The Avengers: the power of planning

So, Marvel’s The Avengers broke all records for a movie’s opening weekend in the U.S. and Canada. There’s a lot of praise for the movie (that tends to happen with a big hit). Are there any any lessons for older movie franchises, say, a 50-year-old one featuring a gentleman agent? Maybe one.

The Avengers: result of a five-year plan


The Hollywood Reporter on its Web site says there are five hidden reasons for the success of The Avengers. One caught our eye:

Avengers benefited from something no movie had before: It has been marketed to audiences since Iron Man first appeared at Comic-Con in 2007. When that movie became a surprise hit in May 2008 with a $98.6 million opening weekend, Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige quickly unveiled his intention to make four more movies — The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America — all of which would lead to a giant team-up. Avengers characters like Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) popped up in those movies, and the original Iron Man featured a coda segment devoted to the Avengers initiative. At the time, only comic-book fanboys understood the reference.

Planning? Well, yes, that’s what happened with The Avengers. Had 2008’s Iron Man bombed, we probably wouldn’t have gotten The Avengers. But Marvel Studios did have a game plan about where to go from there.

Contrast that with the 007 franchise the past decade. You had Die Another Day in 2002, the 40th anniversary Bond film. After that? Eon Productions didn’t exactly know where to go. Those aren’t our words. That’s what Eon co-boss Michael G. Wilson told The New York Times IN OCTOBER 2005:

“We are running out of energy, mental energy,” Mr. Wilson recalled saying. “We need to generate something new, for ourselves.”

That led to 2006’s Casino Royale where Eon decided to start the series all over. The movie wasn’t so much Bond 21 as it was Bond 2.0. It was a big critical and commercial hit. But Eon didn’t exactly know where to proceed from that point. For Eon’s next movie, multiple ideas were considered, including Bond encountering Vesper Lynd’s child before opting for a “direct sequel” that didn’t really match up with the continuity of Casino Royale.

Earlier, in the early 1990s, in the midst of a six-year hiatus, there were reports that Eon commissioned scripts so it could get off to a running start and get Bond movies out at a regular pace. Eon may have commissioned scripts, but there was no running start. After the series resumed with GoldenEye, Eon had scripts from Donald E. Westlake and Bruce Feirstein (and possibly others, but those two were publicly disclosed). The Feirstein script got rewritten by other writers before Feirstein did the final version and was the only scribe to get a writing credit for Tomorrow Never Dies.

To be fair, Eon had a legal fight with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in the early ’90s and MGM had financial difficulties in 2009-2010, including a trip to bankruptcy court. That’s something Marvel Studios hasn’t had to deal with. At the same time, Marvel Studios was able to juggle multiple movies as well as different directors and writers as it executed its plan. If Eon has a similar long-term plan, it hasn’t shared it with anyone.

Interestingly, an element of The Avengers is the secret organization SHIELD. Stan Lee, in a 1975 book, wrote that SHIELD was inspired by James Bond movies and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series.

UPDATE (May 13): Marvel’s The Avengers had an estimated $103.2 million in U.S. and Canadian ticket sales in its second weekend of release. Meanwhile, Kevin Feige of Marvel Studios said in a Bloomberg Television interview that five more movies based on Marvel characters are in the works.

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2005: a new 007 is cast; past is prologue

Seems hard to believe but it has been more than five years since Daniel Craig was cast as James Bond. While researching something else, we came across how The New York Times reported the story. There were a few things that caught our eye.

First, there was a comment from producer Michael G. Wilson, yet another refrain by Wilson of something he has been saying since the 1990s:

“We are running out of energy, mental energy,” Mr. Wilson recalled saying. “We need to generate something new, for ourselves.”

Yes, Wilson could not let the announcement pass without complaining about how tired he was. We’ve written before about Wilson’s complaints about how exhausting it is to make James Bond movies, as close as a movie producer can be to having a guaranteed sale. So add this to the list.

Next, then-NYT reporter Sharon Waxman (now editor-in-chief of The Wrap, an entertainment-news Web site) quoted studio executives she didn’t identify concerning the new direction the 007 film series would take now that it had a new leading man:

For both Ms. (Barbara) Broccoli and Sony, executives said, the model was Jason Bourne, the character Matt Damon successfully incarnated in two gritty spy movies for Universal Pictures, “The Bourne Identity” and “The Bourne Supremacy.”

Note, this was published in Ocotober of 2005, months before cameras would start rolling on Casino Royale. There wasn’t a public hint that Eon Productions was even thinking about emulating the Bourne films, something that reached its peak in the first 20 minutes or so of 2008’s Quantum of Solace. In that film, the Eon team even hired Dan Bradley, second unit director of the Bourne movies. After Casino Royale, producer Broccoli said Bourne was never a consideration in interviews SUCH AS THIS ONE WITH UGO.COM and that Casino was inspired by From Russia With Love, not Jason Bourne.

Finally, there was this passage in the NYT story, citing Amy Pascal, chairman of Sony’s Columbia Pictures:

Ms. Pascal said fans would have to wait to see the movie before judging Mr. Craig. As for the online criticism, she observed: “Well, he is tall. He’s the same size as Sean Connery.”

Now, for the record, HMSS gave both Daniel Craig and Casino Royale a number of favorable reviews. So what we’re about to say isn’t a jab at Craig. It should be noted what Pascal said is demonstrably incorrect.

Connery, depending on your source, is generally listed at 6-foot-2 or so. Daniel Craig, again depending on the source, at around 5-foot-10. Now 5-foot-10 isn’t a midget by any means. But it’s a good four inches shorter than 6-foot-2. If Pascal wanted to brush off criticism of the choice, there were all sorts of other things to say. Don’t say something that doesn’t stand up to the tiniest bit of scrutiny.