Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Marvel's Track Record, And What To Expect In The Future

I don't know if Marvel Studios were planning all this way back in 2003 when the atrocious Hulk debuted. Regardless of whether they were or not, and regardless of the fact that 2008's The Incredible Hulk only half-acknowledges the existence of Ang Lee's train wreck, it's still true, I think, to say that Joss Whedon's The Avengers is 9 years, 7 films, and a combined $1.1 Billion in the making.

At this point, it doesn't even matter if the movies were good or not; Marvel gets huge geek props just for trying.

Of course, with the exception of Hulk, they were good. Very good. In fact, if you ask me, of the 6 Marvel films in the Avengers Movie Universe produced so far (not counting Hulk):

     1 was second only to The Dark Knight when it comes to superhero movies (The Avengers),
     2 were amazing (Captain America and Iron Man 2),
     2 were very good (Thor and Iron Man),
     and only 1 was mediocre (The Incredible Hulk).

What's more, in one sense The Dark Knight is really an unfair comparison, not really qualifying as a straight "superhero flick," making The Avengers really the best there's ever been. That's a pretty impressive track record.

Here's the ambitious list of films in the same universe Marvel is already in the process of producing:

     Iron Man 3,
     Thor 2,
     Captain America 2,
     The Avengers 2,
     Black Widow,
     Nick Fury,
     and War Machine.

More than that, here's the list of films Marvel have yet to confirm, but are believed to be in the early stages of development:

     The Warriors Three,
     The Winter Soldier,
     War Machine,
     Black Panther,
     Ant-Man, a spy movie,
     Iron Fist,
     Dr. Strange,
     Guardians of the Galaxy,
    and, finally, The Avengers 3 in 2017...

...most likely to be based on the Secret Invasion, which will have been set-up in previous films. If they can maintain the same ratio they've been able to thus far for the 19 or so films on the way that would make for a grand total of roughly:

     4 films almost as good as or better than The Dark Knight,
     8 or 9 amazing superhero movies,
     8 or 9 very good movies,
     and only 4 mediocre ones.

But let's see if we can get a little bit more objective with this analysis. Also, let's give Marvel the benefit of the doubt and pretend Hulk never happened. There are a lot of ways to measure a movie's success: Worldwide Gross, Opening Weekend, Critical Reception, and so on. Let's take a look at how some of these numbers can help us understand the enormity of what Marvel have accomplished.

Consider sheer Worldwide Gross, for example:

The Avengers is projected to displace Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest for the #6 spot on the list of the highest grossing films of all time, putting half of the films in the Avengers Movie Universe in the Top 100 highest grossing films of all time.

But how do these numbers compare with actual profits earned? It doesn't matter how much money a movie brings in if it cost too much to make:

Incredibly, at 1.1 Billion, The Avengers is itself expected to gross more than the combined budget of the entire franchise, turning every dime grossed by the other 5 films into pure profit. This is what Marvel knew all along, and why they were willing to expend so much time, effort, and cash to get The Avengers made. Somebody finally figured out that geeks have money. And their favorite thing to do with said money is spend it on geeky stuff.

In other words, as hard as it may seem to accomplish, if you can pave the way for a quality super-blockbuster like The Avengers, which exists within a consistent movie universe, utilizing the same actors, it will all pay off in the end, because you will have managed to do something no one thought possible. And people will come to see it. Like Apple and Target, Marvel have discovered that the best way to get people to buy your stuff isn't to make it cheap, it's to make it good and exciting.

Sheer box office gross is relatively easily tainted by environmental factors like competing films, a bad economy, and the like. Probably the best indicator of how excited fans are to see a film are the opening weekend results. Considering that every film opens on a different number of screens, though, to get a fair read you need to consider the per theater averages for the opening weekend:

When you compare those numbers to the adjusted-for-inflation, per theater averages of Jurassic Park at $29,138, The Return of the King at $23,186, and kind of amazingly, what was supposedly "the most anticipated movie of all time," Star Wars: Episode 1 at $28,283 (averaging only 60% per theater what The Avengers did), you start to realize the league these movies are in.

But money isn't everything. If they were smarter the studios would understand that in a (geeky) venture like this, it's not so important that each individual film make loads of money. What's important is that the whole series continues to be well-received by the public. As long as they can maintain a relatively high standard for the films in the series, and pave the way for more super-blockbusters like The Avengers, the potential for money to be made off this franchise is almost endless. 

So how do you measure lasting public opinion objectively? Let's look at the (surprisingly unfavorable) results from three major review sites:

It seems the general population doesn't agree with me about the quality of these movies. Maybe, though, this sample is too objective. After all, as I suggested above, it's not really fair to compare Iron Man with The King's Speech. Let's see how they stack up against the same average reception ratings of some other big genre movies:

I happen to think Nevertheless, it is clear these movies rank amongst the best genre films of all time. Even more germane to our purposes is the following chart which breaks down the same information as above by genre franchise:

The Avengers Movie Universe comes in fourth in this list, behind three franchises which I would argue are not "genre" films per se and are perhaps inappropriate comparisons for these Marvel superhero movies. And yet, even if that is not the case, to have created the fourth-best genre film franchise of all time is no mean feat.

All of this is to say that the folks at Disney/Marvel have really accomplished something special with these movies. And there are more to come. If they can maintain a similar level of average quality across the remaining films in this franchise (however many that will end up being), we're looking at a truly revolutionary and historical film-making event. And they're about superheros.

