Has Watchmen Killed ‘Comic Book Movies?’

Published 5 years ago by , Updated March 16th, 2009 at 6:29 pm,

watchmen dr manhattan disintegration Has Watchmen Killed Comic Book Movies?

Well the totals are in, and Watchmen is nowhere near to being the box office smash many of us expected it to be.

After a solid $55 million opening weekend, Watchmen suffered a 67% second week drop-off, earning just $18 million for a total two-week domestic gross of $86 million (approx $112 million worldwide). Those earnings are far short of Watchmen‘s reported $120 million budget, not to mention the astronomical cost of a marketing campaign so intense it seemed like Rorschach was making a run for The White House.

Now that Watchmen is in real danger of being a box office flop, it’s time to ask the hard question: has Watchmen‘s underperformance killed “comic book movies?”

DEFINING THE ‘COMIC BOOK MOVIE’

There have always been two distinct approaches to comic book films. There are films like Watchmen, The Spirit, 300 and Sin City – films which adhere too closely to their comic book sources, trying to recreate those comics (sometimes panel for panel) in cinematic form. For films like Sin City and 300, this imitative style proved $uccessful; for The Spirit, not so successful. In the case of Watchmen, the verdict is still being debated, and will likely continue to be debated for years to come.

Opposite these “comic book movies” are films like The Dark Knight, Iron Man or Spider-Man, which are inspired by comic books but don’t try to BE comic books, instead opting to present the often-fantastic world of comic book superheroes in a more “realistic” cinematic fashion.

Having defined both approaches to comic book films, I ask again: has Watchmen killed the “comic book movie?” i.e., those films which try to be “living comic books,” championing style over substance; slavish fidelity to the source material over the hope of mass appeal?

STUDIO BACKLASH

Zack Snyder has said in many interviews that getting Warner Bros. to make a Watchmen film that closely adhered to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ original text (the alternate 1985 universe, the adult nature of the story, a certain climax involving a giant squid) was an uphill battle. The studio (like so many other studios that had previously passed on Watchmen) wisely felt that the denseness and oddity of the comic would limit the mass appeal of the film, which, even in the pre-production stages, was already being tagged with a huge budget.

Snyder argued that to do Watchmen “right,” the source material needed to be slavishly followed–that there was no better way to tell the story other than how Moore and Gibbons had already told it. The result is a Watchmen movie which is both liberated and limited: Liberated in the sense of what big-budget films are allowed to be (wonderfully stylized, full of psychopath heroes and dangling blue junk); Limited in the sense that Snyder’s take on Watchmen never succeeds in breaking free of its comic book boundaries, in order to live and breathe as its own unique piece of art. (BTW, that’s not an opinion: that’s the split down the middle you’ve been seeing amongst critics and audiences. Those who dig the comic book for all its dense, heady weirdness tend to love the film; those that don’t, don’t. And that divided opinion is surely taking its toll at the box office.)

So the question is: Going forward, how many box office millions are studios going to be willing to risk, just to pay homage to the fanboy nation? Watchmen screenwriter David Hayter recently asked moviegoers to see the film a second time, in order to send the message to Hollywood that there is a market for “complex” comic book films. By now, however, he may be preaching to an empty choir.

rorschach protesting Has Watchmen Killed Comic Book Movies?

DO FANBOYS RUN THE SHOW?

One thing that was very unique about the whole Watchmen experience was the level of consideration the filmmakers gave to the fanboy nation. In every interview or panel he was on, Zack Snyder went to great lengths to stress that he too was a Watchmen fanboy, and that he would not let the fanboy nation down by mucking with source material.

Now Snyder could’ve been totally B.S.’ing us all, but I don’t believe that. I believe that as far as filmmakers go, Zack Snyder really is a fanboy who was genuinely making this film for fanboys first, mass audiences second. Time will ultimately reveal the wisdom (or lack thereof) of that approach, but as of right now, it’s surely questionable.

Screen Rant’s own Rob Keyes recently wrote an article on the upcoming X-Men Origins: Wolverine movie, where he posed the question of just how much (or not) the filmmakers behind Wolverine are listening to fanboy opinions about how characters like Deadpool or Gambit get translated to the big screen. In that same vein, I find myself wondering: when it comes to comic book films, who really runs the show? Did fanboys really have that much influence before Watchmen? And now that Watchmen is coming up short, how much influence will fanboys not have going forward? Is a core fan base of comic book geeks really worth catering a big-budget film to? Or is mass appeal the bottom line every comic book filmmaker should be going for?

