Marvel Studios: Screwing Up Or Being Sensible?

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marvel Marvel Studios: Screwing Up Or Being Sensible?

There was much joy and celebration when Marvel Comics formed its own studio for the purpose of producing films based on their extensive library of characters. They would have creative control over how their cadre of superheroes would be portrayed on the big screen – as opposed to handing the rights over to Sony Pictures or Fox Studios.

While Sony did all right with the first two Spider-Man movies, the third was pretty much reviled by hard core fans – and Fox, while they didn’t do badly on the first two X-Men films, the third was a disappointment. And of course let’s not forget Electra and Daredevil which where underwhelming to say the least.

And indeed it seemed like an awesome thing when the first-born film from the studio was the mega-hit Iron Man. Not only did it gross half a billion dollars in theaters, but it set (at the time) records for Blu-ray sales in addition to tons o’ cash from DVD and other merchandise.

Then came The Incredible Hulk, which while not a huge box office success, did (as far as I know) turn a profit for Marvel. For icing on the cake, they made clear they wanted to create an interconnected movie universe, with characters from films appearing in other characters’ movies – all leading up to the penultimate event: The Avengers movie.

Add to this inspired casting choices: Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man, Edward Norton as Bruce Banner/Hulk, and even Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, head of S.H.I.E.L.D.. It looked to continue with casting newly-hot-again Mickey Rourke and Sam Rockwell in Iron Man 2.

All was right in the world (for comic book geeks, anyway).

But then, cracks began to appear in the house of Marvel Studios. First we learned that Terrence Howard would not be returning to reprise his role as James Rhodes in the sequel. Truth be known, I didn’t shed a tear over that – while Howard is a great actor, he didn’t work for me as “Rhodey.” Then a few days ago came word that Sam Jackson would NOT return as Nick Fury in subsequent Marvel films. We know that Jackson hoped for a larger role in Iron Man 2, but it seems that it is not likely to happen.

The reason behind these two changes? Money.

Now comes word that Marvel has offered Mickey Rourke $250,000 to appear in the sequel. From the unofficial announcent, it seemed that Rourke would play a significant part in the film.

From Variety:

“Then there is comeback kid Mickey Rourke, who is poised to follow his Golden Globe-winning performance in ‘The Wrestler’ with an offer to play the main villain in ‘Iron Man 2′ – but at a lowball opening offer of $250,000 from Marvel; Marvel’s tactics have already prompted Samuel L. Jackson to swear off playing Nick Fury because of a similarly low offer.”

So the knee-jerk reaction is to flail on Marvel, calling them cheapskates, yadda yadda yadda. Now that may very well be the right reaction, but what about the other side of the coin (so to speak)?

What we don’t know (apart from Rourke) is just how much money these actors were offered to reprise these roles. My understanding of the Terrence Howard situation is that he was the first actor hired for Iron Man when the studio was trying to lure in some big time talent – and thus he was paid very highly for the role. More than even Robert Downey Jr. Apparently Marvel wanted to adjust that to a more realistic number which was far lower than his initial pay day and he balked.

Then we have Sam Jackson – I have NO idea how much the man makes, but lets take a look at the last few movies he’s done:

  • The Spirit
  • Soul Men
  • Lakeview Terrace
  • Jumper
  • Cleaner
  • 1408
  • Resurrecting the Champ
  • Home of the Brave
  • Black Snake Moan
  • Snakes on a Plane

The man gets a lot of work, but is he really that big a box office draw? Personally I like him on screen (although I really need to erase his performance in The Spirit from my brain), but who knows what he might be asking for a very small role in the film?

Yes, I know – the studio made a bazillion dollars off Iron Man. But could it be at least a possibility that Marvel is trying to be realistic in pay for these big name stars? I know this will open a can of worms, but for example $10 million for three or four months work on a movie set? Please.

“Oh, but look at how much money the studio makes” I hear you cry… Well yes, you are correct. But when you risk hundreds of millions of dollars aren’t you entitled to a huge reward for all that risk?

Don’t buy that argument? Well then do you think maybe anyone else involved in the film might have contributed to its success? The director, perhaps? Producers who do all the logistics? Computer artists who sit in dark rooms making fantasy photo-realistic?

It’s funny, people talk about how exhorbitant the pay of CEOs is compared to “regular” office workers, but it doesn’t occur to anyone to apply that to the movie industry.

Now I could be totally off base here, and Marvel Studios is just being a cheap tightwad – especially given the fact that you can pretty much guarantee another half billion at the box office.

