A Watershed Summer for Comic Book Films

We’re spoiled.  It wasn’t too long ago that a comic-book related film, superhero or otherwise, was a rare treat.  It was such a wonderful occurrence that we collectively sat in amazement at our good fortunes. A chance to see these characters and stories we’ve loved for so long brought to life in another medium.  Yet today that paradigm has been completely turned on its head.  Not only are we used to comic-related films, we’ve come to expect an entire slate of them every summer blockbuster season.  Now it’s no longer about the excitement of the movie, but instead a critique of the casting choices, the leaked script talking points, and the inevitable lamentations of why major motion pictures don’t easily translate into sustainably higher sales for our beloved comic books. But will it always the case? Are we starting to take our geek silver screen pleasures for granted?
The Slate
This summer promises us a half dozen comic-book related films, including four major tent pole films tied directly to Marvel and DC icons:
  • Thor (Paramount) – May 6, 2011
  • Priest (Screen Gems) – May 13, 2011
  • X-Men: First Class (Fox) – June 3, 2011
  • Green Lantern (Warner Brothers) – June 17, 2011
  • Captain America: The First Avenger (Paramount) – July 22, 2011
  • Cowboys & Aliens (Universal) – July 29, 2011
Expected Box Office

Thor Movie Poster

Hollywood Stock Exchange (HSX) has turned into a dynamic engine for evaluating expected financial outcomes in the entertainment world.  They price their movie stocks (prior to release) based on what the expected domestic grosses are projected to be over the first four weeks of release.  Based on current prices (April 27, 2011 – they change dynamically if you click on the links below), here is what each film is projected to earn in its first month:
How do these numbers compare to other recent comic book film debuts (first month domestic gross)?
  • The Green Hornet (January 2011) – $88.7 million
  • Red (October 2010) – $74.7 million
  • Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (August 2010) – $29.62 million
  • Jonah Hex (June 2010) – $10.1 million
  • Iron Man 2 (May 2010) – $283.5 million
  • The Losers (April 2010) – $23.0 million
  • Kick-Ass (April 2010) – $46.1 million
  • X-Men Origins: Wolverine (May 2009) – $167.0 million
  • Watchmen (March 2009) – $104.3 million
A Few Observations
  1. Nothing is projected to match Iron Man 2 – The prognosticators at HSX are expecting each of the tent pole films (I’m not counting Priest, which isn’t getting the marketing push nor does it have the budget associated with the other films) to do well, but none to reach the success of Iron Man 2.  This could be a byproduct of either a) an expectation that so many comic-related films bunched together will cannibalize one another, or b) conservatism on the part of HSX investors until we see how well the first film (Thor) does this summer.
  2. 2010 was a down year – The only major Marvel/DC property to see release last year, Iron Man 2, did gangbusters, but it was overall a very thin slate.  The other properties weren’t considered major global brands in the first place, so we can’t judge the box office of those properties in comparison to expectations for a major DC or Marvel character.
  3. Both Marvel (Disney) and DC (Time Warner) have a lot riding on this summer – While no one is going to question the success of the next Batman movie, or be surprised when Iron Man 3 does well, both companies have a ton riding on this summer; and the outcome could materially shape the industry for years to come.
    1. DC Entertainment – If you’ve chronicled the evolution of DC (into DC Entertainment, with Diane Nelson being put in charge, etc…) it’s ALL been geared toward leveraging the comic book characters beyond Batman and Superman into global licensing brands. Green Lantern, which has become a marquee character in the comic book direct market, will set the tone for whether DC is successful at expanding their catalog. If Green Lantern hits, as Iron Man did a few years ago, it will no doubt green light a lot more DC properties to be turned into movies, and set the table for a potential Justice League film in a few years. If it flops? We don’t want to find out.
    2. Marvel EntertainmentThor and Captain America are setting the table for the 2012 Avengers movie, which has already begun filming. When Disney purchased Marvel in 2009, they paid a hefty premium under the premise that Marvel’s 5,000+ characters would be a virtual treasure trove.  Iron Man was a win, for sure. But Disney can’t justify the purchase of Marvel for one film franchise. Neither Thor nor Captain America have to be as large as Iron Man and Iron Man 2 were, but they have to be legitimately profitable franchises, or the outlook for Marvel Studios going forward becomes murkier.
Fighting the Cyclicality of Movie Making
San Diego Comic-Con has become a pop culture event that’s harder to get a ticket to than the Royal Wedding after party.  It’s been invaded by all measure of Hollywood types, and lots of non-comic properties are hawked at Comic-Con, as well as other comic book conventions.  But will that always be the case?  We have to remember that Hollywood if fickle, and cyclical.  Studios are notorious for chasing after an idea and running it into the ground, and once a trend has broken, they move on to something else.
Right now, we can’t fathom a time when comic-book related properties aren’t at the epicenter of pop culture and media.  Yet, that’s because we haven’t seen too many major flops yet.  I don’t think we’ll see flops this summer, in fact, I think this collective of films will usher in even more mania.  But we NEED them to be hits. Don’t think, for a second, that if this slate of films struggles relative to budget/expectations, that it won’t radically alter the course of comics on the silver screen.  We’ll still get Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises in 2012; those are already set in motion.  But if we want jaw-dropping, geek out movies in 2013 and beyond? The hit train needs to keep on rolling, against ever increasing corporate expectations.


