Coronavirus snaps Marvel’s release date stranglehold

Poster for Black Widow

The coronavirus and the worldwide pandemic it caused have broken Marvel Studios’ hold on the late April/early May release schedule.

Black Widow, the newest Marvel movie, has been delayed from its long-planned May 1 release date, Variety reported.

The move was inevitable. Across the globe, movie theaters are being shut down to combat the virus. The virus can spread quickly and authorities are breaking up large gatherings of people.

Early this month, No Time to Die’s release date was pushed back to November from April, with a March 31 world premiere event canceled.

Since then, a number of movies have seen their release dates delayed. The ninth installment of The Fast and the Furious series was pushed back to April 2021 from May 2020. At this point, a movie can’t be shown in a theater in many markets, including the U.S., France, China, and Italy.

Regardless, the announcement is an end of an era for Marvel.

Marvel, now owned by Walt Disney Co., began producing its own movies starting with 2008’s Iron Man. Originally Quantum of Solace was scheduled for the May 2, 2008, date in the U.S. but was delayed. Iron Man grabbed the date and things weren’t quite the same after that.

In 2009, Marvel had no films. But since 2010 (starting with Iron Man 2), Marvel characters have dominated the last weekend of April or first weekend in May. That includes 2014 (when Sony’s Amazing Spider-Man 2 had the date).

In 2016, Warner Bros. initially challenged Marvel for the first weekend of May date with Batman v Superman. Marvel then said it’d come out with the third Captain America movie (later Captain America: Civil War) at the same time. Warners retreated and brought out Batman v Superman on Easter weekend.

In 2018 and 2019, Marvel moved up two Avengers movies (Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame) to the last weekend in April

All of this is a reminder of how real-life overcomes entertainment. As stated before, Marvel/Disney had no real choice. Regardless, it’s the end of an era.

Avengers 4 gets a trailer and a title

Marvel Studios’s fourth Avenger film got a teaser trailer and an announced title (Avengers: Endgame) today.

In the trailer, things look bleak for Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark. He’s traveling in outer space having run out of food and water and about to use up the last of his oxygen.

Meanwhile, Captain America (Chris Evans) moves to rally the surviving Marvel characters after Thanos had wiped out half of all living beings at the end of last year’s Avengers: Infinity War.

Avengers: Endgame wraps up story threads that began with the first Marvel-produced film, 2008’s Iron Man. Avengers: Infinity War had a global box office of $2.05 billion. We’ll see next spring whether the next installment draws the same kind of business. You can view the trailer below.

Stan Lee, an appreciation

The Spy Commander’s one Stan Lee autographed comic book (left edge)

How much did people like Stan Lee? More than enough to stand in line for a few hours and pay handsomely for an autograph. I saw (and did it) for myself.

Eight years ago, I attended an event where Stan Lee appeared. If you paid $120, you could attend a talk by the former Marvel Comics editor and get a ticket for a personalized autograph. If you paid $40, you go a simple “Stan Lee” autograph. Those who paid $120 got in front of the line for autographs.

Stan, accompanied by an entourage, strode to the desk where he’d sign. “We love you Stan!” someone in line yelled.

Stan, without missing a beat replied. “I love to be loved!” He got a big laugh. He was in his late 80s but his voice sounded strong.

When he died this week at age 95, there was an outpouring of emotion. Some were famous. “I owe it all to you,” Robert Downey Jr., whose career was revived playing Iron man, wrote on Instagram. along with a picture of himself with Lee. Numerous comic book professionals also took to social media to bid farewell to the showman of Marvel.

Stan Lee and friend

Lee had his detractors, particularly on the issue whether he gave his collaborator enough credit. Artists such as Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and Don Heck (and later John Romita Sr., John Buscema and Gene Colan among otheers) did much of the plotting of stories.

However, Lee (who also wore the hat of chief writer for Marvel) provided a common voice. Humor was a big part of it, such as little asides to his readers.

