Are comic book movies passé?

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201009200211 Are comic book movies passé?
It seems that the general air of Doompocalypsamagedden has now even extended to the comic book film, a once thriving genre that provided much of the capital that has fueled the biz for the last decade. Over at Comic Book Movie, there’s an unsigned “volunteer contribution” that suggests “comic book movie” could go the way of the Western or the POLICE ACADEMY movies:

In the past I have made comparisons between the modern day CBM and the western genre of old. The comparison is based on the fact that in their heyday the western was the one breed of film that was guaranteed to put butts in the seats at theaters, just as modern CBMs do, but one day the movie going public simply said enough was enough. What was it that killed the western as the king of the box office? Could this same fate be waiting in the near future for comic book movies?


We’d be a bit more worried if Iron Man, Road to Perdition and Tamara Drewe (above) were all exactly the same kind of movie. It’s true that 2010 probably saw the widest variety of comic book movies released in quite some time, and it’s true that several of the outliers failed (no need to point the finger once again). But Hollywood still needs ideas, and they still love “pre-awareness” (for now) so we’ll see.

Along these lines, Graeme McMillan at Spinoff asks Has Warners Waited Too Long To Exploit DC’s Movie Potential?, suggesting that Marvel has too big and established a lead:

Well, for one thing, because they’re not the first to do it. Newness – or, in this case, the illusion of newness – is important, and it can be better to avoid something than be the second people to try it, in many cases. More importantly, audiences have already bought into one shared superhero universe – will they be willing to do so for another? More cynically, will non-comic-reading audiences really be able to tell that Green Lantern, The Flash and whatever other DCU movies are coming out aren’t part of Marvel’s plans?


The piece has a few points, but seems mostly aimed at Google keywords. It’s true that Warners has a history of endlessly going back and forth with its characters, and falling in love with some really weird ideas along the way (Jack Black as Green Lantern, Nicolas Cage as Superman, or runaway dad stalker Superman). OTOH, sometimes they have the good sense to let Christopher Nolan be Christopher Nolan. Now that the DC characters are the future franchises of the studio, hopefully they’ll go the Jon Favreau way and not the CATWOMAN way.

Comments

  1. “Are comic book movies passé?”

    Yes x infinity.

  2. Comics are a medium, not a genre like Westerns.

    Westerns are just another way to tell a story. While they are not as prevalent as they once were, westerns can still tell a good story, and the American Monomyth easily slots into this genre. What killed the western? Science fiction. Instead of using the past to comment on the present, filmmakers now use the future instead.

    Westerns may not be blockbusters, but movies like Unforgiven and Dances With Wolves show that the genre still can tell good stories. However, given the cost of historical detail, it’s usually easier to change the era and locale.

    Now… if we’re talking about superhero movies… well, that was never a robust genre, and certainly never king of the box office. Perhaps if you group this subgenre in with the more general Action-Adventure movie, then perhaps… But that super-genre will never disappear, as people crave escapism.

    There are many great graphic novels which would make excellent movies on a small budget (Proposition Player, The Cowboy Wally Show).

    What we should be concerned about is bad adaptations from good stories. In any genre or style.

  3. They will never go away. Get used to it. They are a genre and will never die…will have peaks and valleys like any other genre.

  4. I have to agree with Torsten. Comic books are just a medium from which stories can be adapted. They won’t be going away any more than book adaptations will be.

  5. Ryan S. says:

    It’s been one long line of comic book movies since Burton’s “Batman”. Or, I guess, the Kirky Alyn Superman serials. With the added bonus of seeing non-superhero material translated in the past 15 years.

    Is The Beat giving way to CNN-style sensational headlines?

  6. David Blot says:

    And let me be the third in line to state that COMIC BOOK IS NOT SUPER HERO only !!!
    So they will be movies adapted from comic book (or graphic novel or bande dessinées or manga) as long as good stories are told.
    Super Heroes movies, on the other hand…

  7. Kevin Hynes says:

    Movies based on books is so 1945.

  8. Considering that “comic book movies”* have never been “guaranteed to put butts in the seats at theaters”, the analysis unravels pretty quickly.

    * We all know they mean “superhero movies”, so let’s move on from the semantic debate, shall we?

  9. “Comics are a medium, not a genre like Westerns.”