Godspeed Marvel. Godspeed.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

What If Warner Bros. Were As Smart As Disney?

In 2013, a Superman reboot entitled Man of Steel is set to be released. It's directed by Zack Snyder of Dawn of the Dead, 300, and Watchmen fame, written by David S. Goyer who helped Christopher Nolan pen the first two installments of his Dark Knight Saga, and produced and "grandfathered" by Christopher Nolan himself. It's also been announced that Nolan and Goyer will cooperate similarly on a Batman reboot to be released in 2015, The Dark Knight Rises being the last in Christopher Nolan's personal Bat-verse.

2011's Green Lantern was...lackluster, to be sure, but Ang Lee's atrocious Hulk and Louis Leterrier's mediocre The Incredible Hulk, didn't stop Marvel. Cleverly, they managed to move forward with the Hulk's story while only half acknowledging the existence of the first film. Warner Brothers could easily do something similar simply by recasting Hal Jordan if they didn't want to risk a pseudo-sequel along the lines of The Incredible Hulk.

Back in 2007, following the release of Superman Returns and Batman Begins, Joss Whedon was attached to direct a Wonder Woman adaptation to match the recently executed reboots of the other two chief Justice League properties. Eventually the project fell through. But, given the astounding success Joss Whedon brought Marvel's The Avengers, I have no doubt that Warner Brothers are looking at that Wonder Woman idea again (with or without Whedon himself), to coincide this time with the re-reboots coming in the next couple of years.

Clearly, Warner Brothers is within striking distance of following in Marvel's footsteps and bringing the Justice League together for the first time on the big screen. More than that, doing so under the oversight of Christopher Nolan.

After Man of Steel and the first film in the rebooted Batman franchise, the next step would be Wonder Woman and, if they attempted to follow in Marvel's Incredible Hulk footsteps, a Green Lantern pseudo-sequel (likely introducing the Sinestro Corps War). This is all the set-up needed for a Justice League film, potentially slated for release in Summer 2016. Justice League would introduce The Flash and Martian Manhunter in similar fashion to how The Avengers treated Black Widow and Hawkeye. The League's first villain would be Lex Luthor, as set up in Man of Steel à la Loki in Thor and The Avengers.

Justice League's success would pave the way for a Superman sequel in which he returns to Metropolis to fight another of his famous villains. Say, Metallo, or a Metallo-Parasite team-up. Brainiac might be the best choice. (Unless he's to be used as the Justice League 2 villain, as you'll see.) The Batman sequel would pit the Caped Crusader against a more serious of his villains than he faced in the first film. Perhaps, And, if they've learned anything from Nolan, the Batman sequel would not introduce Robin. Wonder Woman would probably not get a sequel. If a Green Lantern pseudo-sequel wasn't released before Justice League introducing the Sinestro Corps War, it would be now. The Flash and Martian Manhunter would get their own origin story prequels as well.

Leading to Justice League 2, which would either pick up where the Green Lantern pseudo-sequel left off with the Sinestro Corps War (if they went that route), or, if not, likely introduce Brainiac as the League's first major cosmic villain. This is very similar to what Marvel plans to do with the Avengers. The first film was just the team's origin story. In the sequel they will be forced to take their place on a more cosmic stage, facing off against Thanos. Brainiac is a good DC analogue for such a scheme. Justice League 2 would also introduce Aquaman, prepping him for a solo film of his own, though probably not his origin story.

After Justice League 2, Superman 3 would feature whatever major villain the Man of Tomorrow hasn't faced yet, or the return of Lex Luthor. Probably enough time would have passed in between The Dark Knight and the release of Batman 3 to attempt a post-Heath Ledger Joker. If all went well with Justice League 2, now is when they would start releasing solo films for more minor characters, just like Marvel is now doing for Black Widow, Hawkeye, and Nick Fury. I already mentioned Aquaman. We would likely see a Green Arrow film, also featuring Black Canary and maybe The Atom. There would also need to be a Green Lantern 3 to follow up with the Sinestro Corps War, assuming Justice League 2 didn't already do that. There's room for one more sequel. That would probably be whichever of Wonder Woman, The Flash, or Martian Manhunter made the most money.

Please let me see this movie.
Then follows Justice League 3 (adding Plastic Man, and maybe Hawkman and Hawkgirl, to the mix, though maybe not), in which our heroes would square off against their greatest enemy, Darkseid.

To sum up:
Man of Steel - Summer 2013
Batman (and it will probably be called that) - Summer 2015
Wonder Woman - Christmas 2015
Justice League - Summer 2016
Superman 2 (perhaps Man of Tomorrow) - Christmas 2016
The Flash - Spring 2017
Batman 2 - Summer 2017
Manhunter - Christmas 2017
Green Lantern 2ish - Spring 2018
Justice League 2 - Summer 2018
Aquaman - Christmas 2018
Green Arrow - Spring 2019
Superman 3 (maybe Last Son) - Summer 2019
Green Lantern 3ish - Christmas 2019
Wonder Woman/The Flash/Manhunter 2 - Spring 2020
Batman 3 - Summer 2020
The Atom - Christmas 2020
Justice League 3 - Spring 2021
But none of this will ever happen, because Warner Brothers will never see this post, and will never understand that I'm smarter than any of them. As a friend recently pointed out, if anything, they're most likely to make a Robin spin-off of the Batman reboot. Pathetic. Pull it together guys.

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