James Gunn has stated his belief that the structure of Marvel and DC’s film studios would prevent them from making a movie the comparatively small size of Brightburn. The comic book-style horror movie is released today, going up against Disney live-action remake Aladdin and indie comedy Booksmart for audiences’ attention and money.
Initially, Brightburn closely follows the well-known story beats of Superman’s arrival on Earth, seeing a childless couple living on a Kansas farm who yearn for parenthood taking the opportunity granted to them upon seeing a meteor fall from the sky that somehow has a baby inside. When the child grows older and discovers strength and powers that make him different from those around him, instead of becoming a defender of humanity as Clark Kent chose to do, he instead grows distant and emotionally withdrawn as an evil force inside him grows ever more powerful.
The subject came up during our interview with Gunn and star Elizabeth Banks about Brightburn, where Gunn (who produced Brightburn) was asked about whether the two comics titans would have considered the film.
I don’t think that big studios are set up to make a movie with a budget in the mere millions. I think a big risk for Marvel and DC would be, like, a $50 million R-rated Punisher movie or whatever. I think that would be great. But I think that to do something like this, once you get that studio thing happening, it adds another $20 million – which we couldn’t afford with this. This was a very low-budget film, and luckily we had great people working on it. A company by the name of Trixter who did the visual effects and were amazing, who did a lot of the visual effects for Guardians 2. But I think they’re just not set up to do it.
The budget of a film is not just a number indicating how much a film cost, but can also be an indicator of how much of a return a studio expects to get out of the film’s release. The budget of Brightburn was $6 million, which is a minimal amount when compared to the kind of money that any large studio – not just those creating comic book movies – puts into their productions, and a fraction of what DC and Marvel spend on their output. To give some perspective, Shazam! is currently the DCEU release with the lowest production budget and that came in at $80-$90 million, while the cheapest MCU movie, Ant-Man, was even more, costing $130 million to make.
Gunn is uniquely qualified to make such a statement, being the only person to have directed in the movie universes of both Marvel and DC (although John Frances Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, directors of the forthcoming The Flash for DC, were also scriptwriters on Spider-Man: Homecoming). His Marvel work comes from helming the two Guardians of the Galaxy films, while with DC he will be behind the camera on the follow up to 2016’s Suicide Squad, the maybe-sequel-maybe-reboot titled The Suicide Squad. He also has a great deal of experience working with lower budgets, specifically from spending his early years at infamous schlock factory Troma, while his directorial debut, the criminally underseen Slither, was a modest affair in terms of cost. Early reactions to Brightburn have been somewhat mixed, and while Gunn is most likely correct in saying that DC and Marvel would never make a movie like it, if it proves successful enough then there’s a possibility that others might follow suit and look into crafting comic book movies that don’t cost the GNP of a small nation to create.
- Brightburn (2019) release date: May 24, 2019