Top 10 Film Industry Stories of 2011: #4

Superhero Summer

By David Mumpower

December 29, 2011

Can't touch this.

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One of the quirkiest box office trivia tidbits is that the Batman franchise has broken the existing opening weekend record on three different occasions and appears likely to do so again in 2012. Also, the Spider-Man franchise has done so twice and has a similar chance to duplicate the feat in 2012. Currently, four of the top six opening weekend box office performances are held by comic book movies.

Since the first rule of business is to give the customer what they want, the summer of 2011 raised the ante with four different big budget, high profile movies in this genre, all released within weeks of one another. The industry had never seen anything like this before and while none of the movies exploded into the collective consciousness on a par with Batman, Iron Man or Spider-Man, all four provided interesting results in their own way. And in totality, the glut of comic book movies was a great example of herd thinking gutting the weakest while the strong survived.

The first title out of the gate in the comic book movie summer of 2011 was Thor. The relatively unheralded Asgardian was perhaps the riskiest proposition of the four as the character is used more for comic relief than identified as a comic book icon. Still, as a core member of The Avengers, Thor was given a movie in order to function as build-up for the upcoming 2012 blockbuster adaptation of The Avengers directed by Joss Whedon.

Expectations for Thor were low due to the unfamiliarity of the character. What could not have been anticipated is that the movie is the most entertaining of the four in terms of fun factor. Director Kenneth Branagh was a quirky choice given his Shakespearean background, yet he delivered an entertaining action film that didn’t take itself too seriously. Thanks in large part to a tremendous acting performance by Chris Hemsworth, an air of gravitas from Natalie Portman, Stellan Skarsgard and Anthony Hopkins, and a lot of humor from Kat Dennings, Thor proved to be an instant popcorn classic.

Debuting to $65.7 million, Thor would claim the title of largest opening weekend of the four Tentpole comic book adaptations. It didn’t stop there. Thor dominated the box office among the quartet by delivering the largest final take, $181 million, as well as the largest global box office, $449.3 million. It is also the best reviewed and highest scored among movie goers. Thor was the clear overall winner of Superhero Summer.




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In an odd decision, another Marvel property followed quickly after Thor. X-Men: First Class was distributed by Fox while Thor was from Paramount, yet the prospect of one group of Marvel characters in a movie so soon after another felt a bit over the top. Also, the X-Men franchise was trying to overcome the stench of the most recent titles, which is why the decision was made to reboot with a story based in the 1960s.

The combination of new cast of relative unknowns and eroded consumer faith in X-Men as a film brand led to the lowest number of opening weekend tickets sold for the franchise. Still, a $55.1 million debut was a tolerable outcome for a project with such positive buzz. The entire purpose of starting anew was to rebuild confidence in X-Men movies. This mission was accomplished due to the unmistakable quality of X-Men: First Class. With a final domestic take of $146.4 million as well as global box office of $355.4 million, the fifth X-Men movie effectively matched its immediate predecessor while redeeming X-Men as a franchise after the disaster that was X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

The final Marvel release of the summer was also the final comic book movie of the season. Captain America: The First Avenger was always deemed a major character whose limited overseas box office potential was problematic. After various *ahem* military incursions, the rest of the world has some concerns about the premise of American super-soldiers. Since Captain America is the de facto leader of The Avengers; however, any attempted build up to an Avengers movie would require the introduction of this character.

After careful consideration, Marvel and Paramount once again made the perfect choice of directors. Twenty years ago, industry staple Joe Johnston created another World War II era comic book hero period piece, The Rocketeer. Captain America: The First Avenger was a return to familiar territory for him and he was able to hang up a Mission Accomplished banner by the end of opening weekend. Critics as well as consumers determined that the movie was a welcome retro take on the nature of superheroism.


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