On Jan. 17, Warner Bros. announced that the debut of the next Superman movie – the one tentatively titled Batman vs. Superman – has been pushed from July 17, 2015, to May 6, 2016. Injuries? Script problems? We don’t know. What we do know is that the highly prized summer release spot was quickly nabbed by Marvel Films – for Ant-Man, starring Paul Rudd and Michael Douglas.

That’s right. DC Comics – through its parent corporation, Warner Bros. – can’t get a Superman movie off the ground for another year. But chief competitor Marvel is ready and waiting to jump in with a new star ... one whose super-power is to get very, very small.

What’s wrong with this picture? Across the Internet, fans whine and wonder why DC has such trouble turning its famous superheroes into successful movie franchises, while Marvel releases four movies a year, and can even build a film around a C-list character who talks to insects.

And that’s with one hand tied behind its back – Marvel Films can’t even use all of the characters from Marvel’s own comic books! The movie rights to Spider-Man are held by Sony. The rights to Fantastic Four, Wolverine and the many X-Men characters are clutched by Twentieth Century Fox in a death grip. Until recently, Daredevil and Ghost Rider were off limits, too.

But so what? Marvel has managed to turn Captain America, Hulk, Iron Man and Thor into solo stars, and their team, The Avengers, into money-making machines. That allows Marvel the luxury of experimenting with lesser lights, like Ant-Man in 2015 and Guardians of the Galaxy this year.

Meanwhile, Warner Bros. keeps failing with some of the biggest names in the history of comics. Superman and Batman have done all right, but Green Lantern was a flop; Captain Marvel, The Flash and Green Arrow have never appeared anywhere but the small screen; and Wonder Woman … oh, for Pete’s sake, how can there not be a Wonder Woman movie?

The Internet isn’t shy, of course, in launching lots of theories about why DC seems so incompetent with its own characters. Let’s take a look at a few:

1. It’s not as bad as it seems.

I agree, because nothing is ever as bad as the Internet thinks it is.

Sure, DC looks lame now, but how about Marvel around 30 years ago? DC had the successful Superman franchise in the ‘70s and ‘80s, while Batman was boffo box office in the 1990s, plus plenty of TV shows and serials before that. Marvel had no characters on the silver screen, and what it had done – some cheesy made-for-TV Spider-Man and Captain America movies, and the Incredible Hulk TV show – wasn’t very good. They’ve turned it around, and so can DC.

And, hey, actress Gal Gadot will appear as Wonder Woman in Batman vs. Superman, as part of a three-picture deal. Figuring the second of those movies will be Justice League (scheduled for 2017), the third could well be that elusive WW solo film.

2. Warner Bros. doesn’t understand its own characters.

This actually may be a tiny bit true.

While I was watching Man of Steel, I was stunned to see Pa Kent advising young Clark that maybe keeping his secret identity might be more important than saving the lives of a busload of kids. Before I had time to express my disgust of this fundamental misunderstanding of what Superman stands for, not to mention what Pa Kent stands for, the middle-aged black lady next to me said loudly, “Nuh-UH.” Pithy, and entirely accurate.

And having Superman – the one superhero who famously has a code against killing – break Zod’s neck seemed like it was designed specifically to distance the character from what made him famous for all these years. I expect situational ethics from other characters, especially those like Captain America, who have served in wartime. But from the Man of Steel I expect Super-ethics, because that’s what is so amazing about him – not that he has super-powers, but that he resolutely refuses to use them for his own gain or convenience. Now, that’s super!

Then there’s Batman. In the recent trilogy, the third movie begins with Bruce Wayne having retired for eight years. As every Bat-fan knows, Batman retiring is like Ahab giving up on that white whale. It’s a mission, not a hobby.

3. Marvel characters are just better.

This one I don’t buy.

It is true that Marvel characters were deliberately constructed with internal conflicts that are inherently interesting. Spider-Man’s famous mantra about how great power brings great responsibility almost makes his super-powers seem like a curse. That stands in opposition to DC’s major characters, who are essentially icons more than characters, born of the square-jawed heroism and idealism of the 1940s, something that can seem quaint today.

