Much like failed Tinder dates that seemed like a match made in Heaven prior to meeting each other, sometimes movies let us down because, while they sound amazing in theory, they turn out to be not so amazing in real life. This sort of movie makes us wonder what could have been with if certain changes had been made and certain problems had be resolved, but we’re still forced to accept sometimes optimistic dreams result in harsh realities.
The Spirit is one such movie. Based on Will Eisner’s popular 1940s noir detective series of the same name, Frank Miller’s adaptation tells the story of the eponymous hero (Gabriel Macht) as he fights crime in Central City, which is fueled by a villain called The Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson), who’s all kinds of wacky. Oh, and the future Black Widow, Scarlett Johansson, is along for the ride too.
Despite being somewhat enjoyable as a slice of mindless silliness that’s elevated somewhat with its strong visual style, it really isn’t a good movie by any means. That being said, it does have an interesting backstory that’s worth revisiting.
Without further ado, here are 15 Secrets Behind The Making Of The Underwhelming Spirit Movie.
15 SAMUEL L. JACKSON WANTED BIGGER GUNS
Whether or not you like The Spirit or Jackson’s performance in the movie, you can tell from his scenery-chewing antics that he had a blast playing a supervillain. You know what else has a blast? Guns do, that’s what. Apparently, Jackson had fun playing with those as well.
In an interview with Tribute, Jackson described the experience as “major fun” and told the reporter that he kept demanding “bigger guns” be provided. Like any good filmmaker with a real American tough guy like Jackson at their disposal, Miller was apparently more than happy to oblige. That’s a fruitful collaboration right there.
In the movie, Jackson also gets to play with swords and other cool instruments of death while donning a variety of outfits, ranging from samurai to surgeon.
14 TWO SEQUELS WERE PLANNED
Unlike most superhero movies to emerge in the 21st century, The Spirit isn’t an origins story. Kudos to the filmmakers for trying to do something different. However, that doesn’t mean the studio didn’t hope to capitalize on a potential franchise that would have given the character a longer shelf life on the big screen.
Back in 2009, SuperheroHype broke the news that Lionsgate was so happy with The Spirit that Miller was signed for another two sequels. The studio expected the first installment to be a successful blockbuster. Needless to say, it wasn’t the most clairvoyant prediction.
The film only retrieved $39 million worldwide from its reasonable $60 million budget. The reviews were also unanimously bad, so you can see why they didn’t have faith in sequels after that. This is yet another heartbreaking case of wondering what could have been.
13 Two Stars Worked Together Again in the MCU
Fortunately for Samuel L. Jackson and Scarlett Johansson, this flop didn’t hurt their respective careers. In fact, they’re doing pretty well for themselves these days, due in no small part to the behemoth success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
In the MCU, they're team-mates as part of The Avengers. Jackson plays Nick Fury and Johansson has been kicking butt as Black Widow. They fight on the side of good, which is really funny considering their first collaboration saw them dressed as fascists who force people to stab themselves with swords.
There’s strong chemistry between both of the performers in The Spirit, regardless of how corny one may find their portrayals of their characters.
Granted, they went on to bigger and better things, but without this crazy caper the MCU may not be what it is today. Think about it.
12 The writer dissed the movie
As one of the foremost legends in both beards and the comics business, Alan Moore has treated us to lots of great stories throughout the years. He even applied his magic to The Spirit character in The New Adventures series. However, he’s not the biggest fan of the man who brought the character to the screen -- at least not from a creative standpoint.
In an interview with The Guardian, Moore said he disapproved of the writer-turned-director’s work as a whole and hadn’t been a fan for a couple of decades. “I think that there has probably been a rather unpleasant sensibility apparent in Frank Miller's work for quite a long time."
The criticism wasn’t personal, though. According to Miller, the pair are still friends, even though his comics counterpart isn’t a fan of his ideas. Fortunately for Miller, he has enough fans to make up for his detractors.
