Marvel Readies a Slate of Lower Budget Films? (Again?)

Dr. StrangeCHUD is reporting that Marvel Films is taking meetings with a writers and directors with an aim towards producing a slate of low(er) budget films staring some of their less popular characters. The budgets being talked about are in the $20-40 million range and the characters being mentioned are Dazzler, Dr. Strange, Luke Cage, Ka-Zar and even Power Pack. You've got to believe that there are a lot more characters being talked about but at least you have a good idea of what tier we're dealing with here in terms of public recognition (third).

Sound familiar? Starting in 2003, Marvel made a series of deals with Lions Gate to pretty much do the same thing: produce low budget films on some of their lesser known characters. In that case it was The Punisher, Iron Fist and Black Widow. That deal with Lions Gate didn't amount to much beyond Punisher: War Zone, so maybe we should be thankful that there weren't any more films that were actually made.

Why is Marvel Films going back to the low budget, lesser known character well? It's quite simple: they are running out of options. Right now the only big time characters that they have control over, film-wise, are the Avengers characters, and as we all know those films are already in various degrees of active development. Beyond that? Sony controls Spider-Man. Fox controls the X-Men and the Fantastic Four. Unless and until those companies accept a giant check from Disney to hand over the film rights, Marvel Films has to look elsewhere to keep this money train rolling.

Is this interesting news? Yes, it is undeniably interesting. When you have a smaller(er) budget you have a lot more freedom in how you make the movie and you don't have to perform as well at the box office to turn a profit (in Hollywood! Ha!). We've had a lot of discussion around the iFanboy brownstone about the viability of lesser known characters as vehicles for films. Kick-Ass did okay in its opening weekend, but because it didn't draw the same audiences that an Iron Man or a Spider-Man did it was viewed by some as a relative failure. But it only cost, production-wise, $30 million to make so it will eventually recoup its costs. With Marvel Films raising its own levels of expectation with mega blockbusters like Iron Man (and, one would presume, Iron Man 2), are they setting themselves up for failure with a Power Pack film?

These low budget films that are supposedly in the works could end up being a lot of fun. There really is no other way we'd ever get something like a Dr. Strange film produced by a company like Marvel Films where the quality of the product is held at a premium. I think there's a lot riding on these Avengers films. I feel like Iron Man 2 is a sure thing, but after that Thor, The First Avenger: Captain America, and The Avengers are all unproven commodities and if those films fail (or even fail to live up to expectations) I think that this announcement could end up as prime fodder for future "what could have been" discussions.


  1. This ( seems to indicate that relatively low budget films typically bring in relatively low revenues (unsurprising).  One thing to keep in mind is that the budget on a film understates its true cost (ignores advertising, etc), so profitability is hard to determine.

    Personally, I’ve seen way too many hollow big budget superhero films and think a relatively low budget film based on a solid script COULD be very refreshing. Good luck, Marvel. 

  2. I personally think it’s great that Marvel is considering this.  Like @stuclach said, as long as we’re getting solid scripts and acting, it’s a win-win.  It might not give them astronomical box office grosses like they had with Iron Man, but it at least continues to build their reputation as a credible film studio up until the film rights expire on their other important franchises.


  3. I don’t know what "production-wise" cost entails but everything I’ve read following kickass has been along the following lines: "Now, Lionsgate paid $50,000,000 for the movie, there has been a lot of marketing costs on top, and it would need to double all that to recoup its money… can Kick-Ass do it?"  There is a big difference between 30 million and 50 million.  If not marketing, where did those other 20 million dollars go?  Are actor’s wages not under production costs, or something else I’m missing?

  4. I would love to see a good Dr. Strange movie, and this would be the perfect way to do it. You don’t need a big budget to make a good film. I know opinions will vary, but I thought "Drag Me to Hell" and "Paranormal Activity" were great films and the former had a budget of $30 million and the latter only $15,000. If you have good actors, a good script, and a capable director, then this could work. People just need to know their limits when making a film on budget and spend the money on the things that count. A Luke Cage movie would be great if you melded it to something of quality like "The Wire," and I can’t imagine that needing an exorbitant budget. 