But, as we like to say on my website, there are no bad characters, just bad writers. Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman have been popular for more than 70 years, so the appeal is there – it’s up to the screenwriters to find it.

4. WB makes movies; Marvel Films makes superhero movies.

I actually kinda agree with this one.

Marvel Films has one job and one job only, and that’s to turn Marvel’s catalog of characters into successful movies. That focus has no doubt meant a lot of man-hours figuring out how to translate the virtues of one medium into those of another – and successfully so. Warner Bros., meanwhile, releases a lot of movies in a lot of different genres every year, and only has to think about what makes superheroes tick every once in a while.

There are more theories, of course, but mostly variations of the ones above. As fans we can only hope that the bad ones are wrong, and that Warner Bros. has a better plan for bringing its characters to life than plopping as many as possible into Batman vs. Superman, followed by a Justice League movie crowded with a bunch of strangers. The characters deserve better than that – and we long-time fans do, too!

If not, there’s always Ant-Man.

Contact Captain Comics at capncomics@aol.com.

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John Dunbar (the mod of maple) said:

Now I know that box office is not a measure of quality any more than the sales charts are for comics themselves. But let's be honest, the box office determines if a movie is judged as a success or failure in Hollywood.

 

Richard Willis said:

If we like a movie or a style of movie and it loses money, we will not see its like again, so box office is very important.

 

John Dunbar (the mod of maple) said:

I'm no expert on it, but it has always been my understanding the domestic (North American) box office is the driving force behind the idea of making sequels and similar movies in the genre. I doubt we'll ever see a GL 2 starring Ryan Reynolds, but I suspect within 5 years we'll see a GL reboot. By the same token, another Hulk movie is unlikely - it would be the 2nd reboot of the franchise, as we're on our 3rd Bruce Banner. I think a Black Widow and Hawkeye movie would be a better bet.

 

Richard Willis said:

 I can't think of an example at the moment, but I have heard that there are movie franchises that do mediocre business in North America but are extremely popular elsewhere in the world (maybe someone else can come up with some examples). These movies DO get sequels because money is money.

I agree that the next GL movie, if there is one, will be a reboot. I also agree about a third Hulk movie being unlikely. It's not impossible, though, since Mark Ruffalo's Bruce Banner in the Avengers was head and shoulders above the previous versions. It didn't hurt that the CGI was much improved. I also think the Hulk's treatment of Loki was a game-changer for the character.

 

  

You guys are both right. Studios want the North American box office to be strong, but if the North American box office is weak and the overseas business is strong, they may still go ahead with a sequel. One example was the Ghost Rider sequel.

After Avengers, several principals involved -- exec producers and the like -- were asked if there was a possibility of another solo Hulk movie, and they responded that Hulk seems to work best in a group setting and they were going to focus on developing other characters in solo movies. That calculus may have changed since then, but that's what they said at the time. (Ruffalo, too, said something along the lines that he preferred bouncing off other actors rather than carrying a movie.)

As to Fantastic Four, I agree with just about everything said here, especially in regard to the Human Torch. I've never been a Human Torch fan, because he just seemed an immature nitwit with poor impulse control. (There's a running gag that Mr. Fantastic's battle cry should be "Johnny, WAIT -- !") But seeing the sheer joy Chris Evans brought to the character -- especially the flying part -- that for the first time I thought, "Wow, being the Human Torch would be a BLAST!" That was quite a leap from my previous decades of contempt!

ClarkKent_DC said:

John Dunbar (the mod of maple) said:

Now I know that box office is not a measure of quality any more than the sales charts are for comics themselves. But let's be honest, the box office determines if a movie is judged as a success or failure in Hollywood.

 

Richard Willis said:

If we like a movie or a style of movie and it loses money, we will not see its like again, so box office is very important.

 

John Dunbar (the mod of maple) said:

I'm no expert on it, but it has always been my understanding the domestic (North American) box office is the driving force behind the idea of making sequels and similar movies in the genre. I doubt we'll ever see a GL 2 starring Ryan Reynolds, but I suspect within 5 years we'll see a GL reboot. By the same token, another Hulk movie is unlikely - it would be the 2nd reboot of the franchise, as we're on our 3rd Bruce Banner. I think a Black Widow and Hawkeye movie would be a better bet.