Lee’s dialogue certainly was less formal than at larger rival DC Comics. “That’s the trouble with you commies!” Iron Man said in an early adventure after saving some surprised Soviet spies who were about to be crushed. “You just don’t dig us!”

Stan, however, could be serious, even preachy on occasion. The Silver Surfer was created by Jack Kirby in the middle of a Fantastic Four story. But Lee took a liking to the character. He launched a solo Silver Surfer title in the late 1960s (with Buscema on the art instead of Kirby) and it took a very serious tone.

Looking back at the 1960s comics as an adult, you could see Lee shift his writing with changing audience tastes. In the mid-1960s, some stories still had a very strong Cold War tone.

“Well, you picked the wrong enemy this time, mister!” Tony Stark/Iron Man says while beating up the Titanium Man, one in a series of attempts by the Soviets to come up with their own version of Iron Man. “You made the worst mistake any red can make — you challenged a foe who isn’t afraid of you!”

In 1968, life got more complicated with protests about the Vietnam War and other issues. “If Washington were alive today, we’d call him a protester!” Matt Murdock, the alter ego of Daredevil tells his law partner, Foggy Nelson.

Marvel under Lee did begin credits. The first issue of Fantastic Four had “Stan Lee and Jack Kirby” in script as if the two men had signed it. Before long, inkers (artists who went over penciled art in ink so it’d reproduce more clearly) and letterers got credit. Eventually (after Lee became publisher and gave up his editing job), colorists and others got credits.

However, that’s not the reason all those people stood in line eight years ago.

Lee created a personal connection with the readers of Marvel. That strengthened when Marvel became a force in the movies, with Lee making cameos. In the 21st century, special effects could emulate what Kirby and other other artists put to paper decades earlier.

As a result, when Lee died this week, the loss seemed personal and extended among generations.

Here’s a tribute from artist Bill Sienkiewicz.

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Bond 25 to be delayed, THR reports

Daniel Craig

Bond 25 will not meet its fall 2019 release date, The Hollywood Reporter said, citing sources it didn’t identify.

“With the abrupt exit of director Danny Boyle, the next installment in the James Bond film franchise — the untitled Bond 25 — will miss its Nov. 8, 2019 release date in North American theaters, sources tell The Hollywood Reporter,” according to a story by Pamela McClintock.

Eon Productions announced Aug. 21 that Boyle was exiting the project due to “creative differences.” The development came less than three months after Eon announced the hiring of the director.

THR didn’t provide a precise replacement date.

“It’s possible Bond 25 may not hit theaters until late 2020, according to sources,” McClintock wrote. “No recent Bond film has ever opened in summer. Even before Boyle departed, there was talk of pushing the movie’s release to early 2020.”

The last Bond film to have a summer release was 1989’s Licence to Kill, the second and final 007 film starring Timothy Dalton. Since 1995’s GoldenEye, Bond films have had a U.S. release date of either November or December.

For a time, Bond 22, later titled Quantum of Solace, was slated for May 2, 2008. But Sony Pictures, its distributor, delayed until fall 2008. Iron Man, the first Marvel Studios film, grabbed the May 2 date, launching a powerhouse franchise.

For Bond 25, a joint venture between Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Annapurna Pictures will distribute in the U.S. while Universal will handle international distribution.

UPDATE (5:25 p.m. New York time): Variety also has a story. The sourcing isn’t very precise. “Word around town is that it’s back to the drawing board for the creators of the new 007 adventure after Boyle and his co-writer, John Hodge, delivered a draft of the script that didn’t meet the approval of producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, as well as star Daniel Craig.”

Variety adds this tidbit: MGM and Eon “are not simply eyeing a director for hire, which signals that a major rewrite will have to be undertaken. It is also telling that the producers seem more eager to find a screenwriter than a person willing to slide behind the camera.”

If accurate, does this mean a search for yet another “auteur” director? The Bond franchise was built on the shoulders of journeymen directors such as Terence Young and Guy Hamilton.

