Mark Millar: ‘Green Lantern’ a ‘Blip’, Superhero Business Better Than Ever
Just a little under a year ago we wrote about the lazy narrative of the box office flop, a phenomenon by which entertainment journalists and other pundits race to judge a film as either a financial success or failure as quickly as possible and justify their existences as pop culture prognosticators. Movies based on comics are the subject of their own subplot in this grim story, and the same analysts wonder if the “comic book movie genre” has run its course every time a comics-based film fails to break box office records.
That narrative has been retold across countless websites and news sources since this month’s release of Green Lantern, the Warner Bros. film based on the popular DC Comics character. The hugely expensive film was not well reviewed and did not match its comic book rivals Thor and X-Men: First Class in the all important numbers game, so, consequently, we’re inundated with concern and pontification about the future of films based on comic books.
Such fears are unwarranted, at least according to Mark Millar. In a posting to his Millarworld forum, the co-creator of such comics-to-film successes Wanted and Kick-Ass argued that conditions for superhero movies in particular are “rosier than ever.”Green Lantern’s dramatic 69% drop in ticket sales in its second week of release has inspired much consternation amongst comic book fans, hand-wringing amongst box office analysts and grave-dancing on behalf of its competition — including Mark Millar, who Tweeted his view that Green Lantern was the worst superhero film of all time. Nevertheless, the “Hit-Girl” writer believes things have never been better for superhero stories on screen, at least in terms of profits.
Any Chicken Littles screeching about Green Lantern being a flop and ruining everything must look at the big picture and remember it’s far rosier than any other genre. Our track record in comic book movies has been incredible since Goyer and Norrington changed the game with Blade, Singer carried it through with X-Men and Sam Raimi slam-dunked with Spidey. In the decade that followed we’ve had monster hits from almost unknown characters. Iron Man sells around 40,000 copies a month, but a combination of a fun script and very clever casting turned it into a $500 million grossing beast. Last year’s sequel hit $650 million and these numbers don’t even include DVD. The X-Men franchise has managed over 2 billion dollars in 5 movies and Spidey and Batman are the biggest of the lot. Check out www.boxofficemojo.com and it’s very heartening to note that superhero and comic book adaptations have an incredible consistency for turning vast profits. There’s the occasional dud like Catwoman and Jonah Hex, but these tend to be the exceptions rather than the norm and rare examples of unknown writers and directors being attached to characters traditionally coveted by the Hollywood A-list.
Three superhero movies have been out this summer and, bar GL, the others have done fine. Thor cost 150 mill and looks set to settle at around half a billion dollars. X-Men cost about the same and will probably sit around 350. Add in DVD and SPECIAL EDITION DVDs and these are in serious profit. Thor, we must remember, is another semi-unknown character in the mainstream and featured no bankable names. In this context, it’s done INCREDIBLY well and X-Men had the disadvantage of no Wolverine (face it, nay-sayers, he’s the best there is), a period piece and no actors recognised from the previous trilogy.
In short, GL is a blip. It’s registered because a 200 mill plus budget and 100 mill marketing campaign means they needed to make 600 mill to break even (after cinema costs are recouped) and will be lucky to crack 250 worldwide. But like I said we need to keep this in context and remember that even the Fantastic Four movies made a big profit. Hollywood is still very much in love with superheroes and will continue to be so until they consistently start losing cash.
With reportedly five comic book movies in development, Millar is someone with an obvious interest in making things appear as profitable as possible in the superhero game. That said, it’s difficult to argue with his conclusions, especially when you take into account the fullness of time: it’s been 13 years since the first Blade film and nearly 10 years since the first Spider-Man by Sam Raimi. In that time, how often have we seen the superhero film genre framed as a fad?
With respect to Green Lantern specifically, that the film is a financial disappointment is undeniable, but money remains to be earned from many overseas markets, home video products and licensing (most notably, Cartoon Network’s Green Lantern animated series). Indeed, some reports suggest that a planned Green Lantern sequel may be moving forward. As we’ve said here and here, there’s some great stuff in that movie that we’d like to see more of in a sequel. But Millar has his own ideas about why Green Lantern and other DC icons may not be suited for the live-action treatment, and Warner Bros. may yet decide to put that franchise back on the shelf.
But next summer sees The Avengers, the culmination of all of Marvel Studios’ cinematic efforts beginning with the tremendous Iron Man; The Amazing Spider-Man, Sony’s relaunching of a franchise whose first three films earned 2.5 billion dollars in ticket sales alone; and The Dark Knight Rises, the third and final film of Christopher Nolan’s Batman cycle, whose predecessor is the third most popular film of all time. When you look at the superhero movie in that way, things really do seem pretty rosy.