This is the first in a series of columns in which we take a look at the success of Marvel and their associated film companies, having launched a lucrative cinematic enterprise over the past decade or so. This examination will take place in multiple installments over the next several weeks. Feel free to get involved in our discussion and provide your comments!
Comic Book Cinema is big, big money. Summertime box office performances on the whole, as well as the overall relevance of movie production companies, now rely completely on the success of comic book/superhero films to bring annual profits back to the big screens. And for the most part, this is still a relatively new concept. Long gone are the days of those late 1980’s and 1990’s big action films that carried box office swagger. And where DC Comics has faltered in the past by failing to successfully launch legendary characters such as Green Lantern into theaters, or by stumbling with the re-emergence of Superman in 2006’s Superman Returns, their rival Marvel Comics is getting it right.
Marvel, in all of its now seemingly infinite wisdom, is the cinematic juggernaut that we, as fans and as well as the production companies alike, have always hoped for. Over the past 15 years Marvel has put together an extremely successful run of films based on some of their most beloved and iconic characters, beginning with X-Men back in the year 2000, and running through their current “Phase 2″ of films that are scheduled to release over the next year or so.
And Marvel is getting it right, there’s no question. By combining strategic storytelling and long-term planning, along with the use of alternate outlets such as San Diego Comic-Con’s Hall H, Marvel is striking all of the right chords as they establish their cinematic film legacy. Collective box office receipts of Marvel films, to date, total over $12 billion worldwide, and this is just within the past decade or so.
Let’s take a look at just how it is that Marvel gets it right, and what so many others can learn from their multiple cinematic successes…
X-Men (2000): Marvel’s Cinematic Success Is Born
What better way to explode onto the superhero movie scene (1998’s Blade notwithstanding!) than to launch full throttle into theaters with the cinematic debut of their tentpole superhero group, the X-Men. Produced by Marvel in 2000 (though released by 20th Century Fox), the film introduced us to all the X-Men main players we had read about over the years, including Magneto, Storm, Cyclops, Jean Grey, Professor Xavier, and James “Wolverine” Logan.
With a cast comprised of acting veterans like Ian McKellan, Halle Berry, and Patrick Stewart leading a group of relative big-time acting newcomers that included Anna Paquin, Shawn Ashmore, and Hugh Jackman, and alongside a relatively unknown associate producer named Kevin Feige, the first X-Men film had all the right pieces to work.
But this was a calculated risk for Marvel. They were literally putting all of their proverbial eggs into one basket with this film: it was an attempt to break the Hollywood mold. By combining three things that had made box office gold over the prior two decades, Marvel blended big budgets, bigger action, and a heavy splash of science fiction into a mutant film that launched a new Hollywood movie franchise.
This strategic move also gave birth to the modern-day comic book films that we now know and love, and Marvel made the jump from comic book print to comic book film in grandiose fashion; this success was only the beginning…
Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man: Marvel Goes 2 for 2
In May of 2002, the first big budget version of a cinematic Spider-Man hit the screens. And while the film property itself was owned by Sony Pictures (and produced in association with Marvel), the film still came with a load of hype and fanboy anticipation…and it delivered on all levels. Sam Raimi and Sony Pictures cast relative newcomer Tobey McGuire in the title role as Peter Parker, and the film catapulted Marvel back onto the top of the box office world again. Combining Spidey’s origin story with a tale that put him at odds with arguably his greatest foe, The Green Goblin, Raimi’s spider film struck box office gold and launched another successful Marvel cinematic franchise, one that Raimi would go on to helm for the next decade and give life to two sequels.
But there were bumps along this Marvelous road to cinematic domination. Our next installment will take a look at the growing pains Marvel experienced as they tried to find their footing and recreate the success of their first few films. Sound off in the COMMENTS section, and welcome your newest contributor to Agents of Geek: @davyshrader