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Not Comics: Random Thoughts On The $100 Million Weekend By Iron Man
posted May 5, 2008

* first, the news: The first movie in Marvel's new arrangement by which they produce their films themselves, Iron Man, scored an impressive $100 million-plus in domestic box office over the weekend. Unless there's a hideous seizure in future weekends' box office totals, and the reviews are rapturous enough that this will almost certainly not happen, it's safe to say that the Robert Downey Jr. vehicle is a big hit film and a positive kick-off to Marvel's new strategy.

* why it matters: It doesn't matter as much as some folks will tell you it does. Marvel's publishing business is largely insulated from the wider efforts of its entertainment company bosses, in both good and bad ways. Comics also lacks the kind of infrastructure necessary to capitalize on any surge of interest in a major, major way. Still, this new film effort is a core effort rather than something that simply happened to the company, and is likely have both a psychological and even a modest sales and publishing impact on the comics side of things.

image* reserve your May 2010 tickets now: I would also imagine that Iron Man's box office success guarantees a sequel, and since Marvel's film slate remains relatively thin and riddled with properties with question marks (how do you approach Thor? will anyone possibly care about Ant Man? will people laugh at Captain America? are Cloak and Dagger and Deathlok viable as more than direct-to-DVD fare?), it should come out in one and half or two years rather than three. If Marvel wants, it should also according to tradition and by intimidating the crap out of the other studios with this performance have a kind of dibs on the same early-May slot. (Updated: Marvel announced this morning it's Thor and Iron Man in 2010; Captain America and The Avengers in 2011. I wonder what happened to Ant Man -- wait, no, actually I don't. I'm trying to remember what's out there and active in terms of movies under the old licensing arrangements, and only coming up with an already-filmed Wolverine movie and an X-Men Year One-style prequel being written.)

* all of this might make you wonder: why did Iron Man do so well? There had been some doubt expressed when the movie was initially announced that the Iron Man character wasn't well-known enough to carry a new film as effectively as Marvel needed it to; that Downey Jr. was too old to carry this kind of movie and that Jon Favreau only had one SFX-driven movie under his belt and his strengths were in other areas. As it turns out, it seems that audiences have come to understand "man in super suit shooting ray beams, flying around and punching things" to the extent they decided they wanted to see the movie, Downey Jr. isn't old in terms of number of times he's been on screen in this kind of movie (he seems fresher than Paul Walker, for instance), and Jon Favreau is a solid director for whom actors like to act that lacks the kind of ego that would cause him to interfere with his effects people. Also, the movie is apparently good, which isn't always a guarantee of success, but generally doesn't hurt. I think just about anything that had the look of a successful, emerging blockbuster had a chance to do well right now given the perceived age and tired qualities of some of the other summer movies out there this year and last, so kudos to the person who staked out the early May slot. That in itself is the best decision by a Marvel-related film person since whatever genius casting director found a last-minute replacement for Dougray Scott in X-Men.

* while superhero movies have a spotty record when it comes to driving interest to superhero comics and collections, I think there may be more of a noticeable effect with Iron Man because he's been kind of a dud sales-wise for a while now. An instance of anyone asking for Iron Man in a comics shop is going to seem like the dawning of the Iron Man Renaissance. In addition, the comic book itself has to seem more of a glamor assignment than it was this time last week. I would imagine the Iron Man: Extremis graphic novel by Warren Ellis and film consultant/hiree Adi Granov will be the winner when it comes to books that could get an individual boost. Other than that one, I'm at a loss when it comes to suggesting another trade that comes close to what the movie seems to be offering on any level, although I love the old Gene Colan art in the anthology-era issues and I'm fond of the Magnum PI-style 1980s book.