Some superhero movie franchises are like King Midas; everything it touches turns to gold and nothing needs to change. However, some series’ aren’t quite as consistently successful. They may have started out wonderfully, but someone how lost their way over time. Guest author B. Mac gives us a list of 10 things that may hint at a most-definite need for a franchise reboot, rather than a simple sequel.
1. The last movie was so bad that the series can’t continue in its current form, but profitable enough that the studio won’t cancel the series altogether.
2. The series has economic potential, but was seriously disappointing at the box-office. Superman Returns, for example, netted about $100 million less than Warner Brothers expected. Under those circumstances, a studio might want to hold off until it feels it has a really good script and team lined up rather than taking what could be a nine-digit plunge into Green Lantern-land.
3. The last movie was both un-fun and critically panned. It is very rare that a sequel is much better than the original, unless it’s a reboot. Case in point: the Fantastic Four sequel had the same cast, the same director and one of the same screenwriters as the original FF movie, which was pretty bad. The sequel never had a chance of being decent.
4. The core cast needs to be replaced. The main actor(s) are awful, unavailable, and/or totally phoning it in. Obviously, you want good actors, but good actors will have other offers and will eventually get tired of pretty much any series. Only a few series have attempted to continue on without rebooting if the main actor departs, and it generally has not worked out very well—for example, there were a bunch of one-off Batman movies in the 1990s and the sooner we can forget those movies, the better.
5. The last movie sucked, but special effects and/or studio enthusiasm have improved so much that it might be worth revisiting the concept. For example, I think it would have been pretty challenging to do a good Captain America with 1990s-era special effects, and indeed the 1990 movie was legendarily bad. The more recent Captain America movie had vastly better studio support and was a hell of a lot more fun than silly.
6. The cast has grown uncomfortably large. Besides The Incredibles and possibly X-Men, there’s a somewhat strong correlation between larger cast sizes and mediocrity. For example, Spider-Man 3 had two love interests, two and half villains, one and half heroes, aaaaand a few other side characters. That’s a lot of ground to cover in 2 hours and 20 minutes, so I’m not surprised that the resulting movie was mostly scattered/diluted and much less enjoyable than it could have been.
7. Something significant about the character needs to be changed. For example, the first two Superman movies gave Superman the ability to go back in time (by flying counter-clockwise around the world) and erase memories with a kiss. Even with his standard powers, he’s pretty hard to challenge. Alternately, perhaps something about the character’s background or personality is not working for a lot of fans. I think that a lot of viewers were uneasy about Superman’s stalkerish side and his illegitimate child in Superman Returns.
8. The writers are out of ideas about where to take the characters from where they are. For example, Marvel tends to have trouble writing the relationship between Peter Parker and Mary Jane after they get married. It’s harder to threaten their relationship and less is at stake between them after they get married because, let’s face it, they aren’t going to get divorced. (Marvel would rather have Parker sign a deal with the Devil because, umm, “they are not the types of characters that would [get divorced]”—but apparently that whole devil-dealing thing doesn’t bother a guilt-ridden Catholic all that much).
9. A significant stylistic change is needed. For example, the 1990s Batman movies were neon and profoundly unserious—casting Arnold Schwarzenegger as a brilliant scientist (Mr. Freeze) and giving him lines like “Ice to meet you!” was a crime against Batman. In contrast, the new Batman series is substantially darker and more sober—no Batcard or Batnipples. (Did you notice that none of the characters used the word “Batmobile”? It’s just “the car”).
10. The studio wants to move towards a new audience. For example, the target audience for the 1990s Batman series was apparently teenage boys and Joel Schumacher. The new series is more mature and serious (see #9). Perhaps unexpectedly, it played better with more women and people that aren’t usually fans of superhero movies than most other superhero films. For example, 48% of Dark Knight viewers on opening night were women. That's pretty counterintuitive for a superhero movie with some pretty intense violence.
Bonus #11. Does it have Robin in it? REBOOT REBOOT REBOOT.
By night, Brian McKenzie runs Superhero Nation, a website about how to write superhero stories. When he wants food or anything else that takes money, he's a marketing director who committed the cardinal sin of marketing: selling his soul without getting market value. At least he got some rocking silk ties out of the deal.