11 EVERYONE THOUGHT IT WAS IMPOSSIBLE TO ADAPT
Given that Eisner was Miller’s main inspiration, mentor and friend, you can totally understand why he might have been apprehensive about adapting his old chum’s masterwork. As the story goes, he was approached by a producer to bring the project to life at Eisner’s memorial of all places.
At first, Miller was hesitant. As he told Film Journal International, "No. The only thought in my mind was, 'It's too big -- I can't possibly do it.' And I refused.” Then he changed his mind, because he didn’t trust any other filmmaker to do it justice. “Three minutes later as I was at the doorway, I turned around and said, 'Nobody else can touch this,' and I agreed to the job on the spot."
Sure, he didn’t do the best job by any means, but at least his heart was in the right place.
10 It's actually the second Spirit movie
Prior to Miller’s movie, The Spirit had received the screen treatment once before courtesy of a television movie from 1987, helmed by Michael Schultz. Other attempts were made to bring the character to the big screen and the small one, but Eisner wasn’t for having it.
In an interview with SuperheroHype, Miller stated that Eisner was “protective” of the property and wanted to make sure it was “done right” before he gave his blessing.
Eisner was a mentor to Miller, so even though the movie turned out disastrous, at least it was made by someone who cared.
Contrary to this, other commentators have stated that Eisner was all for anything that helped him sell more books. That said, previous attempts to bring the character to the screen -- including a TV series and animated movie -- did fall through. Perhaps there’s some truth to Miller’s claim.
9 THE SOUNDTRACK WAS INSPIRED BY NOIR AND WESTERNS
The Spirit is a franchise steeped in noir sensibilities. From the hardboiled protagonist to the cunning femme fatales and more, it’s pretty evident that the story is the product of a bygone era when this style of storytelling was popular. But the character is also a lone crusader, reminiscent of the hero lawmen of the Old West who protected their towns from outlaws and bandits.
As noted in the book Focus On: 100 Most Popular American Satirical Films, Miller wanted the film’s soundtrack to be like a marriage of these styles: “[The film has] elements of the '40s jazz sound married with iconic heroic music and even a touch of the spaghetti western."
In some ways, Miller’s vision modernized the property. However, the film still wears its noir and western influences on its sleeves. The music is also pretty good, even if the movie is quite flawed overall.
8 COMBINES THREE STORIES FROM THE COMICS
With nearly 70 years worth of source material to mine from, Miller had no shortage of stories to base his film around, but three in particular informed the basis of his own iteration.
In an interview with Indie London, the director discussed his inspirations. “One was Sand Saref, the second one was Bring In Sand Saref, which is basically a two-parter. And the other one was another story called Showdown, which was nothing but a bloody fight between The Spirit and The Octopus where it was demonstrated that both of them could withstand inhuman punishment, which led then to figuring out how to justify that.”
Stylistically, his Eisner influences were all over the place.
As he told EW, “There’s so much from his books. Mostly the mid-’40s period, which I thought was his peak period, before he started losing interest.”
7 Spider-Man Easter Egg
It’s not uncommon for directors to reference friends and other artists they admire in their flicks. Sam Raimi and Wes Craven, for example, made a habit out of it back in the day, and part of the fun of watching their movies is to spot the nods to each other’s work. Miller, meanwhile, also found an enjoyable way to include his comic peers in The Spirit.
Here, several authors served as the inspiration for the film’s fictional company names. For example, "Feiffer" is an homage to Jules Feiffer, who was allegedly a ghost writer on The Spirit comics. Elsewhere, "Ditko", which appears on a truck driven by Silken Frost, is a reference to Spider-Man alumni Steve Ditko, who needs to introduction.
There are a few of these little tributes sprinkled throughout.
Should you decide to give the movie another chance, seeking them out may boost your enjoyment of it.
6 The Octopus within Samuel L. Jackson
While Samuel L. Jackson is no stranger to playing bad guys, The Spirit marked his first outing as a comic book supervillain. These days, he’s one of the most familiar faces in popular comic book adaptations. Maybe The Spirit gave him the bug for movies of this ilk.
