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Sunday, August 04, 2013 

Does success of comic-based movies have anything to do with the source medium?

Rotten Tomatoes did some research, and admits that the comics a movie is based on have little to do with the movie's success:
We see references every day to, in one way or another, this being the age of the comic book fan. Six of this summer's action movies (Iron Man 3, Man of Steel, RED 2, R.I.P.D., The Wolverine, and the upcoming Kick-Ass 2) were all based upon characters that originally appeared in comic books. Likewise, three of the top 10 grossing films of all time (The Avengers, Iron Man 3, and The Dark Knight Rises) hold that distinction. One group of facts and figures, however, suggests that the image of "comic book fan" dominance is far, far from a true reality.
In factuality, comic readers unfortunately do make very small numbers compared to moviegoers. And we can't influence Hollywood that easily when we're that minor a presence on the showbiz horizon. They go on to do some math for Iron Man 3:
...only 78,006 copies of Iron Man #9 (the April 2013 issue) were sold in North American comic book shops (AKA the "direct sales" market) (up from 43,974 copies the previous month). Figures for sales in non-direct sales stores (Barnes and Noble, etc) are not available. There is a shocking disparity between that number and the opening of Iron Man 3. The average ticket price for the first three months of 2013 was $7.96, but since Iron Man 3 was available in 3D and IMAX, let's just add $5 and a few pennies to give us an average ticket price of $13 (you'll see very soon why this math doesn't really need to be precise). Taking that $13 ticket price into the $394.9 million that Iron Man 3 has earned in domestic box office, we get something around 30 million Iron Man 3 tickets sold, and 13.4 million tickets on opening weekend alone.

Admittedly, this is all a lot of math to process. And maybe that's why the press doesn't address issues like this often. Now that we've taken a short break from arithmetic, let's dive back down into the mix. By now, it should be obvious that there is something seriously odd about the gap between Iron Man the comic book and Iron Man 3 the movie. Let's say your local movie cineplex movie theater has about 300 seats. Each one of those 78,006 issues of Iron Man #9 represent about 172 of those 13.4 million tickets sold in the U.S. on opening weekend. So, if someone who actually went on to buy an actual copy of Iron Man #9 in a comic book shop looked around him in a movie theater filled to maximum capacity, statistically, there's about a 50% chance that no one else in that movie theater would share that distinction. If his local theater had four screens devoted to Iron Man 3, and five screenings a day, amidst all those thousands of moviegoers, there were probably only about 20-30 people who went on to buy Iron Man #9 later in May. Of course, we're just talking about opening weekend. The numbers get even scarcer when you apply the same math to the total domestic box office of $394.9 million, and the 30 million tickets they represent. The box office numbers get bigger, but we're still only talking about 78,006 comic book sales. In those numbers, each sold copy of Iron Man #9 correlates to over 384 Iron Man 3 movie tickets.
That's certainly not much. Regardless, the screenplay for the 3rd movie was a botch job. They continue to say about Man of Steel:
The effort to tie in Man of Steel with those two comics was much more successful, bringing in sales of 251,456 and 143,457 issues, respectively, though there's a good chance those comics were frequently bought by the same person.
Yes, and while I haven't looked yet, I won't be surprised if there were quite a few variant covers published to boost those numbers artificially. Many comics today sell to the exact same people, because a lot of the series and characters in question bear some significance (or used to), but the problem is, today, if not yesterday, they're doing it out of aimless collector's addiction, not because the stories are any good. That's just what aggravates me to think about, that the medium has been destroyed by pandering to people with no sense of story quality, who quixotically think the comics will have monetary value someday. But the worse the writing, the less guaranteed they are to have any retail value. And doing the math for Man of Steel, RT estimates:
Of all of those people enjoying the Big Blue Boy Scout* and his colorful "based on a comic book" adventures this weekend, and in each crowded theater, probably only about a dozen of them, on average, actually bought one of the most recent Superman comic books.
Exactly. Not that they're missing anything, because the writing has become bad through editorial mandates and the misguided idea that moviegoers want the comics to look almost just like movies to boot. As Sean Howe said, that's a key to failure, and Jim Lee shouldn't have wasted so much energy over nothing.