  5. This is absolutely the right way to be doing things – smaller, taut genre pieces featuring the lower-tier characters. 

    The best budget comparison I read recently was something like District 9 cost 30 million…the Hangover cost 35 million (5 million for Bradley Cooper’s hair, easy).  If ever there was a film that put it’s budget on screen, it was D9 – filmmakers like Neil Blomkamp are the people these movies need to be given to. 

    That said, I can’t imagine a comic book movie I’d like to see less than Dazzler.

  6. @diebenny – I would think the extra $20 million would be profit for Vaughn and his co-investors for selling the film.

    Interesting but it seems Lionsgate is continuing to push Kick Ass, web advertising-wise anyways. I’m still seeing page treatments and banners on Rotten Tomatoes and the like. It couldn’t be bombing too horribly.

    Anywho, open 1 week here, 2 weeks in the UK it’s made $41 mil. Not bad at all, all things (and especially dvd sales) considered.

    @Kodaiji – There’s definitely a market for low-budget well made films. I just don’t know if the superhero genre can have a piece of that. The average movie-goer isn’t headed to the cinema to watch guys in tights and spandex expecting a compelling character study or existential pondering of life’s meaning (surely, if anything, we can all take that away from Watchmen’s numbers).

    Superheroes = spectacle for many people’s expectations and unfortunately spectacle usually = big bucks.

    That said, I think the small returns, smaller budget could work. You’d just have to be really smart about it. I’d love to see a buddy-super-cop Cage/Iron Fist movie.

  7. Can’t wait for that Dazzler movie. Sex and the City with super powers = winner.

    In seriousness, I’m so happy to hear this. I was pretty bummed when the Iron Fist movie idea fell through, and would love to see that come out at some point. Don’t know what the chances of that are, but a man can dream right?

  8. The only drawback I can see coming out of this is that these movies might end up with a lackluster cast

  9. What?  No movie about Puck (everyone’s favorite Alpha Flighter)?

  10. What I’d really love to see is Marvel adapting some of their lower-tier properties with an indie/art house approach. It’ll never happen, but my dream Marvel film is Wes Anderson adapting Omega the Unknown.

  11. @Kirkerson – Or Tarsem doing Dr. Strange.

  12. @Ottobot – You, sir, are a genius.  The Fall is one of the best flicks I’ve seen in the last five years.

  13. Ka-Zar?  I’m there in spades.  Also, there have been a couple really good low-budget horror and sci-fi movies in the past couple of years ("Cloverfield," "District 9," and "Moon" come immediately to mind).  The problem is that generally speaking with comics, they assume that low-budget is a license to suck and since it’s a niche market anyway, there’s no quality control.  That’s how you get "Punisher: War Zone" and "Man-Thing" (eveyrone always forgets "Man-Thing" and for good reason).  

  14. Dr. Strange could be really cool. The character, the mysticism plus its accessible. The words "Dr. Strange" on a movie poster will get the non fanboys interested. 

  15. I’ve heard some folks say stuff along the lines of "Kick-Ass will ruin all future ‘low-budget’ comic movies." Kick-Ass is already well on track to recoup its costs in the box office, and I imagine it’ll have a Serenity-style effect where the DVD/BluRay sales will be pretty good as well. Not a runaway hit, but not a failure either. Scott Pilgrim’s box office performance will be more interesting, methinks.

    If we ever got another Punisher film, I’d love to see Troy Duffy (Boondock Saints) or Robert Rodriguez direct it. This time, there would be no crying.

  16. I remember a few years ago that Guillermo Del Toro was very interested in doing a Dr. Strange movie. Now with this announcement and with Del Toro’s ability to produce such high quality films on low budgets, I pray that this will come to fruition. Just imagine all of the monsters in Dr. Strange with the imaginative twists of Guilermo’s style. Oh god if this actually happens just imagine how Dormammu will look!!! Also they have got to get Luke Cage in production sooner than most others. That kind of character in this present day culture that we live in would definitely do wonderfully in the box office given the right actor. So hopefully Dr. Strange & Luke Cage can get worked on soon as for acting choices I would say that Luke Cage should be played by Anthony Mackie, if you see him in Notorious, 8 Mile, & Hurt Locker you can see he has a great demeanor and can bring presence to Luke Cage plus he can really act better than Tyrese Gibson who a lot of people want to play Cage I mean COME ON! As for Dr. Strange I would say it should be Johnny Depp, even though it would be a small budget movie I think that he would be willing to portray Stephen Strange cause I heard that he really digs the character.