    Tell that to the mass media and the general public, who still mostly disagree. To them, comic book movies are still a limited genre that equals superheroes. Although several graphic novel adaptations have proved otherwise, the public basically ignored the source material when the movies came out.

  10. “Is The Beat giving way to CNN-style sensational headlines?”

    Only if future articles start linking to random Facebook and Twitter feeds.

  11. Tom Spurgeon says:

    Is this some kind of contest to make summary judgments and flatly untrue statements?

    I imagine they might go away at some later date, but we’ll know a couple of years in advance when people stop putting them into production. No need to play Pop Culture Kreskin on this one. As of right now and for the next 18 months, there seem to be a lot of comic books movies, whether you mean superhero movies or movies based on comic books.

    As for their being passe, that word could mean 18 different things, so the answer is yes and no.

  12. Comics are NOT superheroes!

    Superheroes have been existing for quite some time outside of comics actually, through licensing and TV shows.

    Saying that comicbook movies are passe is like saying that movies based on novels are passe. This is absurd.

    Sorry but this is an absurd, pointless, uninformed article.

  13. Synsidar says:

    If the producers and director of a movie intend to make a good film, and cast and budget accordingly, then the future of comic book movies shouldn’t be dim. The concern is that movie producers looking to make money quickly and cash in on a fad before it disappears will produce schlock, and/or that there will be too many superhero movies on the market in the same time interval, competing with each other, saturating the market, and causing viewers to become bored. “Comic book movie” and “superhero movie” aren’t literally synonymous, but they are that to the general non-comics-reading public and producers who want guaranteed profits.

    Matthew Vaughn apparently thinks the superhero movie is dying:

    Vaughn said some rather interesting things about the inevitable (right?) decline of the comic book/superhero movie genre: “It’s been mined to death and in some cases the quality control is not what it’s supposed to be,” Vaughn said. “People are just going to get bored of it.” That may actually be true, but how soon will we actually see that happen? [. . .]

    And maybe that’s his point – the quality of some of the crap out there (e.g. X-Men: The Last Stand, The Spirit, Jonah Hex) is causing people to lose their interest in superhero movies.

    In fact, this concern is exactly why Vaughn decided to jump on to X-Men: First Class while he still could. “I’ve always wanted to do a big-budget superhero film and I think we’ve kind of crossed the Rubicon with superhero films,” Vaughn said. “I think [the opportunity to do one], it’s only going to be there two or three more times.”

    The repeated script problems with superhero films and the tendency to reboot a series after a few films, whether that’s due to script problems, budgetary problems, or both, indicate that producers believe there are only a few ways to tell superhero stories and attract wide audiences. There might never be another superhero movie that deconstructs the genre, and movies that are relentlessly heroic will bore viewers.

    SRS

  14. Yes, absolutely, comic book movies are over. Those last five times it was predicted were all utter nonsense, but this time it’s true!

    Just like the last ten times the complete and utter collapse of the comic book market was predicted were nonsense, but the current doom is going to be the one.

    I swear, if either ever does happen, it will probably be because the audience is too busy worrying to go enjoy the movies and/or comics.

  15. David Blot says:

    But let’s rejoice : Ghost Rider 2 is on ! Comic Book movies are saved.

  16. Rich Johnson says:

    Unless it’s a super-hero movie I highly doubt that most people even realize it when a movie is based on a comic book or graphic novel – because the studios don’t generally market them that way. You will often see commercials that have that well modulated voice saying, “Based on the bestselling books.” But I can’t remember a time when that same voice says, “Based on the bestselling comic book.”
    I remember when Road to Perdition came out and Tom Hanks was being interviewed and he said, “It’s based on a graphic novel, whatever that is.” I don’t think that movies based on comic book are judged in a group anymore than movies based on books. Does the trade publishing press run around, after the latest under-performing movie based on a Nicholas Spark book and ask, “Are book movies passé?”
    If a producer and a studio thinks they will make money on it they will buy it even it’s a bunch of Twitter posts.

  17. Don’t forget that the biggest comicbook movie of them all is on the way…”TinTin”.I’ve got to agree with Rich on this one as many people don’t know which movies are based on comics/GN. I bet Red hasn’t been marketed as a comicbook movie and no one ever blames the source material when they’re based on books, on the contrary they blame the movie for not being faithful to the book…well I do anyway.

  18. >>Yes, absolutely, comic book movies are over. Those last five times it was predicted were all utter nonsense, but this time it’s true!