THE RISK OF MAKING A ‘COMIC BOOK MOVIE’

The simple truth is, some people are really into comic books while others can’t stand them. And we all know the reasons why the haters hate: The characters are too fantastic, the stories are too outlandish, the dialogue is too cheesy, etc., etc.

In order to make comic book films appeal to an audience beyond the comic store, filmmakers have to separate their adaptations from the “trappings” of their comic book sources, mining the raw essence of what made a superhero interesting or appealing in the first place, and then build a film on that foundation. People need never to have read a Batman comic to be intrigued by Bruce Wayne’s dark societal view, or a single issue of Spider-Man to relate to Peter Parker’s teenage angst. Of course, some would say that character recognition has everything to do with a comic book film’s chances at mass appeal (wide character recognition = wide film appeal). I would remind those people of the cases of Batman & Robin and V For Vendetta. Sometimes widely known doesn’t mean mass appeal, and vice versa.

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TAGS: 300, sin city 2, watchmen

124 Comments

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  1. I think there needs to be a distinction made between superhero movies and comic book movies.

    Ghost World & American Splendor, Road to Perdition, Wanted and From Hell are comic book moives. With the exception of American Splendor by simply watching any of these films you’d have no idea they were based on graphic novels.

    I’ve seen the art of the original Spirit and read a reimagining of the Spirit by contemporary creators. The movie’s look at least has nothing to do with either.

    I don’t think Watchmen has killed the mature superhero movie. Then again how many “mature” superhero graphic novels are out there? I can’t think of any. It may signal the death of mature superhero movies that don’t star Bats, Supes or Spidey.

  2. Kaiser, it is not that Adrian is androgynous, it was the 80s, all the cool dudes dressed like that! Don’t you remember Charlie Murphy’s E Hollywood Stories & Prince?

  3. I definately dont hink this movie has killed the superhero gnre. Thats an absurd statement IMO.

    However it has underlined an important fact. Superhero movies are still not taken seriously by most people.

    Put it this way, TDK was pretty much successful because parents took their kids to see it thinking it would be “kiddy”, then promptly realised that the film was dark, gritty and actually far far better quality than they were expecting.

    The problem with Watchmen is that it has that R rating as a barrier to entry of sorts.

    In short the “parents” i.e. “mommy and daddy” are not taking this film seriously at all.

  4. King-Of Riva
    Everyone else

    The whole “did it kill the genre” thing is a question not a statement. Devil’s advocate question. Glad to hear your thoughts, though.

  5. @SK47

    That may be but it isn’t the 80′s anymore and people do not see fashion as a history lesson. They relate fashion as to how it relates in today’s world.

  6. @King-of-Riva

    What’s with the attitude towards parents? Aren’t there enough younger/single people to go see Watchmen and fill the seats? It wasn’t parents that killed the second weekend on this, it was general word of mouth.

    Vic

  7. @ Vic

    No offense intended mate! : )

    I guess its just me rushing my writing and not getting my point accross well!

    What i meant to say was that even TDK in some respects was treated with a lack of respect from some of my less knowledgable friends. Only after they saw did they realise that the film was actually of a higher quality than they expected.

    Now if you combine the same reasoning with Watchmens R rating and relative obscurity with the general public…well you get my meaning lol.

    It was my mistake to single out parents when in fact my comments were meant to be much broader than that.

  8. I thought that the watchmen was an intersesting movie and I still enjoyed even thought I didn’t read the novel beforehand.

  9. INK, the film is set in the 80s is it not? So, would you rather have Adrien dress like Kanye West in the picture? Plus, dude, my statement was comical, not fact. Have you ever seen those Chappelle Show episodes with Charlie Murphy talking about his life in the 80s?

  10. first of all, lovely place and very mature discussion

    i watched watchmena dn felt sad cos l really looked forward to it – but lm no professional, but sometimes you watch a film and when you see the credits, you just have a feeling that ‘something’ (watever dat is) was missing

    to me, it dint sufficiently justify rosache’s exit,the real rationale of the villain – and this links up to, why the ‘smart’ god-like scientist ‘thing/god/weird power-guy’ would see from his point of view.