So what do YOU think? Is Marvel being cheap… or realistic?

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TAGS: iron man, iron man 2, the avengers, the incredible hulk

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  1. Vic,

    You and I are on the same page here. It should be the unsung heroes behind the cameras getting the money instead of the actors. Yes the actors are great, but without them, the Iron Man suit would be firing rockets out of his suit that looks like a Roman Candle was duct tapped to it!

  2. For me it goes both ways, kinda.

    I like consistency in movies when there are repeat characters over the course of a trilogy or sequel. How bad would have LofR stunk if Vigo didn’t play Aaragon in all 3 films? Paying an actor multiple millions for a brand they create in a particular movie is worth it only if your return on investment is pretty much assured. I’m willing to bet that Iron Man 2 and 3 will make multiple hundreds of millions.

    I can understand where Marvel is coming from. Truthfully I think they’re being some what intellegent by reining in on the salarys. If they want to realistically create this huge interwoven comic universe on screen it’s gonna eventually get expensive.

    Fast forward to the Avengers movie. You have 4-5 big name stars in a movie that may or may not be good and you’re already sitting near $100 million in salary. It’s tough to justify spending that cash if your movie isn’t gonna bring you a hefty return. By taking care of this now I’m betting Marvel is trying to avoid disaster down the road.

  3. You have a valid argument there. I think Marvel is doing its due diligence in adjusting its offers to actors, and the case with Terrence Howard seems justified. $250K for Mickey Rourke to play a significant role in Iron Man 2 seems like they’re really low balling him though.

    Or maybe I’m just used to actors being grossly overpaid…

  4. Perhaps Marvel is on the right course. I look at it this way, The big studios (WB, Fox, Sony, Disney) have really set the precident. They are the ones who started paying actors like Jim Carrey or Tom Cruise 30 Mill do a film (just an example) so when the studios began to pay Millions to top draw actors, other actors began to expect the same type of treatment, and of course receieved it for the most part, this set the standard, regardles if the film was total gatrbage, they walk away with their millions in pocket.

    Marvel, is the first studio to actaully stand up to these over priced actors and pretty much say, We want you for the role, and here is what we will offer you. If thats not good enough we will look elsewhere, because we beleive that Poeple will see our films regardless of who is in it. Its a bold approach and I like it. Overpriced such as Sam Jackson, really need to be taken down a peg or two. I would take Artisic and visual substance over top draw actors any day. The bottom line is, if anyone wants to participate in a Marvel production, they have to open to a paycut, because Marvel, it looks like, will not sacrafice their vision, for the hottest actor or top draw. This is of course Just my opinion. Take it as it is.

    Kudos for Marvel to stand up to the Big Dogs!

  5. I am with Marvel on this one, their first mistake is wanting to attract ‘big name’ actors to their franchises! The property alone will sell, remember the first Iron Man teaser, what was most spectacular in that? Was it Downey Jr., or actually seeing the Iron Man Mach1 suit in action? Now, RDJ worked marvelously, but if they would have signed an unknown to a 3 picture deal that would have been better! An unknown playing Rhodey might have done better than Howard as well! You are making stars while making a franchise!
    The stance of Marvel not paying big dollars to their stars, they are an independant, self-financed studio, they are not the bad guys here. We are in a recession, Hollywood cannot escape it, everyone is affected!
    The smart thing to do is to take a low paycut and have in the actor`s contract some back order profits from the merchandise & revenues because the property will sell! There is no doubt about that, it is not a huge gamble.

  6. @SK47

    Well…. see there’s the flip side. I think RDJ *did* help put butts in seats. People love to see an underdog come back and that’s what he did big time with Iron Man.

    Vic

  7. Marvel is not crazy. They are looking ahead to the Avengers movie, IMO. An ensemble A-list cast could prevent the movie from turning a profit. Profits they need to finance movies *after* that.

    Consider this: (This is an excerpt from a CNN.com article) — The one undeniably scary prospect for Marvel is that the company could actually lose control of some of its characters. Despite financing terms designed to shield the company, if the movies bomb and Marvel misses payments, Merrill (Merrill-Lynch) could gain control of the rights to future films based on the characters and could sell them to other studios. — http://money.cnn.com/magazines/business2/business2_archive/2006/05/01/8375925
    /index.htm

    Marvel Studios has to absolutely watch their bottom line. They borrowed $525 Million to finance the movies following Iron Man.

  8. @Vic,

    Yes, it is great seeing an underdog like Downey come back just like watching Rourke comeback with the Wrestler.

