The Year of the Comic Book Movie off to strong start

Deadpool publicity still

Deadpool publicity still

The Year of the Comic Book Movie got off to a strong start at the box office, with 20th Century-Fox’s Deadpool generating an estimated $135 million in ticket sales in the U.S. and Canada for the Feb. 12-14 weekend, according to THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER and VARIETY.

For some perspective, Deadpool’s opening weekend is shaping up to be almost twice the $70.4 million that SPECTRE generated in its opening weekend in November. It’s more than the entire worldwide run ($109.8 million) for 2015’s movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Deadpool’s box office for the four-day President’s Day weekend may be $150 million, according to the two entertainment websites.

Deadpool drew a lot of attention because of its R rating and stepped up violence. The character is part of Marvel Comics’ X-Men group of characters for which Fox obtained the film rights before Marvel began making its own movies in 2008. (THIS STORY from The Hollywood Reporter has more about the character’s comic book roots.)

Besides Marvel and Fox, Warner Bros. is boosting its output of comic book based movies this year with Superman v. Batman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad. The Superman-Batman movie is intended to lead into a two-part movie version of the Justice League of America super hero group.

Some prominent filmmakers, such as director William Friedkin, have expressed unhappiness with the rise of comic book movies, saying they’re ruining cinema.

The increased output has raised questions whether for comic book films is becoming saturated. Even before this year’s surge, there were flops, such as Fox’s 2015 Fantastic Four movie.

Director Steven Spielberg last year told The Associated Press last year that such movies will “go the way of the Western.”

Based on Deadpool’s opening, not yet. But another interesting test will come next month with Batman v. Superman.

Warner Bros. has had trouble making movies based on DC Comics characters other than Batman.

Superman Returns in 2006 film ended up being a one-shot, although it did generate $200 million in U.S.-Canada box office ($391 million worldwide). A 2011 Green Lantern movie (starring Ryan Reynolds, the star of Deadpool) was an expensive flop. The Martin Campbell-directed film had an estimated production budget of $200 million, but only generated $219.9 million in global box office.

A 2013 try at Superman, Man of Steel, did OK, but didn’t match the box office of a lot of Marvel films. Batman v. Superman follows up on that movie, using actor Henry Cavill as Superman.

Last week, Warners brought out its final Batman v. Superman trailer that was Batman-centric, playing up Ben Affleck’s performance as the Bob Kane-Bill Finger character. The movie has been rescheduled twice. Warners faces a situation where anything less than $1 billion in worldwide box office will be cast as a disappointment.

Still in the wings: Marvel Studios’ Captain America: Civil War in May (which caused Batman v. Superman to reschedule to March) and another X-Men movie from Fox. There’s a long way to go to see how all this turns out.

Batman v Superman turns into a Batman movie

So when did Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice turn into the newest Batman movie?

Warner Bros. came out with its final trailer for the movie that’s intended to launch a “shared universe” of characters from DC Comics. However, from the looks of the trailer, it looks more like a new Batman movie with an expanded cast. Or, put another way, there’s a reason Batman gets top billing in the title.

This trailer opens with Ben Affleck, the newest incarnation of the Bob Kane-Bill Finger character, in action along with an assist from the new Alfred, Jeremy Irons.

More importantly, it ends with a shot showing a surprised Superman (Henry Cavill) when an armored Bats is able to block a punch. Somehow (Kryptonite, anyone?), Batman has found an edge in what logically would be a rout.

If 2015 was “The Year of the Spy,” then 2016 is “The Year of the Superhero,” as Warner Bros. ramps up its output against rival Marvel/Disney. Warners and DC have had common ownership for decades, but DC now is directly a part of the studio. DC even moved from its long time home in New York to Warners’ digs in Burbank, California.

The studio has a lot riding on Batman v. Superman, especially after a sour 2015 at the box office.

Warners originally scheduled Batman v. Superman for July 2015 but delayed it to May 2016. But the studio slotted it for the first Friday in May, a date Marvel/Disney has owned more or less since 2008’s Iron Man. Marvel didn’t back down. It went ahead and scheduled the third Captain America movie — now Captain America: Civil War, which is more like The Avengers Part 2.5 — into the slot.