 

Richard Willis said:

 I can't think of an example at the moment, but I have heard that there are movie franchises that do mediocre business in North America but are extremely popular elsewhere in the world (maybe someone else can come up with some examples). These movies DO get sequels because money is money.

I agree that the next GL movie, if there is one, will be a reboot. I also agree about a third Hulk movie being unlikely. It's not impossible, though, since Mark Ruffalo's Bruce Banner in the Avengers was head and shoulders above the previous versions. It didn't hurt that the CGI was much improved. I also think the Hulk's treatment of Loki was a game-changer for the character.

 

 

You guys are both right. Studios want the North American box office to be strong, but if the North American box office is weak and the overseas business is strong, they may still go ahead with a sequel. One example was the Ghost Rider sequel.

 

I think superhero movies (and superhero-style genre movies) are a special case, and just making their 'nut' back and then some doesn't quite cut it.

The marketing is all about hype, and it is possible to get the target audience for superhero movies into the theatres in the first few weeks before word gets out that the movie isn't that great, or is flawed.

So, if the audience haven't been exposed to that take on the hero before, they can make a little money on a bad movie.  Batman and Robin springs to mind, and Superman Returns

But with a disappointing movie two things happen.

First of all, the huge secondary merchandising machine that has been primed to go into action is tainted by association.  McDonalds and the Duvet manufacturers don't want to be stuck with warehouses full of stuff that people associate with 'that disappointing movie'.  Yes people have a huge capacity to buy into hype, but there are limits.  McDonalds etc want to be associated with winners. 

So, that means that the Ghost Rider and Green Lantern sequels might eventually get made, but on a lesser budget, and with an eye to the much less fussy overseas market and with the acknowledgement that there isn't going to be the huge windfall of royalties from secondary merchandising.

Secondly, Batman and Robin, and Superman Returns made back their money fine, but they poisoned the well for future movies in those respective iterations of the franchises.  Batman and Robin owed it's audiences to the people who'd grown used to fairly entertaining, star vehicle superhero movies under that banner.  With Superman Returns, as with Man of Steel, the audiences were hugely keen to see the Superman that they loved once more up there on the screen.  So that secured the blockbusting numbers for both films, both of which were meant to be initial installments in a series.

It must have come home to the producers quickly that Superman Returns had largely perplexed and disappointed audiences, so that iteration of the franchise died pretty rapidly, even though it made money.

Man of Steel probably did better at the box office than Superman Returns, and didn't immediately turn off the man in the street.  But I sense hesitation and uncertainty on the parts of the producers regarding whether they have hit the right note with audiences and whether this iteration has the legs, now that audiences have had time to digest it and its offputtingly violent, strangely libertarian subtext.

It's a weakness that the thuggish brutality this Superman offers is something that any Vin Diesel or The Rock movie can supply.  Why would Joe Soap go to Superman specifically for this?  Superman Man of Steel might have been successful, but it wasn't successful in the same positive and fun terms as Avengers was, especially in hindsight, and that's troubling Warner Brothers, I feel, although they clearly aren't interested in 'positive and fun' either.

And Man of Steel was a massive success I suppose, so no-one is going to change the subtext etc for the subsequent movies.  So they are stuck with an iteration of the concept that is very troubling and off-putting for a good segment of comicbook fans and possibly others.  And all these movies are made with one eye on us guys for a reason...

Lesson?  Bad movies that do well get sequels - example, the Saw franchise.  When they do poorly, no sequels.

Actually, domestic no longer drives Hollywood, as US numbers are getting smaller while other countries, most notably China, have numbers that are soaring. It's not coincidence that the end of the last Fantastic Four movie was set where it was.

 There is actually talk of a Mark Ruffalo Hulk movie; I think it is contingent on how well he's received in the next Avengers movie. They're not considering it a reboot from the last Hulk movie. Rather, just changing actors.

I don't think you can bring Jonah Hex and Catwoman into this. Hex isn't a superhero and the Catwoman movie had nothing to do with the comic books.

Ouch, Elecktra! That's gotta hurt. I heard it was worse than Catwoman (and I didn't find Catwoman to be bad; it just wasn't the Catwoman everyone was expecting.