    But, that is The Wrestler and this is Iron Man, and what was Iron Man (Marvel’s) primary audience? Kids and teens right? I don’t think kids and teens are caring about the resurrgence of an actor from their trials. Well, if they do then at least there is some hope afterall. The fact that it was Downey was extra icing know what I mean?

  9. @SK47

    Sure, but we’ll never know, will we. :-)

    It takes a lot more than just kids and teens to get a movie to that $$ level.

    Vic

  10. I think all these actors are HUGELY over paid to be honest. Mickey Rourke is a good actor and 250k thats pretty HORRIBLE if he is to play the Villian in the movie. Noone i dont care WHO it is should not make more than 6 million a movie and thats tops!!! Anything else is just useless, These people make millions and millions on these movies with the way the economy is, they sure could take a huge pay cut to EVERYONE and none of them would even notice it in there bank accounts. Every big name actor and actress should take a pay cut SPECIALLY for movie like avengers!!! When everyone in the movie is a big name give them 1/4 what they normaly make and make the dang movie!!!

  11. I totally agree that the folks behind the scenes are as essential to the success of a film as the star. However, since we’re talking about Hollywood, and Hollywood money, offering $250,000 for a leading or sizable role in a movie like Iron Man is a sandbagging tactic. Or is it?

    Much like CEO wealth, the real profit isn’t up front in the salary but on the back end. With CEOs, they get stock options(or used to) and bonuses. Which is why CEOs can claim they get paid $1 annual salary. With actors, it’s a share of the gross. The part of the negotiations we haven’t heard about, and probably never will because of the competitive can of worms it opens, is the percentage of the box office gross Marvel has offered to their stars. I suspect that’s where they’re being particularly tight-fisted since that will have a direct effect on their bottom line.

    Star salaries are the main reason a JLA or Avengers movie hasn’t already been made. As SK47 mentioned, the recession is having an impact on everyone the movie industry included. So from a business standpoint I suspect Marvel is being sensible and clamping down on box office sharing to keep their margins stable. Plus, I believe RDJ was the only star locked in for three Marvel movies, as Stark, early on. I doubt there’d be much left of that pie to spread around. Who knows, everything I’ve said is merely conjecture.

  12. I think it’s time the big names start taking less money so that the day players and middle class actors can get more. Spread the wealth, folks! That’s what you vote for in all other areas. Why not your industry?

  13. Vic, While I agree on the part about Sam Jackson’s string of strikeouts (but was the underrated Resurrecting The Champ a wide release? and I would NOT count 1408, that was at best a ten minute bit role) I noted “Snakes On A Plane”…

    I looked back on how you started this post:

    “While Sony did all right with the first two Spider-Man movies, the third was pretty much reviled by hard core fans – and Fox, while they didn’t do badly on the first two X-Men films, the third was a disappointment.”

    Spider-Man 3 still made heaps of dough, and let’s not forget how the “fans” wanted Venom. How they convinced Avi. How Avi convinced Sam. To be fair, there still would have been three baddies around (Vulture-which I’m kind of glad was deep sixed, due to Angel being in “X-Men: The Last Stand” That film wasn’t loved by all, but I’m still dumbfounded how it was “a disappointment”. I’ll give you that both “3″‘s were not as great as the “2″s, and in the case of Spidey, I think overhype played a part in that dismal perception. However, the only two things that ticked off “fans” in the third X film was knocking off characters (such as Cyclops) and the Juggernaut line- which was “desired” by a fan base to hear….at least until they heard it.

    …and the fans (and some folks over here) loved Punisher Warzone….but it went adios amigos just as fast as Spirit did.

    Geek fans also had some influence on Jackson’s ‘Snakes’, which I don’t think would have been helped anyway even if it did remain a PG-13 instead of an R…

    So, yes, Vic. On one side (big news flash from me, right?) I blame “the fans” who desire a thing, get that thing, and then proceed to either skip or groan about that thing. It gets tiresome to me.

    I also blame Marvel to some extent. While I have hopes for ‘Wolverine’ this coming May, I know there was talk about spinning off Gambit or Deadpool. I also recall there once was talk about spinning off The Nightstalkers, which took away the spotlight from Blade; Silver Surfer was to spinoff from Fantastic Four, which I don’t see happening right away, Venom is supposed to spinoff Spider-Man, and Venom was one of the problems in Spider-Man 3 (Sandman is better for a spinoff-if he joined Wildpack/Silver Sable *but* that isn’t on the drawing board at all) …the Daredevil spinoff, Elektra, was right out of Frank Miller…(sort of) but it didn’t gel because it introduced a mystical element that didn’t exist in the previous film .BTW, I always held the contention that in the final battle (?) with The Hand, DD should have shown up to give a hand…

    As for “salaries”- let’s just say if Mickey Rourke gets an Oscar nom tomorrow morning (Jan 22), if he wants a slight bit more, they should give it to him…but only a little more. He’s still on the comeback, I’m looking forward to Killshot which was shelved for a few years…get him while he’s hot.