So Warners rescheduled again, moving Batman v. Superman to March, not your typical month for a blockbuster “tentpole” (in studio speak).

One shouldn’t read too much into trailers. Yet, it appears Warners is playing the Batman card heavily. From the trailer, it also looks like director Zack Snyder owes more than a little to Frank Miller’s 1986 The Dark Knight Returns comic book.

What would a reboot of The FBI be like?

fbishowlogo

While doing work on THE FBI EPISODE GUIDE, we got to thinking what a reboot of the 1965-74 television series might be like.

Background: The show was an idealized version of the real life U.S. agency. In fact, the bureau had script approval and veto power over guest stars of the series produced by Quinn Martin and Warner Bros. The real-life FBI exercised that power on occasions, including vetoing Bette Davis as a guest star in the second season.

Anyway, a few thoughts:

DOING A REBOOT AS A PERIOD PIECE: The general public knows a lot more about J. Edgar Hoover, the bureau director for 48 years, than it did when the television debuted. It’s not a very pretty picture, including wire taps on Martin Luther King Jr.

If a reboot of The FBI were done as a 1960s period piece, we’d likely see Inspector Lewis Erskine (Efrem Zimbalist Jr. in the original show) as a conflicted figure, aware of things the bureau shouldn’t be doing. He’d be portrayed as someone loyal to the bureau but aware of its failings.

DOING A REBOOT TIMESHIFTED TO THE 21ST CENTURY: Erskine’s assignments would be much different than the original series.

Instead of dealing with bank robbers, the mob and those behind major crimes, Erskine likely would be dealing with terrorists. In the show, we’re told Erskine’s wife was killed in an ambush meant for the FBI man. With a reboot, we might see the doomed Mrs. Erskine killed during the Sept. 11, 2011 attacks, explaining why he’s such a driven figure.

At this point, such thoughts are only speculation. The FBI TV series was something of its time and nobody has shown any interest in reviving it.

 

SPECTRE box office and its future implications Part II

SPECTRE promotional art

SPECTRE promotional art

By Gert Waterink,
Guest Writer

SPECTRE while one of the most popular movies of the year, won’t be as profitable as 2012’s Skyfall. SPECTRE cost more to make and appears headed to fall short of Skyfall’s $1.11 billion box office.

Part I looked at some factors that may have contributed to this. What follows is an examination of additional issues.

Too liberal producing style?
Current Bond producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson seem to apply a more liberal working ethos as compared to their father/stepfather Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli. The creative control over the Bond franchise has become much more a “shared responsibility” between the producers and the biggest cast- and crew members involved.

Daniel Craig is now a co-producer, a title no other Bond actor achieved. Connery wanted to be a full partner, but Cubby Broccoli resisted. Directors seem to have gotten more freedom with their desired cast and crew choices. And now bigger (and more expensive) stars have joined the Bond family and their wishes seem to have become more important too.

The Bond producers had to take some radical measures to rejuvenate the Bond franchise. With Skyfall and Casino Royale, this more liberal producing style really helped. But it does have its flaws, too. Creating the “perfect Bond film” has always been precarious.

With a more liberal producing style, you make that notion prone too much to more different interpretations. One actor wants the film to become a perfect closure in case he leaves the franchise after SPECTRE whereas a producer is adamant on continuing the Bond franchise.

The ambition to make a “perfect Bond film” with SPECTRE was there. For the most part it worked (I gave it 4 out of 5 stars! 7th out of 24 on my ranking list now!). But in the process, the different interpretations of such resulted in a slightly less coherent film near the last 20 minutes of the film.

The Sony leaks
The Sony leaks are a perfect example of a very unwanted bit of publicity. They created a strong narrative that was driving the attention away from the actual film.

Once actor Idris Elba was mentioned by former Sony executive Amy Pascal, the questions from movie journalists shifted away from the actual production of the film. Idris Elba became the “main object of desire” as opposed to current Bond actor Daniel Craig. And perhaps this facilitated some of the negative remarks made by Daniel Craig himself (“I’d rather slash my wrists”).

Secondly, the entire writing process of SPECTRE became public. While this shouldn’t be directly damaging to a film – the production crew of Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation started principal photography without a finished script — it didn’t help the publicity of SPECTRE. Within the movie journalism community, “unfinished draft screenplays” were easily read as or changed into “final screenplay is all over the place.”

