Over at Variety (which is now FREE for everyone to read, btw), a recent article captures studio exec fretting over the dwindling supply of potential mega-franchise properties, like LORD OF THE RINS and JAMES BOND:
Some studio execs even think the mega-franchise could be a fading genre. “The larger issue is that a franchise picture implies a four-quadrant movie,” says an exec from a studio that’s enjoyed big franchise success in recent years. “And I don’t know how many four-quadrant movies will exist in the future. Everything in our culture seems to not be geared to four-quadrant events right now.” Despite the doubts, executives are looking for more. With many of the series either played out or aging, studios are on a furious hunt for a replacement crop, with execs and producers poring through comicbooks, fantasy fiction and kidlit — and even their own film libraries — for new franchise ideas.
(Our answer: JOHN CARTER! JOHN CARTER! JOHN CARTER!)
Variety editor Brian Lowry picks up the thread with some fretting over the lack of viable new superhero franchises:
STRICTLY SURVEYING comic books, once you exhaust major stars at Marvel and Time Warner-owned DC Comics — Spider-Man, X-Men and the Hulk in the former’s arsenal; Superman, Batman and perhaps Wonder Woman in the latter — the pickings become decidedly slim. Marvel is taking another pass at the Hulk after Ang Lee’s overwrought stab, rolls out “Ghost Rider” next year and has “Iron Man” on the launchpad. Based on the track record of films like “The Punisher,” “Hellboy” and “Constantine,” none of these figure to give “Spider-Man” a run for his money.
With most of big guns already discharged, that raises the specter of marching into battle with titles like DC’s the Flash and Green Lantern or Marvel’s Captain America and the Black Panther. And while those spandex-clad heroes might make the pulses of comic aficionados beat faster, they’re unlikely to flourish (outside the confines of Comic-con, anyway) a la “X-Men” or “Batman Begins,” regardless of how well they’re executed. No wonder Warner Bros. is planning a “Superman Returns” sequel despite its unspectacular box office flight: At least with the Man of Steel, people know what to expect and won’t giggle at the costume.
The article is a pretty accurate gauge of where Hollywood stands on the future of the superhero. The only newish slamdunk on the horizon would appear to be Hugh Jackman as WOLVERINE, more properly categorized as a spin-off. Wonder Woman should do well, but movies starring female heroes–even the greatest one of all — never match the grosses of Men in Tights.
The dangling carrot in all of this — and the reason why cartooners seeking options should keep plugging away — is the MEN IN BLACK factor. It doesn’t matter how obscure and undistinguished the original comic was — it was a concept that could be spun into boffo box office by a skilled movie creative team. It’s a sure bet that Hollywood’s D-boys and girls will keep scouring indie comics for their IP potential, and Marvel and DC will still be able to get movie deals for comics that sell barely 20K a month.
Hollywood’s power nerds from Steven Spielberg to Guillermo del Toro also hold a lot of clout. Bigger directors and better producers get better talent, and more attention.
On the other hand, you have Tinsel Town’s rapidly developing allergy to ginormous budgets that will never be recouped in today’s world of lowered expectations. The death of the HALO movie would be today’s example. Thriftiness is a new and unexpected virtue throughout Hollywood, as studio execs realize that coddling aging stars like Tom Cruise and Jim Carrey while paying them $20 mil and giving them a cut of the gross for the privilege of doing so is not as cost effective as it once was.
So will there be new franchises? Of course there will. Human beings crave new legends and heroes. They’ll make them on their own if they have to.
Will there be new superhero franchises? Not as easy to guess. Ang Lee proved that grafting on the my-father-never-liked-purple-pants emotional subtext was not the way to make a dumb action flick. (To a slightly lesser effect, Bryan Singer proved this with SUPERMAN RETURNS.) However, REALLY dumb action flicks have limited appeal as box office megastars, either (cf most of Marvel’s OTHER superhero movies).
Does, say, Green Lantern or Iron Man really have a compelling story and timeless theme that audiences beyond the core captive nerd squad can relate to? The greatest superhero movie success story of all the recent movies is SPIDER-MAN, which has the clearest message and the most joyful filmmaking. At the end of the day, superhero movies will only be as good as the source material — or the talents of filmmakers who can hammer the raw material into something more exciting, and in Hollywood that’s in pretty short supply.