by Preston Tolliver
Marvel's ventures to the big screen since releasing “Iron Man” seven years ago have caught fire quicker than Johnny Storm when he yells "Flame on!," yet if stills released by Entertainment Weekly earlier this month from the set of “X-Men: Apocalypse” are any indication, one of Marvel's franchise teams will remain stagnant under 20th Century Fox.
Since Robert Downey, Jr., donned his Iron Man suit in 2008, Marvel Studios has raked in literally billions of dollars – in fact, through the 11 ‘Avengers’-related titles and “Guardians of the Galaxy,” Marvel Studios alone has pulled in around $8.78 billion worldwide. Even “Ant-Man,” which lags behind the rest of Marvel Studios' movies, has led the box office the last two weeks, making $226 million worldwide, proving Marvel has found its niche in going big with even the smallest of characters. Meanwhile, the movies made under 20th Century Fox's helm – comprised of two ‘Fantastic 4’ films (and a third to hit theaters next weekend) and seven ‘X-Men’ movies (with an eighth on its way, as well as separate Gambit and Deadpool films) – have paled in comparison, making a comparatively meager $3.671 billion. The ‘Spider-Man’ franchise, however, has grossed more in five films than Fox has in nine, with ‘Spider-Man 1-3’ and ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 1 & 2’ pulling in $3.959 billion. But even still, Sony's and Fox's efforts are still outweighed by Marvel Studios': if you're keeping count, Marvel Studios has made $1.15 billion more with 12 films than Sony and Fox's combined 14.
A few more number breakdowns:
• The top three grossing Marvel comic movies were produced by Marvel Studios: ‘The Avengers 1 & 2’ and “Iron Man 3.” ‘Spider-Man 1-3’ ranked fourth through sixth, followed by “Guardians of the Galaxy” -- Marvel Studios' dark horse that developed an entirely new fan base out of a previously under-appreciated team.
• “Iron Man 3,” Marvel Studios' third-leading seller, made more money (about $585 million) than the first three ‘X-Men’ movies combined.
• Twentieth Century Fox doesn't make the cut until the ninth slot, with “X-Men: Days of Future Past” pulling in about $748,000, making nearly $35,000 more than “Captain America: Winter Soldier.”
• Of the 36 films we're discussing here, the lowest-rated on Rotten Tomatoes is “Fantastic Four,” with a 26 percent approval rate. If we're going by IMDB, the lowest is “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer.” Is it too late for Fox to cancel the next one and let Marvel take it from here?
• Fox's nine ‘X-Men’/’Fantastic Four’ films netted an average approval rating of 63.77 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and a 6.93 on IMDB; Sony scored a 74 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and a 6.94 on IMDB; and Marvel Studios leads with 79.91 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and a 7.5 on IMDB. This doesn't include the Netflix original “Daredevil,” which scored a 98 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and a 9.0 on IMDB.
Let's look at that first point: How is it that “Guardians of the Galaxy” – a film that built up little anticipation among comic fans (though it turned out to be an instant favorite) brought more customers to the theaters than the highest-grossing ‘X-Men’ movie? How did Marvel build a success story out of a team most moviegoers had never heard of and beat out a movie about Marvel's arguably second most-infamous troupe? (To be fair, on both Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB, the two were dead even, each grabbing a 91 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and and 8.1 on IMDB; however, money talks.)
I have a few theories (obviously): First, ‘Guardians’ was a refreshing boost to an industry that was beginning to feel redundant. While Marvel could release a film showing nothing but grass growing and make probably upward of $50 million in the opening weekend, their movies were beginning to feel tired. We were given so many ‘Avengers,’ it had begun to feel like eating a big meal on your lunch break only to find yourself fighting sleep midway through your work shift. ‘Guardians’ was the cup of coffee we needed; the five-hour energy drink Marvel needed to give us to keep our attention.
That's a lesson that's evidently been lost with Fox. Sure, ‘First Class’ was a new take on a franchise that had begun to draw the ire of even the feeblest of comic fans, but it didn't take long for it to feel like the same story being told in a different voice (it took about an hour, really). While Marvel's ‘Avengers’ films became known for their continuity and near-perfect casting of key characters, ‘X-Men’ tried the opposite: They got too creative with the best stories of the Uncanny era, and strayed unforgivably while trying to make a few extra bucks from the popularity of Hugh Jackman's Wolverine. In the ‘Avengers’ films, we saw the staple heroes battling together, and have gotten a full experience of what the movies' titles indicate: “The Avengers.” Inversely, each new ‘X-Men’ movie has begun to feel more and more like additional ‘Wolverine’ movies (to the point of ‘Days of Future Past’ being rewritten to cast Wolverine as the lead, opposed to the less-popular Kitty Pryde). Finally, where Marvel Studios has included substance to its stories, Fox is insistent on only throwing in new characters, a sort of tease in which fan-favorites such as Bishop and Warpath are treated more as cameos than substantial characters toward a collaborative. The storytelling has become predictable and sub-par at best; at its worst, repugnant and barren.
The reason comic book fans get excited when a new film is announced is because, as growing up around comics has proven, the possibilities are limitless, yet Fox has kept its films on one singular track -- even after developing two ‘Fantastic Four’ films that could make even Benjamin Grimm blush, previews for the upcoming film already point toward it being the same story with different (and way, way younger) actors. Marvel Studios knew when it adopted the orphaned Peter Parker back from Sony earlier this year that its fan base was tired of origins stories – all the while Fox was getting ready to introduce us to yet another one.
This isn't to say Marvel Studios has abandoned its origin stories; obviously, with “Black Panther” and “Doctor Strange” slated for releases in the next few years, they're unavoidable, but at least they're on new characters. Fox is catching on – a “Deadpool” film is in the works (one that I'm sure comic fans, myself included, would pay $10 to see even if it shows nothing more than Wade Wilson bopping his head to Gwen Stefani songs); and a Gambit film has been announced (though Channing Tatum, who had been cast as the ragin' Cajun, announced Wednesday that he was exiting plans for the film). And after releasing stills that show X-Men's most nefarious villain looking like a rich man's Ivan Ooze, those films may be the last gasp for air for a franchise having trouble measuring up to its Marvel Studios counterparts.