Iron Man 2 is already on release around the world, and this weekend opens domestically. It has already passed the $100M mark before it even hits screens in the US. Arguably the most highly anticipated movie of the year, it could quite conceivably turn out to be the highest grossing, and has already enjoyed a good critical reception. A comic book movie, the biggest film of the year? It hasn’t always been this way, and superhero movies have been looked down upon in the past, but in the last couple of years Hollywood has been forced to sit up, and take notice of costumed adventurers. So how did this happen?
Over the last decade, a huge amount of movies based on comic book and graphic novel properties have been released. The quality of these movies has varied wildly, and they have never really been considered guaranteed box office. This situation has begun to change greatly however.
Spider-Man was the first big comic book movie that demonstrated that superheroes can simultaneously score big box office and critical acclaim. Thanks to great review scores, word of mouth and a main character that was well established even outside of the comic book fraternity, Spider-Man was a huge success. It proved that comic book adaptations were not only financially viable, but able to make huge profits.
Numerous other comic book movies were subsequently released that did not necessarily enjoy the same success. Spider-Man had convinced Hollywood that superhero movies were a good idea, but there was very little quality control in evidence amongst the lion’s share of the various adaptations. Storylines were bastardised, and the differing franchises picked up by different studios had no clear vision.
The Spider-Man series continued its success, but reported studio interference meant that the subsequent movies struggled to match the first film for quality. Meanwhile, Batman Begins was released. Christopher Nolan mixed the Batman mythos with a contemporary setting and ideas to create one of the best comic-book movies to date. Another critical and commercial success, it kicked off another successful superhero series based on a character already well known to the general public.
The big turning point came with 2008’s Iron Man. It was a risky movie to make, a big budget action movie based on a superhero that had no previous cinematic exposure, almost completely unknown outside of the comic fan’s world. The success of Iron Man, again both commercially and critically, was a surprise because it wasn’t based on one of the big four or five comic characters. It showed that second tier characters could also be successful, and paved the way for more adaptations based around less high profile characters, allowing the set-up for the forthcoming Avengers movie.
Parallel to this, The Dark Knight was released. It had already been proven that Batman could make big money, and that Nolan could make a great movie to boot. But The Dark Knight took it up a level. It just missed out on an Academy Award nomination for best picture, but Heath Ledger was not only nominated posthumously for best supporting actor, he actually won the Oscar. Not only could comic book based films make huge profits, and wow movie goers, it had now been proven that they could garner real critical acclaim, and be considered for the biggest awards.
With Marvel now at the helm of movies based on their own properties, quality control can be greatly increased. That has been shown with Iron Man 1 and 2, and with a clear vision in place for the future of not just the property, but the shared universe of the Marvel characters, the future is looking brighter than ever for comic book movies. DC look to be following Marvel’s lead. By taking control of their own characters cinematically, in partnership with Warner Bros, future movies look set to enjoy better, more faithful storylines, and properties that are over 50 years old finally look to be allowed the respect that they deserve. Marvel’s plans allow for at least one movie a year, and now with The Green Lantern, Batman 3 and The Man Of Steel set for annual release over the next few years, DC’s output looks to be set at around the same frequency.
Add to this the movies made outside the control of DC and Marvel like the Spider-Man and X-Men reboots, and it looks like we are set to enjoy 4 or 5 big comic book movies a year, all with the potential to break box office records and gain critical success. Superheroes have found themselves in a position to dominate the industry. News articles based around comic book adaptations are filling web space on a daily basis, speculation is rife wherever a new project is mentioned, and some of the biggest hit counts are for trailers and clips from forthcoming comic book movies.
With Marvel and now possibly DC working towards a unifying vision for their respective universes, it looks like adaptations of their properties will continue to be a dominant force at the box office for years to come, and the other Hollywood studios are sure to continue looking for other comic book and graphic novel licenses to pick up in order try to replicate the current success these companies are enjoying. It is a great time for comic book fans, and with a rich history of amazing storylines for the movies to draw from, mainstream audiences can also enjoy the benefits of years of great work from the comic book writers and artists.
Bazmann – You can follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/baz_mann