What Makes A Comic Hero Movie Super?

As The Dark Knight Rises and the Amazing Spider-Man continue to triumph at the box office (the latter has made an astounding $500 million to date), success in the world of superhero movies is still anything but guaranteed. A new article by Daniel Snyder of The Atlantic examines this dynamic.

Performing as weakly as Steve Rogers (Captain America) before an injection of super soldier serum have been a number of Marvel stinkers. In fact, all three of the Punisher movies were flops. A miscast Ben Affleck hurt Daredevil while its spin-off, Elektra, fared even worse. For DC, Ryan Reynold’s Green Lantern flamed out quickly while Jonah Hex, with hot actors Josh Brolin and Megan Fox, earned just $10 million worldwide.

Of particular concern to DC is how far the 2013 reboot of Superman will fly; especially after successful X-Men director Brian Singer’s Superman Returns in 2006 fell $70 million short of its production budget. This featuring the comic book giant’s #1 character.  And, what happens next with Batman now that visionary writer/director Christopher Nolan is gone, taking actor Christian Bale with him? Will we get another acclaimed Batman (Michael Keaton/Tim Burton) or a franchise-killing Batman & Robin (benippled George Clooney/Joel Schumacher)?

So, what is difference maker between movie-making good and evil? I would argue it is writing and casting. Staying true to the essence of the character in the comics is essential, first and foremost, from origin to tradition and story lines. Just as important, however, are the actors chosen to portray these legends. Daredevil borrowed prominently from the comic book yet Affleck was just too leading man. By contrast, casting against type seems to be a recipe for success. Michael Keaton as Batman? Crazy yet brilliant. Robert Downey, Jr. as Iron Man? Strange but super. Toby McGuire as Spider-Man? Perhaps not as counter intuitive as the others but, in the end, amazing (at least for the first two movies—poor writing did in the third).

Yet, despite all of the considerations and all of the risk, the studios and their comic company partners are sure to continue to venture out into Gotham, Metropolis and beyond. The monetary possibilities are just too great. Consider this astounding fact: The Avengers movie has made more money for Marvel in a couple of months than a combined two years of sales over their entire comic book line. To the Batcave!