UPDATE (6:10 p.m. New York time): Deadline: Hollywood gets into the act with a counter-story.  “(Bond 25) hasn’t abdicated its November 8, 2019 release date, not yet at least. It is possible that if a replacement director is named within the next 60 days, Daniel Craig’s last outing as 007 can keep its date, sources said.”

Deadline: Hollywood was the same outlet that said last fall that the MGM-Annapurna joint venture was “thisclose” to announcing it had secured the Bond 25 domestic distribution deal. While that happened, it didn’t occur until May 2018.

How Black Panther may be the future of Marvel films

Black Panther poster

UPDATE (Feb. 19): Black Panther’s U.S. box office for Friday-Sunday ended up at $201 million, Exhibitors Relations said on Twitter. 

ORIGINAL POST (Feb. 18): Black Panther, the newest Marvel Studios film, is being celebrated as a huge moment for black America. Examples include The New York Times Magazine (“a vivid re-imagination of something black Americans have cherished for centuries”) and The Guardian (“The film is already being regarded in the US as a positive force for social change”),

It may also be a sign of Marvel’s future.

Black Panther’s estimated Friday-Sunday U.S. box office is $192 million, according to Box Office Mojo.

That figure would be (unadjusted for inflation or higher ticket prices), the No. 2 U.S. opening for Marvel. Here are the other movies in Marvel’s top five (all of which eventually topped $1 billion at the worldwide box office):

Marvel’s The Avengers (2012): $207.4 million.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015): $191.3 million.

Captain America: Civil War (2016): $179.1 million.

Iron Man 3 (2013): $174.1 million.

Of the Marvel top five, Black Panther (starring Chadwick Boseman) is the only one not to include Robert Downey Jr. playing Tony Stark/Iron Man.

It was 2008’s Iron Man where Marvel began making its own films, instead of licensing the rights to others. The movie became the building block upon which Marvel built is movie universe. Four years later, with Marvel’s The Avengers, the notion of a “shared universe” became big business.

Some have wondered whether Marvel could withstand Downey’s eventual departure. The actor turns 53 in April and it’s not the kind of thing you can keep doing forever. Other major Marvel actors such as Chris Evans (Captain America) and Chris Hemsworth (Thor) have reached the end of their contracts.

What’s more, the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War and an unnamed Avengers film in 2019 is intended as a kind of finale for Marvel films up to now. So, a decade after its first movie, Marvel Studios has reached a transition point.

Black Panther already is a popular and critical (a 97 percent “fresh” score on the Rotten Tomatoes website) success.

Beyond that, Black Panther shows that Marvel is capable of extending itself beyond its first decade of making movies. Black Panther seems destined to join Marvel’s billion-dollar club (it’s at $361 million globally as of this weekend). The movie also is broadening Marvel’s appeal. We’ll see what happens.

Bond series now No. 004 in unadjusted film series box office

Facebook image Marvel put on Facebook

Facebook image Marvel put on Facebook in May.

The Bond Bulletin in a post today noted that the James Bond film series had fallen behind Star Wars in all-time box office. Depending on how you define “franchises,” 007 is now 004 in unadjusted box office.

In a list of franchises on The Numbers box office website, the Marvel Cinematic Universe as of Dec. 30 has $10.9 billion worldwide box office, Harry Potter $8.47 billion, Star Wars $7.2 billion and James Bond $7.08 billion.

Again, this is unadjusted box office. It’s not number of tickets sold. And it doesn’t account for rising ticket prices.

Here’s how each franchise is defined in the list compiled by The Numbers website:

James Bond: The 24 007 films produced by Eon Productions since 1962 plus 1983’s Never Say Never Again (not made by Eon but with original film 007 Sean Connery). It does not include 1967’s Casino Royale spoof film.

Star Wars: Nine movies comprised of original trilogy (1977-1983), second trilogy (1999-2005), Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015), the animated movie Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008), and this year’s Rogue One, a Star Wars story.

