Like the decade that preceded it, the 2012 Box office was replete with films that either started out in comics, or had a long history in comicbook form. Last year was particularly notable as it featured not only the massive blockbuster hit, The Avengers (which finally brought together many of the lead Marvel comic characters that have been popping up in films for the past several years), but because it also marked the conclusion of Christopher Nolan’s epic Dark Knight trilogy, as well as the re-boot of Marvel’s very popular Amazing Spider-Man franchise. These three films were certainly the most anticipated of the comicbook fare to hit the Silver Screen last year, and while many fans did express some disappointments with them, they each did quite well at the box office, landing First, Second and Sixth (respectively) as the top-grossing films from last year.
Of the three of them, it was the Avengers film (topping the charts with $623,357,910)* that received the most critical success as it was the culmination of five years and six films worth of comicbook cinematic history (The first Hulk film which hit in 2003 wasn’t really part of The Avengers Initiative film arc, but — we feel — should be included anyway). The Avengers really had it all, action, humor, a bit of romance and intrigue, as well as fealty to both the comics as well as the previously-established chronology of the films. It was truly something that both the fanboys and the casual film-goer would totally appreciate (plus you really didn’t have to have either an encyclopedic knowledge of the entirety of the Marvel Universe of have seen all of the individual films).
The next two comicbook films on our list, while racking up decent box office receipts — The Dark Knight Rises; ($448,139,099), and The Amazing Spider-Man ($262,030,663) — left many fans disappointed with their flat storylines and (at least in the case of Dark Knight) with incomprehensible leaps in logic. (Seriously, every cop in the city going into the tunnel?) For its part, Spider-Man was effective enough (though not the “Gosh-Wow” film it should have been) and was — for this funnybook fan at least — salvaged by the mere fact that it seemed to set up Gwen Stacy as Spidey’s on-going girlfriend (no offense to MJ, but we’ve always been a Gwen fan).
Sliding in at number 12 was the Malibu Comics-based film Men in Black 3 ($179,020,854) which in gave a very interesting and entertaining turn in its storyline by having Josh Brolin, play the younger Tommy Lee Jones/Agent K role as the film flashed back in to the past to give a bit of undiscovered history to Agent J (Will Smith). As stated, lots of fun, and very enjoyable. The next two films while not actually comicbook films do have a connection to the field as both have a history as comics, Dark Shadows ($79,727,149) and John Carter ($73,078,100). In the first instance the film was all but completely unwatchable (better you should read the Dynamite Entertainment comicbook), while — for some inexplicable reason — the executives over at Disney all but killed John Carter before it even could leave the gate, causing it to be stillborn at the box office. Currently both Dark Shadows and John Carter Warlord of Mars are enjoying successful comic book runs over at Dynamite.
Next up is Chronicle (in at #44 and grossing $64,575,175), not so much based on a comic — nor even appearing as one — but for us it really proved to be perhaps the finest example of the acquisition of superpowers ever recorded on film. It follows three high schoolers who somehow (it is never explained, and that’s OK) acquire powers. As they test them out and expand their reach things really start to get crazy with the film maxing out to its inevitable conclusion, culminating in perhaps the most realistic TK superhero/villain fight this reviewer has ever seen depicted on film
The final two comicbook movies of 2012 were Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance ($51,774,002) and Dredd ($13,414,714). Here again, while we enjoyed both of these films, the fans at large did not lavish much love on either. We felt that Ghost Rider was (save for the sorely-missing Sam Elliott) was not only a better film, but had better CGI. That film continues the story of Johnny Blaze and his hellfire curse, proving on some level that Nic Cage totally loves making “B” films. Dredd, the fascist (but well-loved) iconic British comicbook authoritarian figure also made it back to the theaters, this time (thankfully) without the “star power” of Sly Stallone which (we believe) made for a far better film.
Looking forward to 2013 we can expect to see the following films; all of which have some kind of comicbook connection — GI Joe: Retaliation (IDW), Iron Man 3, The Wolverine, Kick Ass 2, Thor The Dark World (Marvel), Man of Steel, Red 2 (DC), Lone Ranger, Robocop, (Dynamite) Smurfs 2 (Papercutz), and Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (Dark Horse) — perhaps not all as hi-profile as 2012’s lineup, but all funnybook movies to be sure.
*All box office numbers courtesy of Box Office Mojo.
Robert J. Sodaro has been reviewing films for some 30 years. During that time, his movie reviews and articles have appeared in numerous print publications, as well as on the web.