In Part 3 of our look at superheroes at the box office Batman was still the main topic of conversation, while in this feature he definitely starts to takes a backseat. By now everyone knows what came after Batman Forever and while it ain’t pretty, we have to remind ourselves of this dreaded event because only by knowing the past, can you prepare for the future… and not make the same mistake twice. Obviously, Warner Bros. didn’t learn anything from the Superman fiasco.
Before we get to Batman and Robin in 1997, we still have 2 years to go over and we start at June 30th 1995, one of the rare dates that had 2 superhero movies opening at the same time. The first was Mighty Morphin’s Power Rangers, a movie based on the popular 90’s Fox Kids show, and the second movie was Judge Dredd, a $90 million Silvester Stallone Buena Vista (Disney) R-rated action movie based on the popular British comics. Neither of them was #1 that weekend (Apollo 13 was, with more than double both their takings) and with $38.1 million from Power Rangers and $34.6 million for Judge Dredd in North America, there wasn’t much left to write home about. Power Rangers got another shot with a sequel in 1997, but that was a box office bomb with just $8.3 million.
1996 followed with The Phantom, The Crow: City of Angels and Barb Wire, all bad movies and equally unsuccessful at the box office with numbers from $3.7 million (for Barb Wire) to $17.9 for The Crow sequel.
After so much turd, the waiting for the next Batman was finally over in the summer of 1997. Since we were on the subject of turds, Batman and Robin was to become the biggest of them all. Costing a whopping $125 million (one of the most expensive movies at the time), the adventure of Batman, Robin and Batgirl (yes, they had to go that far) made for an excruciating movie that turned into a box office bomb, grossing only $107.3 million in North America and $238.2 million worldwide. So when did all the sucking start? Well, some would say the second Robin entered the series but since we are talking about Batman and Robin here, I’ll start with the recasting of the dark knight with George Clooney. Then there was a goofy Arnold Schwarzenegger playing Mr. Freeze and Uma Thurman was Poison Ivy. Did I mention they got Batgirl in there also? Alicia Silverstone had the “honor” of playing her. Basically everything turned into a bad Saturday morning live-action cartoon that killed that Batman movie franchise. It was time for a reboot that would take Warner 8 years to get round to, but what a reboot that was.
So with both Superman and Batman out, there weren’t that many high profile superheroes to exploit anymore. I mean yeah, there was Spider-Man but that was stuck in development hell since before Superman (1978) came out. Bringing Spidy to the big screen was considered, at the time, too expensive and hard to shot with the technology they had back then. So we were left with second-rate superheroes for three more years.
But, it was one of this second-rate superheroes that started to turn the tide again for the genre. Spawn in 1997 wasn’t that hero but it was certainly not a bad effort. It was a mediocre movie in a time when superheroes needed great movies in order to rise again. Grossing $54.4 million in North America and $87.8 million worldwide, it was a step at least partially in a somewhat good direction. Then came Steel and which was definitely ten steps back, grossing only $1.7 million. Top that!
1998 was the year of hope with not one but TWO good superhero movies. After so many years of darkness, a ray of light was finally on the horizon for this once respected genre. Think of it this way, you know how we hate movies based on games today? Well that’s basically how things were at the time with superheroes in movies.
The Mask of Zorro opened on July 17th 1998 to warm reception and a total of $94 million in North America and $250.2 million worldwide. So what was the secret to go from Steel to The Mask of Zorro? Well for starters Sony and Columbia Pictures got competent people to make this movie, Martin Campbell directed (he previously did GoldenEye and this year he made Green Lantern, according to critics, not his best effort) and a good cast to boot lead by Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins starring as an older version of the titular hero. Steven Spielberg was also an executive producer on The Mask of Zorro, and years later a sequel followed.
So while Zorro was a hit, he wasn’t exactly what the superhero fans out there wanted, actually pretty far from it. It wasn’t Zorro but Blade on August 21st, that turned the tide for the superhero genre. A Marvel Comics hero for once (Superman and Batman are DC Comics), Blade was an instant hit with the fans and without it, Marvel would be in a very different position right now. Blade made $70 million in North America and $131.1 million, so not a huge hit money wise but what really mattered here is that Blade was a competent movie that actually followed the source material and represented the hero as he should be, in an R-rated flick. Blade spawned 2 more sequels in the years to come and single-handedly greenlit projects like X-Men, Spider-Man and other Marvel properties that would become so popular in the years to come.
In Part 5 the Marvel revolution finally gets under-way….