Some of the wonderful things rattling around in this full brain 'o mine. UPDATED EVERY TUESDAY AND THURSDAY (or at least twice a week)

Friday, March 9, 2007

Ghost Rider and Bad Comic Movies – Who’s to Blame?

I have to admit. I’ve been haunted by Ghost Rider. When it came out a couple of weeks ago, I was going to review it. I took the girlfriend to it on Friday night. I was even looking forward to it. I had dodged all reviews beforehand. Here was a movie of a comic character I wasn’t that wrapped up in. I have Ghost Rider comics in my collection, but I’ve never been rabid about the character. I loved the Johnny Blaze character though. I thought that visually the movie could look cool. Mark Steven Johnson had done a good job on Daredevil. I thought he hit the tone of that character. I was expecting a scary, supernatural story about hitting the lowest of the low, and then redemption. I knew that Nic Cage had long wanted to do a comic movie, and I thought that finally given his chance he would do good things. I also thought that, given Nic being a huge comic geek at heart, he would treat the character in the correct way and stand up for things that were wrong.

Well…it turns out I was the one who was wrong.

I experienced things in that theater I never wanted to experience watching a comic book movie. I laughed. I rolled my eyes. My girlfriend laughed. I threw my hands up in the air.

I was dejected for a loooong time after seeing Ghost Rider. I was somewhat encouraged reading Harry’s review at His review pretty much sums up what I’d like to say about Ghost Rider. I thought it was bad. I think I’d rate it barely at ** out of *****. That’s two out of five. That’s pretty much the lowest I’ve rated any comic movie…except Elektra. I’d give that lower.

Anyway, I was somewhat encouraged by Harry’s Review…but then something happened. Too many damn people went to see it. It took in $52 mill it’s first weekend. “It’s ok.” I thought. People will let each other know how horrible it is. Didn’t happen. It made $20 mill it’s second weekend. “WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE?” I thought. It’s kind of a standard rule that new franchises will get sequels if they make that mythical $100 million dollar plateau. In Ghost Rider’s 3rd weekend, it made $11.5 million dollars bringing its total to almost $95 million dollars. For a crappy movie. It’ll break that $100 million dollar barrier and a sequel is already in the cards.


How could a movie this bad do this well? It hurts because, I love comic characters. I collected comics for over 20 years. I read and lived and grew up with these characters that we’re seeing come to the screen at a record pace now. It hit a high point early in my life with Batman (1989), but then went downhill with it’s sequels, until restarting hope again with Blade, which led to the X-men, and then to Spider-Man. All those hits led to DC restarting the Superman and Batman franchises recently. Still…we’ve had some pretty decent adaptations not get sequels, while crap like Ghost Rider is getting a sequel.

Who’s to blame?

I needed to look at the data to be sure what I was thinking was correct. My hypothesis was that the movies that stayed closest to the heart of the intended characters did the best box office wise, and should have warranted sequels. I was wrong. Let me lay it out for you:

Here are the comic movies I could think of since the Batman days. I know there are omissions and I’m sorry. I think I hit all the major ones though. The movies are sorted by year and the title. The two movies with *’s, those weren’t listed with critics reviews from Yahoo Movies. The critics reviews and user reviews were taken from the A+ thru F scale, and I correlated them to numbers. I added my own review numbers and then averaged the reviews. I added a column to show whether or not the movie, for the most part, hit the tone of the character, in my opinion. The total box office and rating is also included.

Then I started playing with the numbers to find out which movies do the best.

Out of the average reviews, here’s what I found:

As you can see…the numbers are all over the place. All but the worst reviewed films get over $100 million dollars. You can see a definite trend, the B+ and B movies made about $50-60 mill more than the C, C+ and B- movies. The only A- movies on the list for average reviews are Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2.

So, besides a very general trend…not much there.

How about tone? The “Tone Wrong” movies were the ones I thought were furthest from where they should have been. These are the biggest transgressors in my opinion: Batman and Robin, Blade Trinity, Punisher (2004), Elektra, and Ghost Rider.

Hm. They still averaged a decent 62.5 mill at the box office, whereas movies like the Crow, and Hellboy did less than that. Of course, those are lesser known characters, and Batman and Robin and Blade Trinity are sequels of established franchises.

Ok. How about established franchises?