    Im 28 and dont know the heroes and to me and frankly, a lot of them came across like villains – and not confused about issues – but having no ‘moral code’ in a basic sense of way, like batman or spidey.

    To me, the movie was a flop and I would not watch it again – or recommend it, BUT with regards to the topic, it will be defintely perceived as a different sort of genre from the more popular hero movies…and for that reason, l do not think it will affect mainstream hero movies significantly.

    cheers…

  11. I would like to keep my point, trying to show you why I don’t think the movie didn’t really follow the comics story as some have said.

    3° Why that ‘in the face’ violence ? At least IMO(and I was really waiting to see how the attendance would react to them), the most shocking scenes would be Rorschach using the cigarette to blind the boy who talked about his mother and the final scene showing all the victims in New York.

  12. Hi

    I didn’t really know what to expect from this film, before i watched it.

    I was however pleasently surprised with the mix of some spectacular gore/violence (which I was not expecting from a ‘comic book film’) lots of emotional storyline and alot of depth in filling out the characters historys.

    Best quote in the film for me was the bit where Rorschach is put in prison, and tells everyone to watch out for him.

    But to answer your question I dont think it has killed comic book movies, only expanded the field of which that type of movie can be played on.

  13. Great forum here, lots of good opinions to go around. I loved the movie, I thought it was a great adaptation of the graphic novel. I agree that the subject matter was a bit dense for the average moviegoer who wasn’t already familiar with the story, but all in all I think the movie does a pretty good job of explaining all the pertinent bits. And kudos to Snyder for making a movie that doesn’t conform to the “These are the heores, these are the villains, watch them fight” formula. The characters were all human…complete with foibles, hangups, insecurities, and the moral ‘gray area’ we all live with day to day.

    Again. I loved this movie, I’ll see it again.

  14. 4° – Why showing that penis ? If something had to be modified, it was that! For Christ sake, there are some things that we don’t need to see… My wife has never read the story and she was like ‘what is that ?’ and burst into laughs. Waht about that love scene? That was soft porn, why did they did it like that? distracting from the story and nonsense as were the fight scenes !!!

  15. No! It does not mean the end of comic book movies…Watchmen was just not good enuff…too clever…too long…trying to be uber-cool…and it wasn’t the Avengers!!!
    These graphic novel type movies are,to me,like the books…fake!!
    Make Mine Marvel!!!!

  16. @King-of-Riva

    No worries, bud. I think part of the problem was that the film was marketed as a superhero movie, when in fact, it’s not. People went in with preconceived notions about what sort of film it would be and were given a gory, sexually explicit murder mystery – that happened to have people who dress up like superheroes.

    In the long run, it’ll definitely find its audience.

    Vic

  17. @Bookworm & chasong

    Thanks, we work hard at making this the most civil place online to have a movie discussion. :-)

    Vic

  18. okay but is vedit really a hero in all accounts? because he only did it to fill his own ego? by all accounts in the end no one knows really what happened. other then the people in the base. so for it to be a “hero” movie someone would come out on top. and no one really did. if you read the book vedit has basically made millions prior to this. and the end of the book he makes millions more. in the moive its about satisifying his lust for power. does bringing good to the world imply that innocent blood must be spilled yes it does. heck the american constitution states that. that sometimes sacrifices have to be mad for the good of the country. well here it was for the good of the world. but lets take into account that the movie really doesnt give us a why dr.manhatten decided to attack the world. its like oh okay one day boom you all die!!!!

    if they are implying a motive i guess i missed it. was there a true villan? i guess you can say they all are villians. becasue to help keep society safe you have to come down to the criminals level and act in the manner that they would act against the innocent.

    this is what the movie lacked a sense of self. it was taking it self to serious sure there was camp from the stupid costumes, the owl? silk spectare? what the hell costumes are those? but the same can be said of batman spiderman. but the way the characters in those other movies are presented you can understand thier agnst. you feel you can relate to who they are. the characters here where so blah!!! with the expection of rorshas ( i know i spelled it wrong ) they all had seriously flawed characters. he acted based on what he saw not for a personal gain like owl, or because of previous duties spectre. but he genuinely belived in what he did.