No one can prove if the Sony leaks damaged the publicity of the film, but it did shift the attention away from the tightly scripted Publicity & Advertising campaign that Sony/MGM/EON envisioned, making the P&A budget more prone to risk.

Reviews
The Sony leaks also made its way to review aggregate sites like Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes. It is not hard to find some reviews in which the narrative of the Sony leaks are part of the reviewer’s arguments for the quality of the finished film. Simply put: The ongoing narrative of the leaks made its way into reviews. Make no mistake, P&A departments take great pride in good reviews. They are especially important during award screenings.

Conclusion
It is only logical now that the next Bond film won’t and can’t be as expensive as SPECTRE. With such high cash investments ($350 million) and in comparison low box office returns ($820 million through this weekend), the factual, real profits will be simply too low.

Bond films are an A-brand in the movie business, so financial flops are out of the question. But they can become worrisome investments. The Bond producers know that and have downscaled the production budgets on numerous occasions. Take for instance the movies that followed You Only Live Twice and Moonraker, This will happen now with Bond 25. The rumors that director Guy Ritchie, who is now quite cheap in the market, comes onboard, should therefore be taken seriously.

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson need to be careful with using (older) Bond films as a template for future success. The Bond film series is 53 years old. So what may look very familiar, and fun, to Bond fans, might look bland or unimpressive to general audiences. Every new Bond adventure therefore needs to feel entirely fresh. It needs to be a good Bond film but also a good film regardless of the franchise tag.

In an era where movies have shorter cinema runs, it should especially appeal to non-fans. Skyfall has proven that. Although it seems difficult to produce such a movie, I think it’s easier than certain filmmakers want us to think.

Also, the Bond films don’t have the advantage of an extended cinematic universe. It needs to be an instant hit every three years. Unlike Marvel, the Bond franchise can’t get publicity assistance from, let’s say, a Felix Leiter spin-off. With a tighter focus on the above factors, –-original/fresher action, focus on hit scoring anthems and music, tighter creative control & perhaps downscaling on casting/crew budgets -– one can better fight off those unwanted external factors like these ghastly Sony leaks.

PS: I do think it’s a very good idea to include Ian Fleming’s “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” in the negotiating process if MGM and EON Productions will sit together with Warner Bros. for a co-financing/distribution deal. There’s no harm in sharing financial risks between Napoleon Solo and James Bond.  :-)

Business of Bond: MGM goes studio shopping

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

What studio will release the next 007 film?

Even as SPECTRE rolls out, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer is gearing up its search for the next James Bond distribution deal, according to stories in THE WALL STREET JOURNAL and DEADLINE: HOLLYWOOD.

Sony Pictures has released the last four 007 films, going back to 2006’s Casino Royale. That deal runs out with SPECTRE.

Here’s an excerpt from the Journal’s story by Ben Fritz:

Several studios are planning to pursue those (distribution) rights, according to people familiar with the matter, even though there is surprisingly little profit in releasing Bond films.

The Journal dug up a Sony document that saw the light of day because of last year’s computer hacking at the studio.

With Skyfall, which had worldwide box office of $1.11 billion, “Sony made just $57 million” on the the 2012 007 film, “a small sum for a movie with such a huge box-office performance,” according to the newspaper.

MGM made about $175 million while the co-bosses of Eon Productions, Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, made about $109 million, the Journal reported, quoting the same document. MGM and Danjaq, Eon’s holding company, declined to comment to the Journal.

Sony’s take might be even less for SPECTRE, according to the newspaper.

In the same leaked document, a Sony executive projected that if “Spectre” were to cost $250 million to produce and repeat the same box office as “Skyfall,” Sony’s profit would be $38 million.

The budget for “Spectre” is just under $250 million, said a person close to the movie, compared with $209 million for “Skyfall.”

MGM and the Wilson-Broccoli clan co-own the Bond franchise. MGM got its share after it acquired United Artists in the early 1980s. UA, in turn, acquired its stake in Bond when Eon co-founder Harry Saltzman sold it in 1975 because of financial problems.

Despite the relatively small return, other studios are expected to seek to displace Sony as MGM’s 007 distributor.