  17. As to a Dr Strange film,  this has been tried once. 


    Doctor Mordrid was originally going to be a Dr. Strange movie staring the lejendary Jeffery Comb’s.  I have seen the film and outside the names of the characters it kind of still is.  This level of film making is sort of what I thought of when they mentioned low budget film making.  

     Films like the awesomely bad original Punisher(with Dolph Lundgren), the aborted Fantastic Four and Captain America films from Roger Corman’s productions are good examples of how bad it can be.  

     I can see some real possabilities with Luke Cage and Iron Fist.  Both of them are classicly street level and you could so do two films and have them link together when it was done as Heroes for Hire. 

    Dazzler is very doable, but likely would end up being more of a cross between Glee and a superhero film.  Not sure if that would be a bad thing though. 

  18. Sent in a bit today about Spider-Woman with Vanessa Hudgens of “High School Musical” fame in the lead. If this is what the low-budget plan looks like, I shudder. But then, maybe these will focus more on story than effects work. I will wait, trepidatiously, to judge…

  19. It’s exciting to think about Marvel using this model to get away from the tried-and-true (and tired) super-hero movie formula: 1st act a tragi-dramatic origin story; 2nd act a burgeoning hero/love story; 3rd act a conflict with the arch nemesis. It would be nice if a lower-budget threshold allowed more experimentation with different types of stories, treatment, and genres. Maybe even an indie film director with his or her own vision. A story like Strange Oath, for example, would provide enough of a "look in" for people unfamiliar with the character, but still have a strong enough spine to satisfy longtime fans. I realize Marvel isn’t going to be making these movies for just us comics geeks, they’re making them for mass market. Still, I think there’s a sweet spot of entertainment that works for both audiences, that movies like Dark Knight and Iron Man managed to hit.

  20. The search for a new "Blade" begins. I like it.

  21. Dr. Strange and Luke Cage can turn out to be great films. Strange because it can be just a sci-fi/new age film and not really focus on the comics. While the Cage film can be a gritty, urban film about gangs that involves Power Man.

    How much can someone pay me not to see a Dazzler and Ka-Zar film? 

  22. I heard that Punisher War Zone went afoul in the editing phase.  I only got through 30 minutes of it, so I wouldn’t really know.  Still sorry we never got an Iron Fist flick, cheapie or not.

  23. A Dr. Strange movie, done right, would be pretty awesome.  I think doing something along the lines of BKV’s The Oath would be great fun.  It’d have mysticism with a splash of Indiana Jones.

  24. They probably could pull something off with Dr. Strange and maybe Luke Cage with a really strong script.

  25. I’m going to repeat what most others are saying and agree Dr. Strange is probably the most viable of the low budget film choices.

  26. I would kill an innocent puppy to get a Dazzler movie made. It would be over 30 years after it was promised, but if it’s made in my lifetime I will be incredibly happy.

  27. This is terrible news and I dont see how anyone can be happy about this. If we lived in a world where Marvel made good decisions, this would be a great idea that could end up producing some really cool and alternative super hero movies. But its not going to happen, these are going to be borderline made fo TV movies with crappy casts. I say this mainly because I heard they are thinking about doing a Spider Woman and they are thinking about casting Vanessa Hudgens, which leads me to believe whoever is in charge of this little project has no idea what they are doing.

  28. Michael Jai White*as an 70’s era Luke Cage make it happen!


    *see Black Dynamite

  29. I think this could work, as long as Marvel aim towards more street-level characters.

    The ‘low’ budget would almost force them to make grittier, more realistic, movies. Which depending on the characters chosen could be amazing.

  30. And what ever happened to all of the talk about a comedic Ant Man movie? I thought that was in the works at one point.

  31. Runaways could actually be done really cheaply, especially if they drew from the teen TV talent pool.  The most expensive bit would be Karolina Dean.

  32. I say make a horror movie out of Moon Knight.

  33. Remember the Man-Thing movie from a while back?  I remember watching it, thinking it was pretty fun and then going online and finding out that everyone else hated it.  Now I want to watch it again.

  34. No offense; I think the only people who would want to see it are people like us.

  35. Heroes for Hire movie, make it happen!