Harry Potter: Eight Harry Potter series films released 2001 to 2011, a Potter marathon at Imax theaters this year and 2016’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a spinoff.

Marvel: Fourteen films, beginning with 2008’s Iron Man and running through this year’s Dr. Strange, produced by Marvel Studios. All of the movies occur in the same fictional universe. It does not count X-Men and Fantastic Four films produced by 20th Century Fox and Spider-Man movies produced by Sony Pictures.

Fox and Sony licensed those characters before Marvel decided to make its own movies. The separate X-Men category on The Numbers website includes solo films featuring Wolverine an Deadpool.

Both Star Wars and Marvel fell under the wing of Walt Disney Co. through acquisitions. They’re released under Lucasfilm Ltd. and Marvel brand names.

Under Disney ownership, both Lucasfilm and Marvel are ramping up production.

Episode VIII of Star Wars comes out next year, with other Star Wars-related films, such as Rogue One, planned. Marvel has been making two movies a year and will make three in 2017, including Spider-Man: Homecoming, which Marvel is producing but Sony will release. This year, Spider-Man joined the Marvel cinema universe in Captain America: Civil War.

Warner Bros. plans as many as five Fantastic Beasts films.

The Bond series doesn’t have an “extended universe,” a concept made popular by Marvel. It features one character, James Bond.

2012’s Skyfall, showed the series is capable of billion-dollar box office. It terms of number of tickets sold, Skyfall was No. 3 in series history in the U.S. market at 37.8 million, behind Thunderball and Goldfinger.

The most recent entry, SPECTRE, had worldwide box office of $880.7 million, No. 6 globally in 2015.

In the U.S. market, SPECTRE sold 23 million tickets, No. 14 in series history. On that basis, it was also the lowest since the series resumed in 1995 following a six-year hiatus.

Happy birthday to one of Marvel’s unsung heroes

A Jack Kirby cover featuring Ant Man, one of the characters scripted by Larry Lieber

A Jack Kirby cover featuring Ant Man, one of the characters scripted by Larry Lieber

Oct. 26 is the 85th birthday of Larry Lieber, one of the unsung heroes of the Marvel Comics universe.

Lieber scripted the earliest Marvel stories involving Ant Man (the Henry Pym version), Thor and Iron Man.

Those characters (especially Iron Man) helped build up the Marvel Studios juggernaut. Yet, Lieber’s name doesn’t resonate with the general public.

That’s ironic because Lieber is the younger brother of Stan Lee, 93, the one person from the old days at Marvel that practically everybody knows. (If case you haven’t guessed, Lieber is the surname the two men shared.)

Stan did the plotting for those early adventures. But it’s generally conceded that Stan’s plots weren’t very detailed and the artists (especially Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko)  did a lot of the heavy lifting in devising the stories.

Still, that left Lieber, actually scripting the stories plenty of leeway. The Bleeding Cool website, in a 2011 post, quoted from a Lieber deposition in a since-settled lawsuit by the Kirby family against Marvel. In the deposition, Lieber says he came up with the name “Uru” for the magical material Thor’s hammer was made of.

Despite all that, Lieber’s name receded. In Thor 158, the bulk of the story is a reprint from the character’s first story. Yet, it was presented as being “Pandemoniously Produced by Stan (The Man) Lee and Jack (King) Kirby,” with no mention of Lieber.

Lieber departed Marvel in the 1970s to edit a short-lived line of new comics. He would later rejoin Marvel and drew the Spider-Man comic strip.

In the 21st century, Marvel is big business (mostly a movie operation that still publishes comic books). A lot of the Marvel stalwarts — Jack Kirby, John Buscema and Gene Colan among them — aren’t with us anymore.

Larry Lieber is, and he is one of those who helped make Marvel big business.

Eon vs. Marvel by the numbers, 2006 to present

Iron Man's Hulkbuster armor vs. the Hulk, a highlight of Avengers: Age of Ultron

“James Bond?” Tony Stark asked. “Who’s that?”

