Marvel Studios: breaking new ground?

This profile of Marvel Studios in the LA Times will probably frame the narrative for a long time:

Feige’s boss and friend, David Maisel, chairman of Marvel Studios, is pleased to be standing on the deck of a ship that can go in deep water. “We’re the first since DreamWorks started 14 years ago that can greenlight its own $100 million movies. It doesn’t happen very often.” True, though Marvel is not a studio in the most traditional sense (it has fewer than three dozen employees, no lot, and it will turn to Paramount Pictures as its primary distribution pipeline.)


While Marvel’s movie making set-up is indeed a startling and bold one for a comic book company, it also ran into some trouble due to the writer’s strike. Their initial funding called for five movies in five years, but a dry 2009 could set back the schedule a bit. There’s also the matter of whether all the good characters are taken:

It’s fair to wonder if Marvel already rented out its best properties to others. That view is supported by the fact that the studio’s second film will be a do-over of sorts — Ang Lee’s dour “Hulk” was released by Universal in 2003 and didn’t energize audiences or critics (its second week U.S. box office plummeted 70%). The studio has also announced Edgar Wright (“Shaun of the Dead”) will direct “Ant-Man,” a character that dates to 1962 but has gnat-sized name recognition with the public.


For a company that still nickel and dimes such standard marketing procedures for publishing as going to conventions and sending out review copies, starting a movie studio seems like an odd gamble, but realistically, the payout on a movie is a lot more than selling a few pamphlets. And when you look at the track record of Marvel’s movies — everything except ELEKTRA has been very profitable when DVDs and foreign box office are taken into account — maybe they can put Ant-Man and Deathlok on the map. IRON MAN’s buzz is all good, so maybe the gamble could pay-off.

Comments

  1. Torsten Adair says:

    Marvel’s first big success was Blade, a character that many fanboys didn’t even know about. Their second success was with a littleknown Malibu title called Men In Black.
    I believe that Marvel has the best results when the character isn’t bogged down with fanboy expectations (see: Spider-Man 3, X-Men). Ant-Man could be a simple $20 million film which makes $100m.

  2. I have to agree with Torsten and you here, Heidi… to paraphrase the famous Katzenberg letter what Marvel needs are many base hits and a few superstars to round things out.

    Lots of smaller movies at the $30-40M level that will play for a week or two at the theatre then clean up on cable, DVD and internationally. Movies that reinforce the overall Marvel brand while they toil on the huge $100M+ movies that take awhile to develop for 4-Quad success.

    I for one think that a BLACK WIDOW movie would rock…

  3. “There’s also the matter of whether all the good characters are taken …”

    ALL of the good characters?? Marvel has created more than five good characters …

    Moon Knight … Black Widow … how about a movie of The Wasp …

    Why not round up a bunch of the female heroes for their own film …??

    She-Hulk, Tigra, The Wasp … and whoever else you want … just as long as those three are in it.

    Hell, how about a GOOD film based on Denny O’Neil and Howard Chaykin’s DOMINIC FORTUNE? Even the DOMINIC FORTUNE/SILVER SABLE mini-series is promising (though I’d rather see Fortune in the 1930s).

    Drooling …

  4. michael says:

    a 20 mill f/x movie?!? let’s be real people. heavy laden f/x movies cost a lot to make.

    the fact is, Blade crossed genre barriers, horror/vampires/superheroes and MIB had the sci-fi thing going for it, on top of well established actors. It takes a lot more to get into the public perception than just some unknown Marvel characters.

  5. Michael -

    SKY CAPTAIN, SIN CITY, GRINDHOUSE, SPY KIDS, etc… were all FX laden movies that didn’t cost a lot to make. Sky Captain was the heftiest budget at $70M. Everything else was below.

    And that means that because someone has broken the barrier of how to produce a movie with this technology then the next production can further refine and/or utilize the process for far less money.

    Case in point: http://www.monarchofthemoon.com/monarchtrailer.html

    My point with suggesting BLACK WIDOW was it is a coolsexy (one word) female spy property with a twist and we are well-versed with that genre having seen LA FEMME NIKITA and ALIAS. To sell the public on seeing the movie won’t be hard.