John Dunbar (the mod of maple) said:

Back to Cap's question: What's wrong with DC superhero movies?  Well, I think it's mostly answer #1, it's not as bad as it seems, with a bit of #4, WB makes movies; Marvel Films makes superhero movies.  DC is clearly well behind Marvel in terms of quantity, but the Nolan Batman series was a huge hit, and Man of Steel, for all of its flaws, did huge box office business, actually beating Amazing Spider-Man in North America in that department.  Green Lantern was a flop, but the only DC flop, unless we want to bring Jonah Hex and Catwoman into the discussion.  And if we do that, it's only fair to point out that Elektra and both Hulk films were money losers.

Now I know that box office is not a measure of quality any more than the sales charts are for comics themselves.  But let's be honest, the box office determines if a movie is judged as a success or failure in Hollywood.  I'm no expert on it, but it has always been my understanding the domestic (North American) box office is the driving force behind the idea of making sequels and similar movies in the genre.  I doubt we'll ever see a GL 2 starring Ryan Reynolds, but I suspect within 5 years we'll see a GL reboot.  By the same token, another Hulk movie is unlikely - it would be the 2nd reboot of the franchise, as we're on our 3rd Bruce Banner.  I think a Black Widow and Hawkeye movie would be a better bet.

I don't think there's reason to panic about Batman vs Superman (or whatever it ends up being titled).  Movie release dates get moved all the time, and it's often strategic, not a panic move.  I've seen speculation that there's no desire to compete with the Avengers sequel, which makes sense, and also that a JLA movie will be filmed back-to-back with this one.  As Cap said, Gal Gadot is signed to do 3 films as Wonder Woman; you have to think it's BvS, JLA, and a solo WW film.

I've never found Reed boring in the comic books. In the movies, he was like a sleeping pill.

Luke Blanchard said:

I interpreted Ioan Gruffudd's Reed as in line with the John Byrne version, which some other creators followed. The Lee/Kirby Reed was the adult in the room and an action man. Byrne's was scrawnier (as Kirby's Reed had been very early on), not domineering, and less in touch with what was going on.

I think the idea of a John Stewart GL would've been a great idea--at least in hindsight. It would've shaken things up and shown DC was open to new approaches. That the character has existed since the SA eliminated any concerns about pandering or trying a publicity stunt.  There could've been a lot of reprint collections to tie in that people might've actually wanted to pick up because it was so different.

I wouldn't have picked up the personality from the animated series, as that guy works best in a group playing off others. And obviously it would depend on who was cast to make it a success. But it certainly would've given them more to play with and gotten people excited about seeing him with the JLA. And it wouldl've trumpedd Marvel by creating a key black super-hero.

How can a movie studio be expected to give us the "real" Superman when no one can agree who the "real" Superman is?

I think that's a facile argument, as we pretty much agree on the key areas where this Superman movie went wrong. The answer is they hire someone whose "real" Superman is a paragon of virtue and who can make that look cool. It's not as easy as letting the id loose in a black costume, but it's about as easy as replacing Goyer with Mark Waid or Kurt Busiek.

And Man of Steel was a massive success I suppose, so no-one is going to change the subtext etc for the subsequent movie

The good news is that he seemed a bit lighter in the final scenes, with that "I was born in Kansas line" and his interaction with Lois at the Planet, even if she knew his identity. Superman needs Lois and the Planet (and Jimmy and Perry) to bring him down to Earth and give us a reason all the crumbling buildings matter.  Hopefully, they are taking the nearly universal critique of what the flaws were to heart (and know what to do about it).

The problem with saying the answer is #1 is that there's no context. If DC was as good at movies as Marvel, we not only might have GL, Flash and JLA franchises, we might have Metamorpho, Adam Strange, Hawkman and B'wana Beast, too!  That makes the current situation pretty bad.

DC has had stronger periods in the past, but that's then. Marvel set a pretty good pattern for what creates wildly successful movies for awhile now, and DC's PTB are still looking at it and saying, "They must be popular because of the bad art!"

