2011 Preview: Comic Book Cacophony
by Ray Subers
January 28, 2011
After a quiet 2009 and 2010, comic book adaptations are back in a big way in 2011. Marvel will continue its Avengers series with Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger, and the hope is that their box office numbers are more reminiscent of Iron Man than The Incredible Hulk. Elsewhere, DC Comics and Warner Bros. will finally unleash Green Lantern, the X-Men return without Wolverine in X-Men: First Class and Jon Favreau and Daniel Craig attempt to successfully blend the sci-fi and western genres for Cowboys & Aliens. With all of these major comic book adaptations, 2011 has an off-chance of topping 2008, which was the year The Dark Knight and Iron Man led the genre to a record $1.22 billion in sales (an astounding 13 percent of overall box office).
After Iron Man and Iron Man 2 owned the first weekend of May in 2008 and 2010, respectively, Marvel is back on that date this year with Thor. While Thor will likely do well enough thanks to an inevitably intense marketing push, it would be unreasonable to expect it to reach the heights of the first Iron Man. Iron Man featured a relatable, real-world protagonist in Tony Stark, a character brought to life with a charismatic lead performance from Robert Downey, Jr. Hailing from the mythical realm of Asgard, Thor is a much tougher sell, and, despite a brief turn in Star Trek, relative newcomer Chris Hemsworth is no Downey Jr.
Marvel's second 2011 movie, Captain America: The First Avenger, opens July 22. Starring Chris Evans, who has already played a Marvel comic book superhero in the Fantastic Four movies, Captain America is primarily an origin story set during World War II. Captain America is a more recognizable superhero than Thor, which could work in the movie's favor (though the Hulk was once a more potent brand than Iron Man as well). Also, aside from Saving Private Ryan and maybe Pearl Harbor, no recent World War II movie has hit blockbuster status.
Thor and Captain America's success or failure may come down to one simple thing: are they actually any good? Box Office Mojo readers gave the first Iron Man an "A-", and it earned $318.4 million. The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man 2 each received a "B" grade, and earned $134.8 million and $312.1 million, respectively. With the bonus of 3D ticket pricing, Thor or Captain America could prosper if they can satisfy audiences as well as Iron Man.
While Marvel has been actively getting all of its major superheroes on screen, DC Comics has taken a bit longer to successfully move outside of its Batman and Superman comfort zone. That should change when Green Lantern opens June 17. Star Ryan Reynolds is an appealing-enough lead and director Martin Campbell has proven his skills at kick-starting a franchise by reinvigorating James Bond in both GoldenEye and Casino Royale. Green Lantern, which will receive a potential boost from 3D pricing, opens on basically the same day that Batman Begins did six years ago, and similar success wouldn't be surprising.
X-Men: First Class also opens in June, though it could suffer from the plethora of fresh superheroes hitting theaters around the same time. This marks the first X-Men movie without the series' most popular character, Wolverine, who was recently featured in the least-attended X-Men to date, X-Men Origins: Wolverine ($179.9 million). Additionally, distributor 20th Century Fox doesn't seem to have a marketing strategy worked out yet for what amounts to a prequel. A little over six months from its release and there has yet to be a teaser trailer, and until a few days ago there weren't any images or posters either. While this could be a success, a performance on the lower-end of the X-Men series is the likely outcome.
Cowboys & Aliens (July 29) was flying under the radar up until the gripping teaser trailer hit recently. Since then, the movie has skyrocketed to the top of many people's most-anticipated lists. While mixing the western and sci-fi genres is risky business (see Wild Wild West), and western comic book adaptations even more so (Jonah Hex), alien invasion movies tend to be extremely popular. Add in Jon Favreau's blockbuster-savvy direction, and Cowboys & Aliens seems like a guaranteed hit.
Poised to be the lowest-grossing comic book adaptation of the year, Priest hits theaters May 13 after a half-dozen date changes. The second weekend of May is frequently where expected underperformers get sandwiched between the kick-off movie (Thor) and a big-deal sequel (Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides). This isn't the first time star Paul Bettany played a butt-kicking religious figure either: he recently starred in Legion, which grossed $40.2 million. While Priest is likely to exceed Legion's modest tally, it's doubtful that it will become a breakout success.
2011 Preview Continued:
• Sequels: Now, More Than Ever.
• Animation Streak Rolls On.
• Comedy: Too Fuzzy to Be Buzzy.
• Ten Miscellaneous Contenders