    So true.

    Never seen a biz so preoccupied with predicting its own downfall. Is that the peculiar mania that results when an industry’s highly influential yet has a small core audience?

    Dunno, but it’s tiresome.

    “Are we dead yet?”

    “Are we dead yet?”

    “Are we dead yet?”

    No, dumbasses.

  19. That’s a silly thing to say.
    If a movie is good, it’s good.
    They’re only passé if they’re not good.

  20. I took a pop culture class in grad school and remember that a general conventional wisdom was that when a parody of something came out, that was the mark of a genre that had run its course.

    But in this day and age with media moving so fast and being self-referential, I wonder if that is even a good litmus test anymore.

    I agree that there’s probably a distinction between a “comic book” movie and a “super hero” movie.

  21. As others have pointed out, this topic seems to come up a couple of times every year. Perhaps it might be best to ask the question sometimes when a comic book movie (Iron Man 2) isn’t in the top 10 of the year, in this case having make over $600 million world wide.

  22. Getting back to the collapse of the movie Western, you could point to the 1959 TV season which had an astounding 26 Western shows on the air. http://bit.ly/cg5HGR

    You burn out your audience and if you can see 4 Westerns a day on TV, you’re not going to the theater.

    The Western novelist Robert Randisi has suggested that “mostly Hollywood seems to think of the Western as a bygone genre because the agrarian values reflected in classic Western novels and movies are no longer reflective of our urbanized society. That’s probably an oversimplification, but there’s truth in it.” http://bit.ly/a41Lpp

    Richard Wheeler, another Western novelist has made a similar point, but I don’t have that link.

    Others – no link either – have made the point many science fiction films are just Westerns with better hats and mechanical horses.

  23. Comparing “comic book movies” (i.e. “superhero movies”) to Westerns as an example of a genre with a limited shelf life exhibits the astounding lack of context of today’s barely post-adolescent pop culture “commentators” – especially considering that Westerns were reliable box-office for roughly FIFTY years – good, bad *and* ugly.

    If superhero movies *are* like Westerns, then we’ll be seeing them – and bitching about them – at least until the Summer of 2030 or so….

  24. David Blot says:

    Comic book movies will be on as long as good comic books are produced, and who cares if the general audience doesnt know a movie is from a comic book – I mean do you know everytime you see a movie that it’s from a book ? I highly doubt so.

    Super heroes movies on the other hand is a much more tricky subject, and yes the comparaison with westerns is not that far off.

  25. Ryan S. says:

    “Only if future articles start linking to random Facebook and Twitter feeds.”

    Indeed.

  26. “I remember when Road to Perdition came out and Tom Hanks was being interviewed and he said, “It’s based on a graphic novel, whatever that is.”

    Let’s count our blessings!
    We’re far enough along that the folks in Hollywood know what a graphic novel is now. That’s progress!

    As I said elsewhere today about something else in the comic book game:

    “It’s a game of inches out on the playing field. Hard to gain and hard to hang onto gains once won.”

    All of our collective progress is incremental and upon reflection we’ve gained a lot of ground over the ups and down of the business over the course of my career.

    We are winning the long war….even though it doesn’t feel like it from day to day sometimes.

  27. Army of Dorkness says:

    I dunno.

    A better question might be are 2-D movies passe? It’s starting to look that way.

    You don’t need to pay $10-12 to see dust and sand on a big screen anymore because your LED widescreen TV with surround sound provides a better viewing experience than the movie-going experience did back when Westerns were huge. Same goes for recent Westerns, really. They aren’t really diminished by a widescreen TV and a home theater set-up. Neither is a film like Jonah Hex, for the most part. However, Superhero/comic-booky films are diminished by watching them outside of the theater… sometimes not much, but there is almost always a slight reminder that something would’ve been so much better when viewed on a big screen. This is also why 3D is being thrown at everything… and it’s only a matter of time before home 3D is good enough for people to skip watching those films in the theaters too.

