Follow the failure.
When Forrest Gump was made into a movie, it “flopped” at the box office. Apparently, this movie that would go on to win Best Picture at the 1994 Academy Awards and be replayed nearly as often as The Shawshank Redemption on basic cable was a financial failure. This movie also went on to be the fourth highest grossing film of all time. And it was deemed a failure by the studio. So when the studio came to Winston Groom after the release of Gump & Co., his sequel to the story, he said he couldn’t rightly let them adapt a sequel to a failure. I’m thinking of this today, along with a phenomenon dubbed Follow the Leader at TVTropes. Follow the Leader is when a series of works imitate a recent successful work in order to find that same amount of success. The recent 3D boom is a great example of this, studios having learned from Avatar that people will pay to see a movie in 3D. They just forgot that the 3D had to be good. And so did the movie. And so a lot of movies flopped from that.
Kick-Ass wasn’t released in 3D. It was an adaptation of a comic book, a style of movie we’re seeing a lot lately. But it was also one of the few comic book adaptations to be unabashedly different. Its lead was powerless, interested in being a hero (seemingly) only for the glory of being a hero. All he wanted to do was put on a costume and beat people up. This movie began production in 2008, shortly after the initial comic by Mark Millar was written. Around the same time, Canadian feature Defendor started ramping up. Defendor stars Woody Harrelson as a man without powers who decides to fight crime. Now, he might do it out of mental illness, I haven’t seen the movie, but the plot bears remarkable similarities. (Don’t worry, Mr. Stebbings, I know when it was written.) And also coming out this year, 2011, is a movie called Super starring Rainn Wilson as an ordinary guy who decides to put on a costume and fight crime. All of these movies (I assume in the case of Defendor at least) share the same dark tone of humour and basic premise of powerless nobody decides to fight crime. Only two of these movies were languishing in distribution hell this time last year and have now or are now being released. Huh.
It takes four years to make a movie. So unless these movies came out in 2014, they couldn’t be greenlit based solely on Kick-Ass‘s performance at the box office. Instead, they’re based on something kind of a lot worse. Kick-Ass was released in 2010 and its production began in late 2007 or early 2008 after director Matthew Vaughn shopped the project around at various studios to try to raise some scratch for it. Every studio he took the concept and comic book to said the same thing: we love the idea of a black comedy revolving around a powerless nobody who tries to be a superhero, but you have to get rid of the little girl. We can’t have a ten year old girl swearing in ways that rhyme with punt and hacking people off at the knees with swords. It’s far too much to have in a movie. Which meant that really, they didn’t love the idea of a black comedy at all. Matthew Vaughn, at dinner one night, told his friends about the movie he was trying to make. At that dinner, he raised enough funds to make it independently, and two and a half to three years later, Kick-Ass is termed a flop after opening at number one.
And the same amount of time later, there are two movies about adults who have no powers who put on lame costumes and fight crime. I don’t know if this is the case, but it’s almost impossible not to think “Hey. What if those studios said no to Matthew Vaughn, then looked at the screenplays floating around about the same rough concept and greenlit one about the same time to compete with it?” I also can’t help but think that in looking at the press push that Super is getting. Everyone’s touting it as this big original idea about how this guy with a bad costume and no powers is fighting crime and it’s funny cos he’s really brutal at it and has no motivation but his own vainglorious ambition. It’s like everyone’s forgotten about Kick-Ass less than a year after its release and they’re trying to make the exact same concept a hit. I remember being excited for Kick-Ass, reading the comic before the movie came out–and when I look at Super, I wonder who is really excited about it?
The same goes for Defendor. I’ve got it set to record later this month on The Movie Network and am very curious to see it. I’m probably going to end up seeing Super in a couple weeks, but from the look of it, it just looks like the final film in the Foot Fist Way, Observe & Report trilogy: films about people you don’t like being mean to each other that seem to confuse comedy and tragedy. And really, that’s the problem with this follow-the-leader, even if the leader is a failure mentality. The movies that come out still have a large number of people who love them and worked on them behind them, but you can tell that they were only greenlit because they looked vaguely like a movie deemed a failure. I don’t want every movie to come out four times. I don’t want every movie to be “the best of its kind”, I just want movies to be good. Inception was very careful not to be released in 1999, when it was written. Cos back then, there was Dark City, The Thirteenth Floor and The Matrix to contend with in “reality isn’t real” movies. And just yesterday I saw The Adjustment Bureau–where reality wasn’t real. Probably greenlit as Inception started pre-production.