Another year has come to an end. Adaptations show no sign of slowing down. What did we learn from 2013?
The cracks are starting to show in the big blockbuster adaptation. Several fizzled on release, including the high-profile The Lone Ranger, followed by R.I.P.D. At the same time, Pacific Rim underperformed and Marvel’s Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World drew in crowds both domestic and international. Hunger Games: Catching Fire broke records, but City of Bones and The Host both floundered. The Host wasn’t a big budget film, made for only* US$40 million, but it barely made a profit and only because of international audiences.
The difference suceeding and failing is the international market. Domestic returns might cover the cost of making the film, but international audiences will make or break the budget. The Chinese market is as critical to a movie’s success as the American. Producers now have to factor in the tastes of Chinese audiences, and, so far, this has led to lowest common denominator. Adding to the complexity is that the Chinese movie-going public isn’t interested in original characters; they want to see established properties. Marvel and DC have a huge advantage, and Marvel has been cashing in on it. Both comic companies have numerous iconic characters.
Over at DC, it appears that the company and its parent, Warner, are trying to cash in as well. Man of Steel, while it didn’t bring in Iron Man 3 numbers, was successful. The main problem with the movie was being a shades of grey movie featuring a four-colour character. Warner appears to not be able to do anything that isn’t Batman, a shades of grey character who has done well in numerous shades of grey movies. But the big problem at Warner seems to be a lack of communication both internal and external.
Meanwhile, The Lone Ranger is outside the pop culture memory. The last two appearances of the Lone Ranger were the 1981 The Legend of the Lone Ranger and the 2003 TV pilot, The Lone Ranger, on the WB network. Both movies were not well received, with Legend having issues beyond just the film itself**. R.I.P.D. was based on a comic book published by Dark Horse, something the general audience most likely didn’t realize.
The trend of turning Young Adult books into movie series may be waning. City of Bones, as mentioned above, barely turned a profit, resulting in the release date of the next part of The Mortal Instruments, City of Ashes, to be pushed back to 2015. The problem that both City of Bones and The Host have is that neither are household words like Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, or Twilight, all of which were bestsellers long before a studio thought about adapting them. The Host was relying on name recognition. Adapted from a book by Stephanie Meyer, who wrote the Twilight series, the studio was hoping that fans of Twilight would flock to The Host. Numbers show otherwise. Twilight hit a chord with its audience, who enjoyed the romance between a shell of a girl and a sparkly vampire. The Host didn’t reach the same level of intense fandom. Internationally, name recognition of an author depends on whether the body of work has been translated. The quality of writing can also change during translation.
Over on the small screen, several adaptations keep going. A Game of Thrones is still a draw for HBO, and AMC has The Walking Dead filling that role. The now-ended Breaking Bad will have Better Call Saul spun off and will be remade in Columbia as Metástasis. MTV will produce a Swords of Shannara series, further turning the “M” into an artifact. ABC’s Agents of SHIELD started strong, but ran into early problems. Joss Whedon returning to help plus the tie-in to Thor: The Dark World may be helping it. ABC, being owned by Disney, may have the patience to keep the show going for the full season, in part to help the Marvel movies. Television may be in a good position to pick up the pieces when the blockbuster bubble bursts.
The international market was key in the success or failure of movie adaptations. Adaptations featuring a character recognized globally succeeded. Those that didn’t either squeaked by or outright bombed.
Next week, looking forward to 2014.
* The numbers get weird in Hollywood. The benchmark for a blockbuster in 2013 seems to be at least US$150 million, with the bigger ones starting at US$200 million. Keep in mind that Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace was made for $100 million.
** What may not have helped the box office is the public battle between the studio and Clayton Moore, who played the first Lone Ranger on TV, over his right to wear the Lone Ranger’s costume in personal appearances.