    What bothers me most is the glut of superhero/comicbook product. Next summer we get 3 Marvel films and 1 DC film in teh span of 3 months. Plus a Harry Potter movie and a Transformer movie and a few other flashy comic book adaptations that aren’t obvious comic book adaptations… before we even hit August. (Deep breath) Plus a new Pirates film, Hangover 2, New Kung Fu Panda film, New Fast and Furious film, and Cars 2. A LOT of these fanbases overlap, but unfortunately, cash does not multiply itself. People have to choose, and the patterns people begin to follow when they have to choose end up being what people think means the death of a particular format/genre/etc. That’s not even true. It just means they will probably use a different method of viewing the product…not a lack of interest in the product. That method might be free downloads or netflix or borrowing from the library or borrowing from friends or sneaking into the theater or going to the second-run theater… and so on.

    The only thing I can say right now about future comic book movies is that Thor looks a lot better than I thought it would and I kinda want to see it in a theater… X-men First Class sounds dumb, and Captain America is not inspiring any confidence in my consumer dollar. Also, Green Lantern is miscast so that might ruin the whole film. Because for the last 3 films, that’s all I can judge right now. Maybe a trailer will come out for any of them and make people go “holy shit” and demand their almighty dollar and maybe it won’t. That’s the $200 million dollar gamble the studios will drop on the consumer roulette wheel when the release dates come up.

    For me, the problem is if you asked me right now what comic book I’d like to see adapted for the big screen, I couldn’t tell you a single one. I can give you a list of about 5-10 books, though. Okay, one comic book–Fraction’s Iron Fist run with all the ancillary mainstream Marvel characters removed leaving only the Immortal Weapons and that story completely devoid of Marvel trappings and continuity and other Marvel stupidity.

    Give people a reason to care, and they’ll do the work for you.

  28. Tommy Raiko says:

    “The piece has a few points, but seems mostly aimed at Google keywords.”

    Well played, Ms. Beat. Well played.

  29. Xenos says:

    So when are people gonna write articles about how adapting movies from novels is passe? I think it’s obvious this is an article that yet again propagates the stereotype that comic book = superheros from DC / Marvel.

  30. Torsten: “What killed the western? Science fiction.”

    Wrong … the glut of western films, television shows, and paperbacks killed it. Thumb through a TV Guide from 1959-1965, and the number of westerns is staggering.

    Christopher Mills: “… especially considering that Westerns were reliable box-office for roughly FIFTY years – good, bad *and* ugly.”

    Exactly, which is basically why the public had enough when it had enough.

  31. Clearly we aren’t referring to movies based off material that originally appears in comic book/strip/graphic novel/manga/manwha/webcomic format; those will continue. What may be affected by audience perceptions are (a) movies that tout their connection to comic book source material (SIN CITY, WATCHMEN, SCOTT PILGRIM) and (b) the specific sub-genre of superheroes*.

    (a) is an easy enough to solve problem; just stop touting the source material. (b) is a different category, I wouldn’t link it to the demise of the Western genre for reasons that extend beyond mere market over saturation (i.e., Westerns were most popular when the majority of the country either lived in rural areas or had recently moved to cities from rural areas; once separated from the land, audiences sought more urban entertainments).

    Rather, I’d link it to the spy genre of the 1960s; there had been spy movies prior to 007, there were non-007 spy movies after the 1960s, but the 1960s were the heyday of the James Bond super-spy + gadgets movie. Audiences will buy one of those every other year or so, which is why the Bond franchise is the longest running film franchise.

    If (b) is a contemporary parallel to 1960s spy movies, we can expect a fast die-off in the next few years, with one or two perennial favorites coming back on occasion.

    The sub-genre will not die out, but the herd will be appreciably thinned.

    * Interestingly enough, nobody is worked up over there being too many funny animal animated movies. Go figure…

  32. As long as there is an actor around to play Batman, superhero movies are never far away. I think it might really be that simple. If there is someone who has an idea to redo Batman, there is a superhero movie in the future. Not so much any of the other heroes, but Batman is his own industry, having seen six movies in the last 21 years. That’s probably as good a record as James Bond.

  33. Let’s also not forget that tons of TV shows and quite a few movies in Japan are Manga adaptations. Comics to movies or comics to TV are not purely a US thing.
    That makes that article even more irrelevant.

    Well at least it keeps up talking.

  34. Tommy Raiko says:

    “(a) is an easy enough to solve problem; just stop touting the source material.”

    Kinda like what seems to be going on with the movie RED, which doesn’t seem to be trumpeting its comics provenance in its marketing (at least that I’ve seen…)

  35. Ffree says:

    Good storytelling can and will continue to cross mediums, including comicbooks, movies, books, television, theater, video games, etc..

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