I like superhero films. As such, I definitely appreciate that the genre is going through a good patch where budgets allow for some pretty impressive representations of what happens on the page. A sign of this change in focus has been the creation of Marvel Studios – for years Marvel was content to sell their IP rights to all and sundry who could pony up a bit of cash (this being a time when Marvel thought selling comics was the way to make money) and promise to make a film that might vaguely be linked to the comic book.
More recently, Marvel Studios have stepped up to develop their own Marvel character films that have a much tighter focus on quality and have been pretty successful overall and there are lots of plans to build some big movie franchises over multiple movies.
Now, what could Marvel Studios be doing to mess that up?
Sowing The Seeds Of Your Own Destruction: Priceless
Marvel Studio’s biggest problem appears to be its willingness to try to screw those involved on their salaries. These are generally actors that Marvel Studios wants to have around for a while – all those sequels and franchise films and so on – which would seem to make the process of underpaying people a poor choice.
Here’s the history that’s in the public domain:
- Terrence Howard was dumped after “Iron Man” potentially because he had the largest salary in the first film and Marvel Studios didn’t want to pay him at similar levels despite Iron Man’s success. He was replaced by Don Cheadle. (Also, isn’t always the way that actors are characterised as “difficult” when they are let go, but not before?)
- Jon Favreau (director of Iron Man and Iron Man 2) had very difficult contract negotiations with Marvel Studios before starting the sequel, allegedly because Marvel Studios kept lowballing his salary despite how well the first film had done. Then Marvel Studios didn’t want to pay him a comparable rate for helming “The Avengers”. Given Marvel Studio’s interference in Iron Man 2 plus the hassle of negotiations, there is a good chance that Favreau won’t return to Marvel films for the near future.
- Edward Norton played Bruce Banner / the Hulk in “The Incredible Hulk” – probably Marvel Studios’ least impressive performer thus far – and appeared to be gearing up to reprise the role for “The Avengers” film… until money again likely became a sticking issue and Norton was dumped (along with public statement that painted him as a problem to deal with). Mark Ruffalo will take over the Bruce Banner role in “The Avengers”.
- Mickey Rourke almost walked away from “Iron Man 2” after being offered US$250 000 to play the role. On one hand, that seems like a lot, but when a film is meant to bring in over US $300m and Rourke could get higher offers elsewhere to do less, it is insulting. Ultimately he held out and got a higher payday.
- … unlike Scarlett Johannson, who signed on at “lowball money” and is locked into a variety of films that Marvel Studios may wish to use her as Black Widow in.
- Samuel L. Jackson, who was basically drawn into the Nick Fury role, was also set to walk away from the character until Marvel Studios came to the table with a big multi-movie deal.
And that’s the ones that have made it to the public arena.
I do get it from Marvel Studios point of view – they are aiming to make expensive, blockbuster movies with ensemble casts which is expensive, so let’s keep the salaries under control. However, this doesn’t really help them keep those ensembles, which is kind of the point when trying to merge a number of franchises into one film, which is the aim of “The Avengers”. It doesn’t really help them with future hires either – for instance, I’m sure that if Marvel Studios wants Ryan Reynolds in a “Deadpool” film, they’ll have to deal with what Johannson has told him about her experiences.
So, the alternative is hiring up-and-comers or those with the potential to possibly deliver, who may work cheaper… but also may not be able to execute things as well as those with a bit more experience. Case in point is “Thor”‘s Chris Helmsworth. Is he going to be able to carry an entire film as the main character? Plus it gets harder to cry poor as Marvel films increase in their success – everyone knows there is money there and goes for a bigger piece of the pie if a Marvel Studios film rakes in the cash (as it did for “Iron Man”).
For all the fan excitement over the potential of “The Avengers”, it remains to be seen if it will actually appear on screens. With “Thor” and “Captain America” still to be delivered, there is a solid chance that if Marvel Studios isn’t careful, they will end up with new actors for established parts in every film they release. You can make up your own joke about Marvel, comics and their respect for continuity.
UPDATE 30 Mar 2012: Dear lord, the spelling here was bad. Obviously it was one of my very late at night efforts.