-- MSA

Agreed



Mark S. Ogilvie said:

I thought that the Sue in the movies looked great, but that was about it and I didn't think that the actress was given much to do with the roll. In the first movie Ben and Johnny had the best scenes, even better than Doom's. Johnny's embrace of his powers and Ben's frustration were well played while Sue had a minor romantic triangle with Doom and Reed and that was it. The second movie was more Johnny. Reed just wasn't there that much. In the first movie he was very passive, not at all the Reed I expected. The second movie's villain was the weakest part and I wonder if the introduction of the Silver Surfer had more to do with merchandizing than anything else.



Figserello said:

Man of Steel probably did better at the box office than Superman Returns, and didn't immediately turn off the man in the street.  But I sense hesitation and uncertainty on the parts of the producers regarding whether they have hit the right note with audiences and whether this iteration has the legs, now that audiences have had time to digest it and its offputtingly violent, strangely libertarian subtext.

According to the Internet Movie Database (IMDB.com), Superman Returns had a budget of $209 million and a North American box office of just over $200 million.  Worldwide the box office was over $391 million.  WB President Alan Horn said that the movie should have exceeded $500 million.

Man of Steel had a budget of $225 million and did a bit over $291 million in North America and overall the worldwide box office was just over $668 million.  A sequel was announced about a month after MoS was released in theatres at the San Diego Comic Con; Figs, I'm not sure why you sense hesitation and uncertainty.  Sounds like a big vote of confidence to me.

Typically on those big movies, I think the rule of thumb is that the marketing budget is about the size of the production budget, so the movie has to double the budget before it starts to make money. On that basis, Returns wasn't good enough to risk it--and where do you go from a deadbeat Superman and a Lois with a baby marrying another guy? When you're in a hole that deep, stop digging.

Again there, that notion that Superman abandoned Earth and single-mother Lois is raising his baby is so far off the rails, it's just amazing they decided that was a strong platform on which to revive a franchise. OTOH, I've heard some of the other proposals, and it wasn't the worst.

It's like that possibly apocryphal story about Sam Raimi pitching his Spider-Man movie, and the exec says, "I like it--but does it have to be a spider?' Hollywood loses track of what's important really fast with so many people involved who no nothing about the vehicle.

-- MSA

I'm not 100% certain comic books fans didn't like Man of Steel. because it wasn't what we were expecting. I didn't like Man of Steel because I didn't think it was a good movie.

I am not a fan of flashback movies. To me, that is an indicator of someone who can't write well. Which is somewhat ironic because I enjoy time-travel movies.

The movie was just over the line on action sequences/violence. The final fight scene was WAY too long. I literally checked my wrist to see how long it was running. I didn't think it was overly violent; just overly long. I think it still might be going.

Oh no, Superman killed somebody. And? Seriously, maybe if it had been the first time, it might have had some shock value (which apparently it did for some), but after everything we'd sat through, I'm surprised it took him that long. The Superman in that movie should have been a sociopath bases on what we were shown; we were lucky to get a brooding, one-time murderer. He was at least interesting, but at the end of the day, he wasn't fun to watch.

I don't like impossible science fiction. Or to put it nicely,  I don't like fiction that flies in the fact of basic science. That Kryptonian terraphoring machine....really? For me, it was the funniest moment in the movie. I watched it with a friend and he told me to stop laughing. And I wasn't laughing at the machine (although that was completely laughable). No, I was laughing at the elevator speeds in the Daily Planet building. Those things are FAST!!!!

Great movies have lots of little great moments or one great memorable moment.

Here's the scene I remember, and I'm going to get the quotes wrong:

Zod near the end when all of his other Kryptonions have been killed by Lois Lane (seriously, no one is shocked that Lois Lane committed literaly genocide?): "I have no one left!"

Clark's response is not memorable, but what he should have done was struck that great stage pose, smiled, and said, "You got me!"

Now that would have been funny. Audiences would have been rolling, and it truly was what the movie needed. Instead, we just got more and more dour. Sullen.

The problem wasn't that Superman killed. The problem was it was a bad movie. Which is much better than being average. People talk about bad movies. They don't remember average ones.



Figserello said:

ClarkKent_DC said:

John Dunbar (the mod of maple) said:

Now I know that box office is not a measure of quality any more than the sales charts are for comics themselves. But let's be honest, the box office determines if a movie is judged as a success or failure in Hollywood.