    People go to see the Marvel movies because of the characters and concept, not the stars in them. I don’t think Wesley Snipes was a superstar (though he had a few action movies and second banana roles to his credits) until BLADE. What brought the people to the theaters was “blaxploitation meets vampires.”

    Even ELEKTRA probably would have been a hit if they had cast unknown Nastassia Malthe in the lead instead of the pricier Jennifer Garner, and stayed truer the original story.

    The Marvel movies that have succeeded have done so because IMO, they have adhered to the tenets of the concept and not reinvented the wheel. They have reinvented and updated the LOOK, but not the core of the story where the value lies. Case in point: X-MEN.

    It’s a tricky thing translating comics to film, but nowhere does it mean that the movies need to cost a lot to make.

  6. One thing about X-Men is that it had years of mass media exposure via the 90s TV cartoon, which exposed the property to millions of kids who had never picked up a comic book. Same with Spider-Man, FF, Hulk and the rest of Marvel’s top-level concepts. It’s the same kind of audience building/marketing that makes a Teen Titans live action movie inevitable. Concepts like Blade barely betray their comic book origins–it’s trickier for things like Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, etc, which have some inescapable level of built-in awareness from the comics, but little meaningful prior TV or film exposure. Sticking with the original concepts probably helps with early buzz from folks like us, but I think relatively widespread cultural familiarity is more valuable.

  7. michael says:

    Bill, I don’t believe you’re making your point using those movies and I don’t think your tech point holds either. Especially for they type of movies that Marvel would like to make.

    “I think relatively widespread cultural familiarity is more valuable.”

    I can definitely agree with this.

  8. Michael,

    How about 300 then? Made for $60+M and grossed about 4X that worldwide…? Using digital technology to create a unique look that mimicked the graphic novel. Basically shot in a warehouse. One location, no company moves.

    The Monarch of the Moon serial was made for $85K (yes, you read that right) and has grossed 5x that domestically. It was created using readily available cameras on the consumer market and “off-the-shelf” software.

    The point is that because digital technology is rapidly becoming cheaper and cheaper, Marvel can make a variety of good looking, entertaining movies less expensively if they want to do so. Those movies can debut anywhere – on cable, DVD or at the theater.

    Knowing the DVD and other ancillary markets as I do, I think it would a smart strategy to make several of these types of movies in between the super huge blockbusters they make with their top tier characters. It builds the value of the library by having these characters (BLACK WIDOW, BROTHER VOODOO, PALADIN – remember him?, WEREWOLF BY NIGHT, TOMB OF DRACULA, MASTER OF KUNG FU, etc…) in movies and tv series…

    It builds “widespread cultural familiarity.”

  9. michael says:

    Bill, I understand what you’re saying. But what I’m really disagreeing with was Torsten’s post re: a 20 mill. movie. I stand by that. No mass produced theatrical release movie by Marvel is going to cost 20 mill or under.

    That Monarch movie (thanks for the link, btw) may be fun, but it would be a waste to make something like that. I’d get too many chills harpening back to those crappy ‘Marvel’ movies that ARE out there in the same vein. As for doing underexpensive tv movies, if you are merely pushing something for name recognition rather than a real desire to make something good, you are dangerously one step away from campy Batman. Luckily, a lot more comic book shows have been made since then.

  10. Ah, I see — you’re equating quality with budget.

    And the Monarch of the Moon trailer was indicative of my personal movie philosophy that creativity trumps budget every time, and that you can do a lot more in the digital realm. I know Marvel is never going to make a movie like that, but they can (and should) make that $20M – 30M movie with the right character(s).

    Even Avi Arad has said Marvel should investigate doing larger budgeted D2DVD features (He says $60M , but it’s still cheaper than most theatricals) Of course, that was before he and Marvel parted ways….

    http://tinyurl.com/2ujgvl

    I think that overall, Marvel has shown that they want to make good movies. Yes, they’ve had some stinkers (MAN-THING, ELEKTRA) — but the problems with those movies had nothing to do with their budget size and everything to do with the story. I think a theatrical quality $20M Marvel movie is possible and that line of thought should be pursued for the overall growth and health of the company.

    And I think we’ve both sufficiently beaten this horse to death…and then some. Sorry, folks.

  11. michael says:

    While I have been enjoying reading Bill’s thoughts on this, I too apologize for the hijacking of Heidi’s post.

    no hard feelings I hope. :)

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