With no actual James Bond news to report, we take another look, via statistics, at the family model (Eon) vs. the corporate model (Marvel).

Appearances by your most popular actor, 2006-present

Eon:  Daniel Craig, four (4), Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, Skyfall, SPECTRE. Note: You could say five (5) if you count this 2011 public service announcement for International Women’s Day produced by Barbara Broccoli, co-boss of Eon Productions.

Update: The James Bond Dossier asks whether we should up the count to six (6) by including Craig’s appearance in the opening ceremonies  of the 2012 Summer Olympics. That was part of a television show.

That was also similar to how Roger Moore played James Bond in a 1964 variety show, years before he became the actual film Bond. Doing that would raise Sir Roger’s 007 count to eight (8). Though the Spy Commander knows some Bond fans (who really, really don’t like Moore in the role) who’d argue it should be zero (0).

Meanwhile, the organizers of the 2011 public service announcement said their spot said was “the first film featuring Bond to be directed by a woman.” (Sam Taylor-Wood). Is a commercial considered a “film”? Details, details.

Marvel: Robert Downey Jr., seven (7):  Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk (cameo),  Iron Man II, Marvel’s The Avengers, Iron Man Three, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Captain America: Civil War.

Biggest box office movie: Marvel’s The Avengers (2012), $1.5 billion (worldwide); Skyfall (2012), $1.11 billion (worldwide).

Next movie to be released in theaters: Dr. Strange (Marvel), Nov. 4, 2016 (U.S. and Canada). Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool (Eon), 2017. Bond 25 (Eon), who knows?

Trivia: Bond 22, aka Quantum of Solace, was originally scheduled to be released on May 2, 2008, in the U.S. and Canada. After that movie was delayed to November, Iron Man got the May 2 release date.

 

Footnote: 8th anniversary of a fateful event

Facebook image Marvel put on Facebook

Facebook image Marvel put on Facebook

Today, May 2, is the eighth anniversary of the release of Iron Man. Things haven’t been quite the same since.

Originally, Quantum of Solace, the 22nd James Bond film, had that release date. That was always going to be ambitious, given that Casino Royale came out in the late fall of 2006.

Eventually, Sony Pictures, Quantum’s distributor, decided it couldn’t be met. The 007 film would be released in the fall. Truth be told, given the issues Quantum had as it was, shooting for a May 2008 release likely would have made things worse.

Nevertheless, that move opened up the May 2 slot for Iron Man, the first movie Marvel would produce itself instead of leasing characters to other studios.

Marvel had an ambitious plan — starting a movie “universe” of connected characters. To make it work, though, Iron Man needed to be a hit. Marvel was taking a chance on star Robert Downey Jr., a talented actor, but one who had a history of personal problems.

The gamble paid off. Iron Man was a hit. Walt Disney Co. later bought Marvel because of its movies and characters.

Eight years later, Downey Jr. is still the biggest star in the Marvel movie universe. He’s a major presence in Captain America: Civil War, which makes its U.S. debut this week.

Meanwhile, Civil War is the start of Marvel’s Phase III of films. Until Iron Man came out, nobody talked about “phases” of movies. Happy anniversary.

The rise of the ‘origin’ storyline

Daniel Craig and Jeffrey Wright in Casino Royale

Daniel Craig and Jeffrey Wright in Casino Royale

Fifty, 60 years ago, with popular entertainment, you didn’t get much of an “origin” story. You usually got more-or-less fully formed heroes. A few examples:

Dr. No: James Bond is an established 00-agent and has used a Baretta for 10 years. Sean Connery was 31 when production started. If Bond is close to the actor’s age, that means he’s done intelligence work since his early 20s.

Napoleon Solo on TV: fully formed

Napoleon Solo on TV: fully formed

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: During the first season (1964-65), Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) has worked for U.N.C.L.E. for at least seven years (this is disclosed in two separate episodes). A fourth-season episode establishes that Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum) graduated from U.N.C.L.E.’s “survival school” in 1956 and Solo two years before that.