    the comedian on the other hand was just a refelction of who and what society is. he shed is humanity to achive being the “hero” that he thinks he is. its not till he fills in the gaps…( which i havent the clue how he knows its vedit) he gains back his humanity.

    was the moive the greatest thing ever no not really. it did show case some impressive CG effects, it did raise a lot of questions. but in the end we all knew it would fail. not based on lack of knowledge but just based on a WTF??? was that factor. i am sure a lot of people out there who claim to know what it was about are still trying to figure it out. the movie will make millions in dvd and blue ray sales, but it will just fade into memory. it hasnt had the impact that batman has, due in fact on the fantastic nature of the movie. the dark knigth even spider man had more humanity in it then this movie ever had. we could see our selfs reflected in the charachters, watchmen where just to far out there to relate too.

  19. 300 and Sin City just did it right, Watchmen did it wrong.

    300 had style, it was breathtaking to look at and intense and brutal in its epic hand to hand battle scenes, you don’t need famous actors to sell that kind of movie, it sells itself.

    Sin City had those famous actors, Bruce Wills, Jessica Alba, Mickey Rourke, it had to because again no one knew the characters (generally) but audiences had a stake in the actors and so we were able to let ourselves believe in them and care about them, the style was and still is very unique, I don’t think 300 or Shoot-em-up, etc come close to the style of that movie. Plus it wasn’t about superheros, it was like street cops and bad guys in a fictional world.

    No one I know, knew who the hell the Watchmen were, they are supposed to be super heroes, but no one knows them, or knew the actors playing them (generally), so, no one really had any stake in them, no one cared (when I watched I didn’t care about anyone in the film, Rorschach is a slight maybe).

    I completely think that the directors/writers need to take some liberties with these movies, of course with the Watchmen there is only one set of graphic novels, there isn’t 100s of variations of art and stories etc like batman and spiderman so that might have also led to its failings. Its like get it right or don’t do it, there was only one way to do it. With all these Marvel and DC movies, there is almost anyway to do it as long as the core is there you can take any liberties you want and it will be a success if you do it right.

  20. @INK

    sorry i was a bum. didn’t mean to come off that way. i liked this thread a lot and the actual intelligence here (i.e. you all actually have reasons for liking or not liking the movie) although i do hold 95% of the american public is dumb. not though because they lack the intelligence to be intelligent. instead, because they choose to be lazy and not think about anything.

    but back to the film…

    first of its important to realize this isnt about the beginning middle and end. in fact, the beginning, middle, and end dont really matter at all to the story. all they do is serve to provide a means for explaining what the film is really about. soo you ask.. what is it really about.. i hope i answer the questions decently well..

    so many people felt no connection to the characters. i dont understand why. so many state they saw more humanity in batman, spiderman, etc. than to the watchmen. again i dont understand why. maybe im just a screwed up person, but i felt a deeper connection to these characters than i have ever felt to superheroes before. the reason being, they are more human than any other superheroes before. batman, superman, etc. are these idealized super humans (i know superman is from krypton) created to transcend the regular man (morally, ideologically, physically, emotionally, etc.). because of this we hold them on a pedestal, ever hoping to grasp the level of morality, sacrifice, or whatever other attribute they hold. what watchmen does is bring the superhero to the human level and give each superheroes choices and actions a sense of moral ambiguity. each is meant to see the world in a different way (ex. rohrschach = no compromise, veight = sacrifice whatever is necessary for the greater good, night owl = compromise, washed up, difficulty making moral decisions himself, manhattan = no connection to human/connection decreases as time passes, the comedian = the world is messed up, so am i, with a need to mirror the horrors humans commit, and spectre = hot.. lol actually i had trouble pinning her as anything in particular but instead saw her as a common ground between the others). with these very human outlooks on life, the connections to the characters become more real, replicating the full range of human choice and action, and applying morally grey (and more realistic) choices and outcomes. well through all of this i realize two things. first, i may be stating the obvious (i dont really know what goes for “the obvious” on these forums), second, i also may be completely off base with what i say (although i like to think i’m not).

    p.s. as an afterthought to answer some questions people have been asking.
    1. the penis symbolized Manhattan’s detraction from humankind. one of the most basic traits of humankind is clothes. whether it be transcending above or descending below humankind is up to you (i feel its a little of both)
    2. the violence i liked. it helped convey the brutality and animosity of the human race. it also helped show the repercussions of the choices the characters made.
    3. the love scene was for the boys. and to help contrast the difference in the sexuality of spectre/night owl to drive home his reliance on the suit for self esteem/emotional security.