Jason is a mutant with the ability to squeeze 36 hours into every 24-hour day, which is why he was able to convince his wife he had time to join the iFanboy team on top of running his business, raising his three sons, and most importantly, co-hosting the 11 O'Clock Comics podcast with his buddies Vince B, Chris Neseman and David Price. If you are one of the twelve people on Earth who want to read about comics, the stock market and football in rapid fire succession, you can follow him on Twitter. 


  1. Sort of a tangent but I needed to say my piece
    Just saw Thor today in the UK and have to say I havent walked out of the cinema witha  smile this big in a loooong time. Whilst it was pretty much by the numbers I felt it was the perfect Marvel Thor from the Kirby Influence in the set design to the human (godly?) emotion that was conveyed by the lead characters with their realtionships being pitch perfect.
    Look at the score on rotten tomatoes it’s going through the roof! 95 % as of right now! I know this doesnt nessacerily lead to a big box office total but Its pleasing this isnt just another fanboy love in.
    Unlike iron man 2 shield didnt feel crammed in and there were plenty of easter eggs for the Merry Marvel marching society to enjoy.
    The 3d was subtle and not overpowering (unlike the pirates of the carribean trailer before hand)
    Honestly I cant wait for Cap and the avengers.
    Never in my life would I have thought Marvel could get it all togeather like this. These are great times for all Comic fans

  2. Well I’m watching Thor this week and i can’t wait but I’ve got to ask…when does the wave break and everyone gets sick of super hero movies? I think the Avengers will be the pinacle of all flicks in this genre and honestly I can’t see DC/Warner doing well in this market other than Batman. People might be impressed by the new trailer for Green Lantern but there is very little buzz for this movie. 

    Kind of wish Hollywood would start bringing out some fresh ideas… 

  3. Yeah, I’m still hoping this bubble pops soon. These movies are mostly Hollywood junk designed to get pretty faces in front of the camera with next to no interest in being faithful to fans or source material.
    Right now we have a lot of people praising Thor, some have even claimed it’s the best Marvel movie ever. I seem to recall that for just about every Marvel movie until the ‘excitement over something shiney and new’ fades then people start to see what a load it is.

    Thor will make money because the masses don’t care abotu substance only how shiney somthing is. Same with Captain America and Green Lantern. I’m not wasting my money on them. I have the comics, always better.

  4. @Zarathos81  I agree the comics are always better IMO. I think a lot of these properties do tend to get lost in translation. As I said before, Hollywood needs to start doing more original work again.

  5. @Johnnyboy74  As long as there have been movies there have been adaptations of other works. It’s not like every movie that studios put out are comic book films, or even adaptations. They’re just the ones that make the loudest noise and (usually) the most money. And that money that these big films generate allow the studios to take chances on riskier, more original films.

  6. @Johnnyboy74  Also, if you’re talking about “fresh ideas”, to 90% of the people that will go to these super hero movies, these ideas will be fresh and new.

  7. I love Hollywood Stock Exchange.  I hope I love these movies. 

  8. Just saw the trailer for the “Dyllan Dog”, another comic movie, looks like a comedic version of Constantine


  9. I’m enjoying most of the movies (haven’t seen Jonah Hex) And I’m perfectly happy with their interpretations. Because not everything translates well on screen. People thought the comic book movie train had derailed (Wolverine Origins, Spiderman 3) and then the Dark Knight comes along and ups the bar. I’m just hoping the new crop can match the level.

  10. @LukeB I dunno, I thought Keanu’s Constantine was a laugh riot.

  11. Thor’s the best time I’ve had in a cinema since the dark knight. We are completely spoiled. I never want it to stop. The movies and cartoons that marvel and dc are producing are really keeping the characters alive for the next generation of kids in a way that the comics can’t.

  12. It’s a great state for comic book movies to be in when even my mother wants to go and see Thor – and not just because of “that big strapping lad who used to be in Home & Away”.

  13. Totally agree, Thor was a great time, saw it in 3D and that wasn’t the greatest, the space stuff was pretty cool but I found it too dark and distracting, might see it again in 2D when it comes to my local cinema in a few weeks/months, Pretty cool ‘secret’ ending as well.

  14. @MaxPower That’s true, but this looks like it’s intentional 😉

  15. @conor  Agreed.  My g/f loves movies, but could care less about comics.  We have watched severals movies and at the end of the movie I would turned to her and say “You know, that was based off of a comic book”. 

  16. I’m pretty excited for Dylan Dog, myself.

  17. As ever, nice work Mr WOOOOD!

    Went to see Thor today, loved it, but fear for it’s opening here in the UK. It’s unseasonally sunny, we’ve got a royal wedding happening and I’ve seen little marketing apart from what I’ve sort out myself. That said, with a four day weekend (apart from chumps like me in retail) there could be a strong crowd counter programming the wedding, which was my plan originally.

    Always thought Thor would be decent though, to me GL looks really, really bad, Cap looks like it could be good but also a spectacular disaster. Priest being in 3D worries me, don’t know too many people prepared to rush out to see an unknown quantity (that’s not a family film) with the higher ticket prices. X-Men will be good – Matthew Vaughn – end of.