Comic sequels (Batman sequels, Blade sequels, X-men sequels and Spider-Man sequel) averaged $175.8 million. I didn’t count Batman Begins or Superman Returns, since those are reboots of the franchises. The original films (Batman, Blade, X-men, and Spider-Man) averaged $220.4 million dollars. This number is a bit skewed by the biggies (Batman and Spider-Man). So…this result goes against the logic that the sequels do better than the originals.

Alright…how about 2nd tiered characters vs. 1st tier characters.

Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, X-men, Hulk, and the Fantastic Four. Those are the biggies. Their movies averaged out to $213.5 million at the box office. The rest of the movies averaged out to $65.5 million. There’s a distinct correlation there. Still, those biggies are the ones that contain the most mass appeal. They’re the most well known. They hit home the easiest. I still maintain that a good chunk of the reason for the success of Spider-Man wasn’t all about the action and effects. The character is someone most people can identify with. If you’re a teenager, who hasn’t fantasized about being a secret superhero? That’s one of the main misses with the 90’s Batman franchise. They had a distinct opportunity to bring Robin in as a kid, whom a lot of younger people could identify with, but they brought him in older. Of course…that’s not to say Schumacher wouldn’t have still ruined the franchise, but it could have helped.

Surprisingly, there has only been 1 lower tiered character to break the $100 million dollar barrier: Daredevil. I liked that movie a lot. I thought it was well done, hit the tone of the character, and the Director’s Cut of the movie is a heckuva lot better than the one released in theaters. Ghost Rider will break the mark, that’s for sure. Still…it’s bad, so why is it doing so good?

There were movies on the list that while tonally correct, were still pretty bad. Fantastic Four and Hulk and the Punisher come to mind. Granted, they’re not on par with being as horrible as Ghost Rider, but they come close. Punisher is the closest. I remember watching the movie, and literally only thinking that one or two scenes should have been included, and the rest thrown in the trash. Fantastic Four and the Hulk, they’re faithfully adapted for about half of their movies…mostly until the Arch-nemesis is revealed and fleshed out. Then they fall off the precipice down the crevasse of suck.

Please Please Please Dear God, all you movie studios, script writers, actors, directors, etc….remember: the hero of a film is only as good as his foil!

I still maintain and the Hulk movie should have been 90 minutes long and cut out everything having to do with Banner’s father gaining powers, etc. Have him fight his way out of the Army, have one last stare down with Sam Elliot, say goodbye to Jennifer Connelly, and jump off into the sky.

Fantastic Four is close as well, although a notch below the Hulk. Everything not dealing with Doom is decent, fun, and hits the tone of the comic book of the ultimate dis-functional family. They use teamwork when it counts.

It all comes back to tone though. The characters that are more well-known are able to stick with their tone more. 2nd tiered characters are forced to undergo a tonal shift so that they can be more widely accepted.

They tried to do this with the Punisher. He only pretend tortured that crook because you were supposed to root for him. Except that the Punisher is the ultimate anti-hero. He kills without remorse all the time, as long as they’re guilty in his eyes.

Elektra is an assassin who fights ninjas. She doesn’t have any super-powers. She’s a well-trained martial artist.

And Ghost Rider doesn’t learn to enjoy his alter-ego. He’s possessed. He’d do anything to get out of being possessed. He’s in pain when he transforms. He can’t control the Rider. He’s just a vessel. He gets possessed around evil beings, does his thing, and that’s it.

There’s one more set of numbers I’d like to throw out: Ratings.

Rated R comic movies averaged $63 million dollars while PG-13 ones averaged $180 million. That’s the final kicker.

When faced with a 2nd tiered character that the public doesn’t know, the studios will make the movie stick to a PG-13 rating, and make enough changes in the character so that the PG-13 kids will like it. Makes you wonder how they made Sin City, Hellboy, Constantine. I mean, I’d kill for a rated R Ghost Rider horror tale done by Del Toro. I’d kill for a rated R Daredevil sequel done by Fincher. And Punisher, still needs to be R, and the studio needs to let the character run wild. The body count needs to be in the hundreds, and the fights need to be like the Bourne Identity (vicious).

Conclusion: if these tonally correct and character faithful movies ever get made of these lesser known characters (I’m looking at you guys Flash and Ant-Man), no one will go see them. Studios will pay $60 mill to make the movie, another $40 mill to promote the film, and then the box office will come in around $70 mill. That’s why the chances of Jack Black starring as Green Lantern in a comedy will always be greater than a serious drug addict Green Arrow story.

Ultimately, who’s to blame? We are. The consumer. If we didn’t go to the crappy comic book movies, we wouldn’t get more crappy comic book movies.

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