Blockbuster Status Eludes Current Comic Book Fare


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Box Office Mojo reports that, in the midst of what is probably the most crowded summer yet for movies inspired by comic books, the genre is failing to deliver out and out hits.

“While comic book movies continue to pack a potent punch for genre fare, it’s becoming more difficult to generate a transcendent hit like ‘Batman Begins’ or ‘Iron Man,’ much less a box office sensation like ‘The Dark Knight’ or ‘Spider-Man.’”

It’s no secret why: there are too many of them and, for the most part, they’re not very good. I count myself as a comic book partisan, and I’m almost always happy to see one of the characters from my childhood make it to the big screen, but for major studios to release four major adaptations — “Thor,” “X-Men: First Class,” “Green Lantern” and “Captain America” — within a single summer is just unrealistic.

Two years ago, in a post about “The Dark Knight,” I compared the contemporary super-hero actioner to the Hollywood western. Like that once-dominant genre, super-hero films get little respect today but, I argued, they’ll one day become a routine vehicle for serious artistic ambitions. I still think that’s true, but the western-ization of comic book movies is happening on another level: they’re becoming commoditized and stripped of any meaningful uniqueness.

Read the Box Office Mojo write-up here.



  1. I agree that the comic movies these days all seem the same.

    I’d love to see someone try something truly new. Maybe a Hollywood take on Lone Wolf and Cub would reinvigorate things.

  2. It seems to me that the wave of superhero adaptations first went awry when a studio decided to make hack-work out of the Fantastic Four flick. Prior to that movie, there was a certain cache (or perhaps coolness) to the Marvel-derived movies, but that release, with its sub-Spider-Man, sub-X-Men success seemed to usher in a “second-tier” batch of comic movies. Sure, the big Batman flicks came after, but I think that FF movie heralded the “Quick! Let’s knock out another comic movie!” commoditized era that we’re in.

    That said, nothing explains “Constantine.”

    (I was a comics geek in my youth, but don’t read superhero books now, so this should be taken with a grain of salt. I also don’t really go out to the movies.)

  3. Gil: I’m actually going to nitpick a bit here. “Daredevil” was released in 2003, so its awfulness predated the 2005 “Fantastic Four” by a couple of years at least.

    More to the point, super-hero movies have been generally terrible since Hollywood started making with them, with only a few exceptions.

  4. Great call! I do think the FF was a more potentially lucrative property than DD, so maybe I can kindasorta keep my point that the FF was the first mega-blockbuster comic movie that wasn’t. (That is, I don’t think Daredevil was ever going to be a giant hit, but FF could’ve been The Franchise, post-X-Men, and it wouldn’t require 4 prequel movies (Iron Man, Thor, Cap, Hulk) to set it up.) But you’re right: Daredevil was godawful.

    I still find it funny that the wave of superhero movies was actually triggered by Wesley Snipes in Blade.

  5. I think the problem is that when the studios saw the success of Batman Begins/Dark Knight, they wanted more movies like Spider-Man/Fantastic Four. Ever since those Batman movies came out, I’ve been disappointed that nobody else has tried making something of that caliber, a smart movie where its comic bookness is almost secondary. X-Men: First Class was sort of going for it, especially with their casting choices, but the movie had its own problems (trying to re-introduce the same characters and stories we’ve already seen in three dumbed-down movies).

  6. I think the reason the four current superhero movies aren’t a huge hit like Dark Knight that they aren’t as good and the anticipation for them is not as high. Thor is solid, better than you thought it would be, but still far from groundbreaking, fare. Green Lantern, judging from reviews, is a bad movie. I think X-Men is a solid, B+ effort, with moving performances by Fassbender and McAvoy, but has been hurt by X-3 and Wolverine. For example, I was so disappointed in X-3 that five years later I still wasn’t eager to see First Class.
    I think that moviegoers want to 1) see something visually unique and 2) be emotionally moved/go on a deep and intriguing emotional journey with the characters. Some of the superhero movies have managed to deliver this (Dark Knight) and some haven’t (Daredevil).

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