  21. Finally saw Watchmen tonight. Just got home.

    I liked it. It may have helped lower my expectations the last couple of weeks but i thought it was really well done.

    Big problem I had was with the sex scene between Miss jupiter and night Owl. Why the Hallelujah music? It was distracting and IMO in poor taste.

  22. It’s too early to count this movie out. You have to remember, it has an R rating. from what i can remember, they still do check for id’s. I doubt just anyone can walk in and watch this movie. I can’t wait to see it.

  23. I was not impressed with this movie at all. i understand the need to preserve the integrity of the original comic, but there are things in the movie that could have been taken out to make it a much better film. the unnecessary blue bits and the soft core scene were not essential to anything else in the film. i get that it is an r film, but that was just too much. i almost wanted to leave the theatre…would never watch this film again

  24. @jake (jacobthechemist)

    Great post. I felt exactly the same way about the movie.

    I was happy they kept in all that gore. It had an R rating. So as not to sugar coat humanities primal/vile nature at times.

    The only thing that was a little weird was the giant blue schlong. I don’t mind seeing nudity, and I understand why he was usually nakid. But compared to the comic book, they REALLY enhanced his size. And I can’t understand why!! In the comicbook, he was actually moderate to small, and it was a reflection of his emotional impotence as he was so detached from human emotions. Why the director choose to make it so huge baffles me and actually distracted most of the audience from the movie. Making them understand it even less. It was a good thing that he ws at least wearing giant underwear when he was in giant form disintegrating the vietnamese army. LOL… how humiliating.

  25. @ Jake & INK

    Wow. This thread is deep.

    Personally I’ve always thought Alan Moore was on one level trying to show that vigilantism (celebrated in so many comic books) is actually a form of fetish, or addiction. Those perverse impulse are what make a person put on a mask and beat up “evildoers.”

    In the sense of a fetish, Rorschach and The Comedian are like the id, those extreme S&M type fetishists; Dr. Manhattan and Ozymandias are the super ego, those ultra-repressed, detached, Patrick Bateman types who wear business suits by day but commit mass murder by night, “for the greater good,” of course; and Nite Owl II and Silk Spectre II are the ego, the slightly repressive type who want to deny they have this crazy fetish but aren’t happy living that lie.

    I think the film did a fair job translating all that onscreen.

  26. @lindz
    Those are essential to the essence of those characters. The reason why Dr. Manhattan walks around fully nude is because he doesn’t care about the other human necessity of wearing clothes, those little nuances humans spend so much time wearing over. When he puts the suit on for the interview and changes the shade of his “blue,” it’s out of courtesy. And he stops doing that because he doesn’t care, hence “why would I save a world I no longer have any stake in?”

    The sex is also a clue in to the characters. Silk Spectre II and Nite Owl II, specifically, were “real people” with basic human needs that all human beings share. Unlike the playboy billionaire Bruce Wayne, who’s intimately seen with women barely at first base, or the boy scout Superman, Watchmen goes the extra step to showcase these “heroes” as people we might know.

    Nite Owl II not being able to get it up is metaphoric of how impotent he is to solving the world’s problems. He knows what he wants to do, but also what he can’t do.

  27. The sex scene with Nite Owl II & Silk Spectre II was warranted because it was the peak of their fetish of being vigilantes/crime fighters, like what ppnkof has stated.
    I think of it as dating some chick. It first starts with the alley fight with the Big Trouble In Little China gang, then it grows to where suddenly impulse and desire has finally taken over. And the sex scene was not gratuitous, it was tasteful. My only big problem was the choice of song snyder used. He should have use another song or just let Tyler Bates do his thing with the score, like in 300.

  28. I can’t wait for the day some geek releases a “re-scored” version of Watchmen online. You know it’s going to happen. You heard it here first.

  29. think about this maybe it didn’t do so well because its not that good of a movie!

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