 

Richard Willis said:

If we like a movie or a style of movie and it loses money, we will not see its like again, so box office is very important.

 

John Dunbar (the mod of maple) said:

I'm no expert on it, but it has always been my understanding the domestic (North American) box office is the driving force behind the idea of making sequels and similar movies in the genre. I doubt we'll ever see a GL 2 starring Ryan Reynolds, but I suspect within 5 years we'll see a GL reboot. By the same token, another Hulk movie is unlikely - it would be the 2nd reboot of the franchise, as we're on our 3rd Bruce Banner. I think a Black Widow and Hawkeye movie would be a better bet.

 

Richard Willis said:

 I can't think of an example at the moment, but I have heard that there are movie franchises that do mediocre business in North America but are extremely popular elsewhere in the world (maybe someone else can come up with some examples). These movies DO get sequels because money is money.

I agree that the next GL movie, if there is one, will be a reboot. I also agree about a third Hulk movie being unlikely. It's not impossible, though, since Mark Ruffalo's Bruce Banner in the Avengers was head and shoulders above the previous versions. It didn't hurt that the CGI was much improved. I also think the Hulk's treatment of Loki was a game-changer for the character.

 

 

You guys are both right. Studios want the North American box office to be strong, but if the North American box office is weak and the overseas business is strong, they may still go ahead with a sequel. One example was the Ghost Rider sequel.

 

I think superhero movies (and superhero-style genre movies) are a special case, and just making their 'nut' back and then some doesn't quite cut it.

The marketing is all about hype, and it is possible to get the target audience for superhero movies into the theatres in the first few weeks before word gets out that the movie isn't that great, or is flawed.

So, if the audience haven't been exposed to that take on the hero before, they can make a little money on a bad movie.  Batman and Robin springs to mind, and Superman Returns

But with a disappointing movie two things happen.

First of all, the huge secondary merchandising machine that has been primed to go into action is tainted by association.  McDonalds and the Duvet manufacturers don't want to be stuck with warehouses full of stuff that people associate with 'that disappointing movie'.  Yes people have a huge capacity to buy into hype, but there are limits.  McDonalds etc want to be associated with winners. 

So, that means that the Ghost Rider and Green Lantern sequels might eventually get made, but on a lesser budget, and with an eye to the much less fussy overseas market and with the acknowledgement that there isn't going to be the huge windfall of royalties from secondary merchandising.

Secondly, Batman and Robin, and Superman Returns made back their money fine, but they poisoned the well for future movies in those respective iterations of the franchises.  Batman and Robin owed it's audiences to the people who'd grown used to fairly entertaining, star vehicle superhero movies under that banner.  With Superman Returns, as with Man of Steel, the audiences were hugely keen to see the Superman that they loved once more up there on the screen.  So that secured the blockbusting numbers for both films, both of which were meant to be initial installments in a series.

It must have come home to the producers quickly that Superman Returns had largely perplexed and disappointed audiences, so that iteration of the franchise died pretty rapidly, even though it made money.

Man of Steel probably did better at the box office than Superman Returns, and didn't immediately turn off the man in the street.  But I sense hesitation and uncertainty on the parts of the producers regarding whether they have hit the right note with audiences and whether this iteration has the legs, now that audiences have had time to digest it and its offputtingly violent, strangely libertarian subtext.

It's a weakness that the thuggish brutality this Superman offers is something that any Vin Diesel or The Rock movie can supply.  Why would Joe Soap go to Superman specifically for this?  Superman Man of Steel might have been successful, but it wasn't successful in the same positive and fun terms as Avengers was, especially in hindsight, and that's troubling Warner Brothers, I feel, although they clearly aren't interested in 'positive and fun' either.

And Man of Steel was a massive success I suppose, so no-one is going to change the subtext etc for the subsequent movies.  So they are stuck with an iteration of the concept that is very troubling and off-putting for a good segment of comicbook fans and possibly others.  And all these movies are made with one eye on us guys for a reason...

Bingo! If it makes money once, do it again!

John Dunbar (the mod of maple) said:

Lesson?  Bad movies that do well get sequels - example, the Saw franchise.  When they do poorly, no sequels.

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