wasn't that long ago when a super hero flick couldn't make its money back no matter how big the marketing campaign. There was a time when a Spider-Man movie was only a dream and most hardcore fans threw their hands up in the air in resignation over the fact that it would never happen. When the floodgates opened after the first X-Men film, Hollywood execs quickly began to jump on the bandwagon when it was proven that super hero movies could turn a huge profit. All one needs to do is look back at the many super hero properties that were resurrected from development hell and given a green light since. Looking ahead to the future, fans can expect a lot more super hero based properties to find their way into theaters. From the studio side of the fence, you can't really fault a business for wanting to cash in on the action. However, as much as studio insiders can blame fans for poor ticket sales or overblown internet hype, Tinseltown has to shoulder much of the blame when the super hero bubble eventually bursts. In the end, like the assembly line of remakes and Asian horror in recent years, Hollywood will eventually cannibalize the super hero sub-genre until there's nothing left. It's just the nature of the beast.

1. The Buck Stops Here:

It doesn't take a genius to figure out that the day our favorite super heroes fail to turn a profit at the box-office is the day the sun will set on the current trend that we're enjoying at this moment in time. Given the resurgence and popularity of the comic book and graphic novel industries, super hero movies will never go away entirely. Given the financial success of Iron Man, the super hero trend is alive and well on the big screen for another few years. Still, when you think of truly successful super hero movies as compared to the many attempts in recent years, only four franchises have risen to the top in our modern era - Batman, X-Men, Spider-Man, and now Iron Man. That's certainly not a lot given the amount of super hero properties that have been pushed into some phase of development. Since each studio (big or small) is looking for their own mega-franchise, it's doubtful that a lot of others will turn out to be big money makers on the same scale. Think about it... Warner Brothers has Batman (and Superman), 20th Century Fox has the X-Men universe (not to mention Fantastic Four), Sony Pictures has Spider-Man, and Paramount now has Iron Man. If all goes well with The Incredible Hulk this summer, Universal Pictures will have a revived Hulk franchise. In the end, to a large degree, all of those projects have proven to be safe money makers for their respective studios. Why take a chance on an unproven entity when you can always rely on your safe bet? The fact is, studios won't need to take the gamble. Still, it's not going to stop more from coming down the pike. Like we mentioned earlier in this list, it might be a string of potential super hero stinkers that fail to produce at the box-office that brings the big boys to their knees. Thankfully, we're not there yet.

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