Comic Book Movies: How Much Is Too Much?

Have comic book movies jumped the shark?

Last week, Zuke and I were talking about “comic book” movies and how prevalent they are in today’s culture.  He asked me when I thought they would “jump the shark”.  (For those who are unfamiliar with the term “jump the shark”, it is a reference to Happy Days when Fonzie literally jumped over a shark while water skiing.  It is seen by many as the moment that the quality of the show began to decline.)  I thought about this question for a moment and came to the conclusion that as long as Hollywood keeps making “good” movies based on comic books, they would never “jump the shark”.  That being said, I think that it’s fair to question when enough will be enough.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen some really good movies based on comic books (The Dark Knight), and we’ve seen some really bad movies based on comic books.  (Jonah Hex, anyone?)  Now, I could go on and on about why it is that Hollywood keeps tapping the comic book well, but I think that it basically boils down to the fact that movie studios are out of ideas and so they need to either reboot old material, or get ideas from other sources that already have a build in fan base.  This is where comic books enter the picture.  Think about it, you’re a studio executive who hasn’t heard, or had, an original idea for years, possibly even decades.  What do you do?  You churn out something that you are relatively sure will sell tickets regardless of whether or not it is worthy of the price of those tickets.  ”Hey!  People like Batman and Robin; let’s make a movie about them.  And to add to the sexy factor, let’s give their suits nipples!”  (How come Batgirl’s suit didn’t have nipples?  Just wondering.)

I seriously thought that with the giant Joel Schumacher turd known as Batman and Robin that another comic book movie would never be made.  In fact, I actually secretly hoped that this would be the case.  Why?  Well, 1997 was a really bad year for comic book movies what with the horrible made for TV Justice League of America that CBS refused to air and Shaquille O’Neal’s Steel.  Neither of these “films” added anything to society and those who watched them lost hours of their lives that they can never get back.  In fairness though, it should be noted that 1997 is also the year that Men in Black was released which helped to wash away the stench of failure away, but I digress.

Anyways, I thought that Batman and Robin was the comic book movie genre’s “jump the shark” moment.  Thankfully(?) though, Hollywood continued to be out of fresh ideas and kept using comic books as a source material.  There were some fun films to come out (note that I said “fun”, not “good”), 1998′s Blade and 1999′s Mystery Men, but it was a dark time for fans of films based on their favorite comics.  Then Fox released X-Men in 2000 which seemed to open the comic book movie floodgates.

Since X-Men, Hollywood has not been shy about using comics as their source material.  We’ve seen 71 films released since 2000 that were based on an English-language comic book.  To put that into perspective, Wikipedia lists 196 films, including serials, made for TV movies, and animated features, that have been based on an English comic book or comic book character.  That doesn’t even count manga!  44.4% of all comic book movies ever made have been made in the last 12 years with another 21, including The Dark Knight Rises listed as “upcoming”.  Some people would look at that and think it’s good.  Others, may think that it’s a bit excessive.  I fall into the latter category.

I would honestly rather have 10 comic book movies that are really good be made than 71, most of which are mediocre at best, see the light of day  and this is why:  what percentage of movies that get made are actually good?  20%?  30%?  Even if it’s 50%, that means that 36 of the comic book movies released since 2000 are bad movies.  Of course, I’m just guessing here, but if you look at RottenTomatoes, you’ll see that 17 of the top 50 current box office films are “rotten”  and looking at the top 50 rentals, we see that 25 are “rotten”.  That’s 42% of the top movies out there right now that are generally considered bad films!  Judging by the content at my local Redbox kiosks, this number is probably much, much higher.  And sadly, for some reason this seems to translate to a higher percentage when comics are involved.

Looking at the numbers, it might be safe to say that Hollywood has jumped the shark  when it comes to comic book movies, but considering that at least 40% of what they keep churning out is total crap, I don’t think that it matters.  Even a blind squirrel will occasionally find a nut and Hollywood seems to be finding a lot of nuts lately what with The Avengers and the Chris Nolan Batman films.  Of course, for every The Avengers, there will always be two or three Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.