    I didn’t have a problem with Terry Howard in ‘Iron Man’ myself. But at least Cheadle replaced him. Marvel got a better -and pricer-actor.

    Sam Jackson as Fury isn’t a huge problem. If he isn’t in Iron Man 2, he could be in Thor, cameo in Cap or the Avengers…heck, have a Nick Fury movie. Better yet, who really *needs* Fury? Other characters get more screen time, returning characters/actors return, or other characters can be used.

    But what do I know. I was mixed on Ghost Rider, but I love that idea of taking Ghost Rider to the Scottish highlands n’ castles. Fog and stuff.

  14. There is nothing wrong with Marvel doing what they are doing if they are trying to be fiscally responsible and trying to protect and maximize profits they earn from producing their own films but if they are trying to get good talented actors to fill these roles then it may be an unreasonable expectation for people to think they can have five or six well known actors in these roles and pay them all millions of dollars each..I want to see these movies made but where will it lead if Marvel is forking over all this cash just to pay actors salaries and putting a product out there that is not guarenteed to return it’s investment (Captain AMerica, Thor, etc)..it may/will lead to massive losses for Marvel studios..and then there will be no more of these great characters on film…I understand Marvel wants well known names but if it means that half of a movie’s production budget is for salaries for big name actors then go with lesser known talent..For me it’s about seeing the characters make it to the big screen and not seeing who will play STeve Rogers or Thor..get a good actor but don’t sell the farm to do it…Besides I was under the impression that Marvel borrowed the 500 million dollars to finance there first two films and that money has to be paid back..they need to be fiscally responsible and if that means they have to lowball actors by starting negotiations at the bottom of the barrel then so be it…RDJ will be paid a lot of money for Iron Man sequels because he made that movie work..but he also needs to remember that Marvel took a huge chance by giving him the role of Tony Stark and have reignited his career by doing so ..so I think RDJ owes Marvel a little loyalty and if that means he takes a lower payday then that is ok..he owes them for his recent resurgence..

  15. I completly agree with what Marvel is doing. I like that they are looking at how the movie showed be and not who is in it. Sure, I like to see the same people play the same roles that they played in the previouse film, but if they are pushing the wrong buttons with the studio that is hiring them, then thats their own fault. Give the part to someone who wants to put the heart and time into it and is not just looking for a bigger payday. I applaud these actors. Marvel is looking ahead like they should be. I dont feel that Marvel is in the wrong, they are being realistic and doing the right thing for their buisness and their movies.

  16. @Darren

    Great comment. Notice I did not say *financial* disappointments. You do have a point, though – the fans can be too close to the source material and blind to the fact that you have to make adjustments when going from the comic book page to the big screen with live actors.

    As far as Spidey 3, sure, the anticipation played into it. But in cases like that a second viewing, after all the hype is out of the way often tells the true story. The problem with the Venom story arc was that it was shoehorned into the plot and it was obvious even to the casual viewer.

    I actually think that for TRULY faithful book to screen adaptations that would still look right on the big screen you’d have to do it via CGI animation.

    Vic

  17. Its hard for me to feel sorry
    for an actor who “only” makes 250K.
    it may be small potatoes to most big stars,
    but to regular 9 to 5 workers its a small fortune.
    I think one case where Marvel is especially practical is with Sameuel L Jackson.
    He only had a cameo in Iron Man.
    It doesnt warrant the salary of a lead actor in a sequel .
    If he wants a lot of money for playing Fury,
    perhaps he should try to get a Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.l.D. film going .
    That would warrant a pay increase.

  18. I have another angle you guys might want to consider..

    Actors and their salaries aside, you can imagine what good CG from more than a few effects houses is gonna cost for these upcoming movies.
    Movies that have the same characters played by the same actors in all of them.

    Who they get for these roles and what they have to pay them is seriously gonna affect the bottom line after the DVD sales have been tallied and it’s on to the next film in the series.

    They might just be holding their cards close and REALLY counting their chips before they call the next bet.