“Here’s what we hear,” Deadline’s Anity Busch and Mike Fleming Jr. wrote. “007 rights gatekeepers (MGM CEO Gary) Barber, and Wilson and Broccoli, will wait until Spectre plays around the world and accumulates an ungodly global gross that will only strengthen their leverage. And then, early next year, they will make the best deal. If that means bidding farewell to Sony, so be it.”

The Deadline Hollywood story does some handicapping about the prospects for different studios striking a deal with MGM. Busch and Fleming, in particular, play up Warner Bros. as a 007 distribution contender.

The duo write “a source sighted” MGM’s Barber and Warners chief “Kevin Tsujihara at the Montage Hotel recently…According to our source, the chatter seemed more intense than a meet and greet. It looked like they were throwing around numbers. Not surprisingly, Warner Bros has been oft mentioned as the most aggressive in this hunt.”

To read the entire Wall Street Journal story, CLICK HERE. To read the Deadline: Hollywood story, CLICK HERE.

Bill Finger to get credit on Batman adaptations, THR says

Gotham promotional art

Gotham promotional art

Bill Finger, widely viewed as the co-creator of Batman, is to get a credit for his work on Batman-related adaptations, THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER SAID.

Finger will begin receiving a credit on the Gotham television series “beginning later this season,” according to a statement from DC Entertainment published by THR. Finger (1914-1974) will also get a credit in the 2016 film Batman v. Superman: The Dawn of Justice, DC said in the statement.

Bob Kane has received sole creator credit for Batman since the character debuted in 1939, including seven Warner Bros. movies released since 1989.

Finger’s contributions to the character include major revisions to Kane’s original costume (such as the cowl and gauntlets as well as a dark color scheme), the Bruce Wayne true identity, Bruce Wayne back story, the original Robin, the original Robin’s back story, etc. Finger wrote the first Batman story published in Detective Comics No. 27 and many other early stories.

In 2014, illustrator Ty Templeton did a cartoon showing what Batman would have been like without Finger’s contributions.

DC said in the statement published by THR it and Finger’s family “reached an agreement that recognizes Mr. Finger’s significant contributions to the Batman family of characters.”

In addition to Batman, Finger also co-created the original version of Green Lantern, which debuted in 1940. Finger also co-wrote a two-part story in the 1966 Batman television series.

DC has long been owned by the various parent companies of Warner Bros. DC now is part of Warner Bros. and moved to Burbank, California, from New York, the comics company’s long-time home.

U.N.C.L.E.-Batman comic book scheduled

BatmanUNCLE

A comic book story featuring a crossover between The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Batman has been scheduled, NEWSARAMA.COM REPORTED.

This is part of the Batman ’66 title published by DC Comics.

How is this possible? DC has long been a corporate cousin of Warner Bros. DC now is part of Warners, even moving from its long-time home in New York to Burkbank, California, home base of Warner Bros.

That move reflects how Warners is ramping up its output of films based on DC characters. The studio also controls The Man From U.N.C.L.E. original series, which ran from 1964 to 1968.

Batman ’66 is based on the 1966-68 series starring Adam West and Burt Ward. The comic uses the likenesses of the actors. DC has published crossover stories with The Green Hornet, mimicking a teamup from the original Batman show. The comic even published a story based on a rejected script plot by Harlan Ellison for the Batman series.

According to Newsrama.com, the U.N.C.L.E. crossover will be published in December.

“The deadly organization known as T.H.R.U.S.H. has a new twist in their plans for world conquest—they’re recruiting some of Gotham City’s most infamous villains!,” according to a description published by Newsrama.com. “Agents Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin bring this information to the one man who knows everything about these new enemies: Batman. Before you can say ‘Open channel D,”’the Dynamic Duo and the Men from U.N.C.L.E. are jetting off to Europe to thwart the schemes of this deadly criminal cartel.”

In real life, the U.N.C.L.E. television series was influenced by the Batman show. In U.N.C.L.E.’s VERY LIGHT THIRD SEASON, two regular Batman writers, Stanford Sherman and Stanley Ralph Ross, were hired to contribute scripts. Ross even worked THE SAME JOKE into both series.

UPDATE: If you CLICK HERE, you can read a 2013 Den of Geek story about the rejected Harlan Ellison story for the Batman television series, which featured Two Face as the villain.

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