Author Topic: Box Office: 'Spider-Man' Isn't Hurting Cinema, 'King Arthur' Is  (Read 934 times)

Offline imchills

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Spider-Man: Homecoming's big $117 million opening weekend means that this summer will more or less be dominated by three comic book superhero movies that opened at the beginning of each month. Walt Disney kicked off the summer with Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Warner Bros./Time Warner Inc. began June with Wonder Woman and now July is off to a big start thanks to Sony (and Marvel)'s Spider-Man: Homecoming. The good news is that big domestic grosses are good news for domestic theaters and that these films are all critically-acclaimed would-be blockbusters. We should note that we can only wring our hands so much when well-reviewed action dramas like Logan clear $600m worldwide, no matter what subgenre they fit into. Good movies are playing to appreciative audiences and making lots of money.

Moreover, I would argue that the problem isn't that Hollywood is making too many bad comic book superhero movies. Actually, this year has (my own critical opinion notwithstanding) offered a spree of fruitful and well-received comic book superhero films. Thus far, The LEGO Batman Movie, Logan, Ghost in the Shell, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Wonder Woman and Spider-Man: Homecoming have, with one exception (the poorly-reviewed Ghost in the Shell), made copious cash at least partially because they were well-liked by audiences and critics. We should note that many of the would-be biggies that underperformed or outright flopped this summer were not so much comic book movies as films trying to ape what theoretically works about comic book movies. In other words, Batman Begins isn't hurting the industry, but Pan is.

In a weird irony that should darn well be a teachable moment, Warner Bros./Time Warner Inc. has the summer's biggest (domestic) hit and the biggest domestic and worldwide flop in Wonder Woman and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. The $175 million Guy Ritchie movie has earned just $140m worldwide. And with just $39m domestic, it is about to be outgrossed by the "almost went to VOD" cheapie 47 Meters Down, which has legged it to $38.4m from an $11.2m opening weekend in mid-June. The Entertainment Studios release, their first, is obviously not a superhero movie. And in a world where huge pictures seemingly open every week, a film like 47 Meters Down or Baby Driver can feel like more of an event than the event movies. But looking at three of the more high-profile whiffs of the season thus far, you'll notice that they are stumbling at least partially because they are trying to mimic MCU-style success.

The Mummy (which, to be fair, will end at over $400 million on a $125m budget), was supposed to kick off a would-be Dark Universe of interconnected monster movies starring the likes of Tom Cruise, Russell Crowe and Javier Bardem. The picture has its issues throughout, but it stumbles hardest toward the end when it announces itself as a glorified prologue/backdoor pilot for whatever comes next. Cue a $31m opening and $78m domestic total and an artistic low point for "big" Tom Cruise movies. Transformers: The Last Knight, the fifth installment in the once king-of-the-mountain franchise, also twisted itself in expository knots to set up a desired Transformers cinematic universe, in turn spending more time offering backstory and world-building than big scenes of giant robots fighting each other. Cue a $69m Wed-Sun debut and a domestic total that may be under $135m for a franchise that once posted a $200m Wed-Sun North American debut.

Guy Ritchie's King Arthur was supposed to set up a multipart franchise, but like all too many origin story movies (Jem and the Holograms, Robin Hood, etc.), it spent the entirety of its running time getting its protagonist to the finish line in terms of being the iconic hero audiences presumably came to see. It is telling that Walt Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales ($170 million domestic and $740m worldwide thus far), the one "big" exception thus far this summer, did its own thing.  It told a stand-alone story without setting up anything else. Ditto, on a larger scale, Jurassic World two years ago. And ditto, relative speaking, Warner and Legendary's Godzilla and Kong: Skull Island which deliver something entirely sperate from a superhero arc and offer stand-alone films that tie into a bigger picture for those who care about such things.

What the other three films, namely Transformers: The Last Knight, The Mummy and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, have in common is that they were trying to ape elements from the likes of The Avengers, Batman Begins and the X-Men movies without these iconic characters. The comic book movies are doing well both because they are (relatively) good and because, since we already know the rules of the game, they can diversify in terms of content and genre. Thus Logan can be a grim, R-rated western, Spider-Man: Homecoming can be a high school comedy and Wonder Woman can be a World War I adventure.

Conversely, King Arthur comes off as a generic "refusal of the call" origin story, Transformers: The Last Knight becomes a generic "underappreciated guy is destined to save the world" epic and The Mummy becomes a generic backdoor cinematic universe pilot. The "cinematic universe" qualities to these films end up muting or sacrificing the very elements (sword-and-sorcery fantasy, straight big-budget horror, giant robots clobbering each other for sport) that might have made these movies stand out. But because of the drive to make these seemingly different pictures feel like cinematic universe-y comic book superhero movies, they came off as pale imitations.

Audiences like comic book movies because they like the characters, which is why (for example) Fox can survive an X-Men: Apocalypse and Warner Bros. can make bank from Batman v Superman. Folks don't necessarily want to see cinematic universes, they just wanted to see The Avengers. Audiences don't necessarily flock to prequel origin stories, they just wanted a high-quality movie concerning characters (Batman, James Bond, Captain Kirk, etc.movie) whom they already knew and liked. And, yeah, moviegoers may well have flocked to a high-quality Tom Cruise-starring and straight horror-ish Mummy movie if Universal/Comcast Corp. and friends hadn't put the horse before the cart. And, most importantly, if audiences want to see a film that looks/feels like a comic book superhero movie or a superhero cinematic universe, they will see one of the genuine articles.

If studios want to offer movies alongside or against the comic book superhero movie franchises, they need to offer an alternative, not a pale imitation. Positioned against the genuine article, King Arthur and The Mummy or Pan come off as glorified Asylum versions of the Marvel or DC cinematic universes. Why would you eat imitation crab if the real thing is available? And why would anyone rent Transmorphers: Fall of Man when Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is readily available?

https://www.forbes.com/sites/scottmendelson/2017/07/11/its-lousy-rip-offs-of-superhero-movies-that-hurt-hollywood-not-comic-book-movies/#5e195e1122cf