Batman: While played for laughs, the Adam West version of Batman has been operating for an undisclosed amount of time when the first episode airs in January 1966. In the pilot, it’s established he has encountered the Riddler (Frank Gorshin) before. There’s a passing reference to how Bruce Wayne’s parents were “murdered by dastardly criminals” but that’s about it.

The FBI: When we first meet Inspector Lewis Erskine (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) in 1965, he’s established as the “top trouble shooter for the bureau” and is old enough to have a daughter in college. We’re told he’s a widower and his wife took “a bullet meant for me.” (The daughter would soon be dropped and go into television character limbo.) Still, we don’t see Young Lewis Erskine rising through the ranks of the bureau.

Get Smart: Maxwell Smart (Don Adams) was a top agent for CONTROL despite his quirks. There was no attempt to explain Max. He just was. A 2008 movie version gave Max a back story where he had once been fat.

I Spy: Kelly Robinson (Robert Culp) and Alexander Scott (Bill Cosby) have been partners for awhile, using a cover of a tennis bum and his trainer.

Mission: Impossible: We weren’t told much about either Dan Briggs (Steven Hill) or Jim Phelps (Peter Graves), the two team leaders of the Impossible Missions Force. A fifth-season episode was set in Phelps home town. Some episodes introduced friends of Briggs and Phelps. But not much more than that.

Mannix: We first meet Joe Mannix (Mike Connors) when he’s the top operative of private investigations firm Intertect. After Joe goes off on his own in season two, we meet some of Joe’s Korean War buddies (many of whom seem to try to kill him) and we eventually meet Mannix’s father, a California farmer. But none of this is told at the start.

Hawaii Five-O: Steve McGarrett (Jack Lord) is the established head of the Hawaiian state police unit answerable only to “the governor or God and even they have trouble.” When the series was rebooted in 2010, we got an “origin” story showing McGarrett (Alex O’Loughlin) as a military man, the unit being formed, his first meeting with Dan Williams, etc.

And so on and so forth. This century, though, an “origin story” is the way to start.

With the Bond films, the series started over with Casino Royale, marketed as the origin of Bond (Daniel Craig). The novel, while the first Ian Fleming story, wasn’t technically an origin tale. It took place in 1951 (this date is given in the Goldfinger novel) and Bond got the two kills needed for 00-status in World War II.

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, co-bosses of Eon Productions

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson

Nevertheless, audience got an “origin” story. Michael G. Wilson, current co-boss of Eon Productions (along with his half-sister, Barbara Broccoli) wanted to do a Bond “origin” movie as early as 1986 after Roger Moore left the role of Bond. But his stepfather, Eon co-founder Albert R. Broccoli, vetoed the idea. With The Living Daylights in 1987, the audience got a younger, but still established, Bond (Timothy Dalton). In the 21st century, Wilson finally got his origin tale.

Some of this may be due to the rise of movies based on comic book movies. There are had been Superman serials and television series, but 1978’s Superman: The Motion Picture was the first A-movie project. It told the story of Kal-El from the start and was a big hit.

The 1989 Batman movie began with a hero (Michael Keaton) still in the early stages of his career, with the “origin” elements mentioned later. The Christopher Nolan-directed Batman Begins in 2005 started all over, again presenting an “origin” story. Marvel, which began making movies after licensing characters, scored a big hit with 2008’s Iron Man, another “origin” tale. Spider-Man’s origin has been told *twice* in 2002 and 2012 films from Sony Pictures.

Coming up in August, we’ll be getting a long-awaited movie version of U.N.C.L.E., this time with an origin storyline. In the television series, U.N.C.L.E. had started sometime shortly after World War II. In the movie, set in 1963, U.N.C.L.E. hasn’t started yet and Solo works for the CIA while Kuryakin is a KGB operative.

One supposes if there were a movie version of The FBI (don’t count on it), we’d see Erskine meet the Love of His Life, fall in love, get married, lose her and become the Most Determined Agent in the Bureau. Such is life.