In the eyes of Miller, though, he was perfect for the part of Octopus. Discussing the reasoning behind his casting choices in an interview with Empire, Miller said: “I always felt he had a big villain inside of him that was waiting to get out.”
Jackson plays the villain with gleeful aplomb.
He channels the manic energy of Wild Coyote while administering cruelty like a Japanese shogun would in a '70s exploitation movie. Essentially, he’s the embodiment of pure evil presented in a campy, fun sort of way.
5 The failure canceled a Buck Rogers movie
Going into The Spirit, Miller's experience working on movies had been hit or miss. The Robocop sequels that he penned weren't the most warmly received or easy to write, but later adaptations of his comics fared better. 300 was a big hit, and Sin City (which he co-directed with Robert Rodriguez) garnered praise and box office receipts for its unique style.
The Spirit could have solidified him as a Hollywood director, but things didn't go according to plan.
The film's financial performance was so disappointing that Odd Lot Entertainment's head honcho resigned from her post. For Miller, the aforementioned sequels to The Spirit never materialized, and neither did his planned Buck Rogers movie.
Since then, Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For came and went, but he's still working as a screenwriter with his next project, Year One, set to be released next year.
4 The Spirit never shoots anyone
Eisner was old school. His work reflected wholesome 1940’s values and he wanted his detective superhero to represent true good. That meant he didn’t want The Spirit to ever shoot people in a movie, no matter how many bullets were fired in his direction.
"[Eisner] said that he didn't want The Spirit to ever hold a gun," the director told MTV. "That was his bottom line, and I knew from knowing him and knowing his work that the women better be beautiful, and that the hero should be righteous and follow a 1940's code of morality, gentlemanly conduct."
The movie isn’t gun-free by any means, but if Miller did accomplish one thing, it was portraying the titular hero in a way that corresponded with the creator’s original vision.
3 THE EXORCIST DIRECTOR WANTED TO MAKE IT
Following the success of his Oscar-winning chiller about a young girl who gets possessed by Beelzebub, William Friedkin turned his attention to superheroes. The director acquired the rights to the film adaptation of Eisner’s detective yarn back in the seventies; unfortunately, it wasn’t to be.
In his book Will Eisner: A Spirited Life, Bob Andelman states that Friedkin’s version would have been a TV film. Furthermore, according to an article by Booksteve’s Library, the film would have starred James Garner as the wisecracking hardboiled detective.
Having helmed bona fide masterpieces like The Exorcist, To Live and Die in L.A, The French Connection, among others, it’s fair to assume that Friedkin’s involvement would have resulted in a much better film than Miller’s misfire.
2 Miller Regards It as a Feminist Movie
In The Spirit, women don’t play a massive part in the action. Scarlett Johansson’s character is relegated to that of a sidekick to Jackson, while the others play love interests. There are some cool moments for the talented female cast, but the heart of the story still beats testosterone.
One of the main criticisms of the movie is how it presents women as eye candy.
Miller, on the other hand, regarded the beauty aspect as feminist: “It would be a waste of material to put all of these beautiful women in black sacks!" he told Indie London. "I would hope that as the dregs of the ’60s finally go down the drain, that we could enter a post-feminist era where we could realise that part of a woman’s power is her beauty and enjoy it for what it is.”
1 The Director Has Some Regrets
When Miller entered this project, he wanted to do it justice. More than anything, he sought to honor the legacy of a special character, as well as celebrate the memory of his mentor and friend. He probably tried his best, but it didn’t work out and that must have stung.
When The Hollywood Reporter asked him what he’d change about the movie, he simply stated that he’d make it better if he could change anything. “I would do it better. I don't know about how the movie did and what the reaction was — there are so many factors involved with that — but I would do a better job, and that's all I can promise.”
The Spirit doesn’t lack impressive qualities. Miller undoubtedly has great movies in him should he be given opportunities. It’d be a shame to see his talents go to waste.
Do you have other The Spirit trivia to share? Leave it in the comments!