  19. Its hard for me to feel sorry for an actor “only ” making 250K.
    It may be small potatoes to most big time stars,
    But to a lot of regular 9 to 5 workers its a small fortune.
    One case where I think Marvel is being especially practical is with Samuel L Jackson.
    He only had a small cameo in Iron Man.
    It doesnt warrant being paid the salary of a lead actor in the sequel.
    If Jackson wants to be paid a lot of money for playing Fury ,
    perhaps He should try to talk Marvel into doing a Nick Fury ,
    Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. film.
    That would warrant a salary increase.

  20. Marvel is better off setting back the release date for the Avengers from 2011 to 2014 . This way they can cast unknowns to play most of their lesser known characters and also have a Nick Fury film . Make these films low-budget ones and accumulate a gradual profit. See Marvel have also put plenty of pressure on themselves by saying that the release date for and Avengers film is in 2011 . This would cause them to have a rushed project and thus make rash finacial desicions and also not enable for better plot developement. If Marvel gains profit from maybe 3-4 low-bugdet films on hteir lesser known characters, then they can even go for a 300+ budget on the Avengers flick.

    Ed Norton should get paid the highest of all the main four actors for the Avengers because he should also double as a producer.

  21. I refuse to ever complain about what an actor or athlete makes because I contribute to what they make. If it get under your skin then don’t watch. I have a friend who does nothing but talk about how much he hates actors for how much they make, but rest assured he watches almost as many as I do. I see that as hypocritical and you couldn’t convince me that its not. If you dont like what they make dont rent a movie or buy a dvd.

  22. Here is my thought on this. I think that they are trying to be a little frugal for now since they still only have the 2 movies done and out, and 1 was huge, but the other was minimal in its gain.

    I think they pay lower amounts now so that when Avengers comes out they can drop a ton more money on top line guys for big villains and to afford all the headliners that will make up the team.

    The last thing you want to do is spend all your money now, and then in 2010 when you are casting avengers be short and not be able to afford all the guys you already have entrenched into the characters. I understand SLJ as Fury was perfect, but its not Cap, its not Iron Man and its not Thor. Fury is a secondary character that you can change up a bit. They NEED Downey, Norton (this is still up uin the air) and whoever Thor, Hawkeye, Black Widow and Cap will be (crossing my fingers for Matt Damon).

    Just a theory though

  23. I’m worried this could turn into a disaster

    I think there are too many characters in this (Rockwell, Rourke PLUS Hawkeye and black widow) really? In the same movie where we meet War Machine and Rhodes gets more screen time?

    That sounds like a dirty mess of a story coming on top of all this financial nonsense where they can’t keep essentials like Fury (who is extremely important after his cameo in IM 1).

    Some one sure doesn’t know what they’re doing over there – Marvel Studios is showing their Noob side with this

  24. If Rourke has accepted the role for 250K then I say good for him! It shows that the project and the job is more important than the exceedingly higher pay grade!

    back to Vic,
    again, these are two seperate movie projects. I’m sure for Iron Man a lot of kids must have forced their parents to take them to the movie. Seeing that it was Downey might have made the experience that much better than seeing a bad PG movie like, I dunno, Madagascar 2. But, what about those who wanted to see Iron Man and do not really care/or know that much about Downey’s fall and rise? Like you have said, we will never know.

  25. @Daniel F

    I think your point is valid when an actor being in a film influences someone to go who might not otherwise – and a LOT of people are swayed that way.

    Vic

  26. i honestly liked the 1st iron man film, im gunna have to adjust to a ne WAR – MACHINE .
    don looks like he can play the part , but as 4 marvel kick’in Sam Jackson im suprised .
    if the were going with the Ultimates seris version so Nick Fury. the kinda need him .
    but if the woulde have went withe the original . the could have goten a number of actors .
    but i still agree with the fans on the Nick Furry post. from last week .
    Bruce willis in an EYE-PATCH sounds good 2 me.

  27. Well didnt mickey rourke get paid nothing for the wrestler? I am sure he is worth at least $500k for playing the main villian in a blockbuster. They are lowballing him big time – he wouldnt be expecting millions of dollars like other actors in the series. At least give him what he is worth in the movie making economy.

  28. What do you mean by the avengers being the penultimate event? Is there something planned after Avengers?

  29. I thought I had posted on this thread but I don’t see it. Anyway, I think Marvel is low-balling actors because they intend to have much more CGI in IM 2, which means more money. I also agree with Rob that there may be too many superhero characters in this sequel. No one wants another Spidey 3 or X-Men 3.