For the Avengers, they cite Marvel's resorting to crossovers like Avengers vs. X-Men where the heroes mainly battle each other and not supervillains, and:
...we can say that each copy of the ten most popular Avengers-related comics that previous month represented about 23 movie tickets for The Avengers. That would seem much closer, except, it's extremely unlikely that one can presume a one-for-one ratio between comic books sold and actual purchasers. The average person who bought one of those comics probably bought at least a few others as well (though, again, we have no way of knowing for sure). So, it might be more accurate to say that each person buying one or some of those comics represents about a hundred people who saw The Avengers on opening weekend. Our hypothetical moviegoer in this scenario isn't by himself on opening weekend now; he's with maybe one or two other people... surrounded by 297 people who didn't buy any of those comics. Not that much more reassuring.
I'm sure not many moviegoers wanted to buy comics where the approach is so limp compared to the movie, and pales beside the much older and better stories in the comics too. The sad truth is that Axel Alonso and company did not set out to publish something that moviegoers would care for, nor did they have any interest in gaining converts to the original medium. At the end, RT says:
So, what does this all mean? Breaking news! People don't actually buy that many comic books. It's not a thriving industry in comparison to movies, television, or video games. Comic book publishing today is a teeny tiny little business.
And why isn't it thriving? Simple. Because the awful people minding the store today remain stuck in the stone age, do nothing to update the formats and adapt to betters ones, and care only about what they alone think makes "good" storytelling, which only alienates both older fans along with people who believe in rationale.
So, what's the take away from all of this, really? Comic books are not what people are really fascinated by when they go see a movie like this past weekend's Man of Steel, or last year's The Avengers. Perhaps, quite bluntly, people need to stop saying that any of those movies' success has anything to do with comic books. If people want to discuss the popularity of superheroes, that's actually a completely valid -- but separate -- conversation to have. The myth, however, that there's some sort of wave of comic book reading people (well, guys, it's always a male stereotype) out there driving the success of movies, isn't true, and may never have been true.
I think they have a point. What surely appeals to the moviegoers is what they consider great adventure and drama themes, not the superhero connections alone. Marketing and promotion also play a huge part in whether the movie's a success. Merchandise probably does too. I just wish there were more people - maybe from outside the comics world - who could look in and give a meaty analysis based on historical research of what's gone wrong with comics and how they can be fixed, all while respecting plausible characterization and continuity. And those kind of folks, unfortunately, are very hard to find.

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I've known plenty of non-comics fans who have enjoyed movies like the Avengers and other comic-based movies. The medium is key, I think. People will see movies based on the characters but wouldn't be caught dead with a comic book because there is still a stereotype that "geeks and only geeks read comics." Then again, given how crappy today's comics are, they're not missing out on much.

Just look at how Green Lantern and Judge Dredd, to name just two examples, fared in the box office compared to the fanboy crowd at Comic-Con. Both were well-received at Comic-Con, but did terrible among critics and general audiences and flopped in the box office. I think there was an article that noted how fanboys just don't make up that large a portion of the moviegoing audience.

I also think the only reason Marvel and DC are still around is because of the entertainment divisions, so they can be farmed for movie and TV adaptations. If not for those, they'd have folded long ago because their comics sure aren't selling.

If the comics were REMOTELY like the movies, in any genuine sense, they'd sell like hot cakes.

But they're not. They're turgid, frequently sick, frequently soft porn and flabby gasbagging.

If comics told tight stories fast as in the silver age they'd sell a helluva lot better.

Also why the crikey don't the Warneroids and Disneytrons sell their comics IN the movie houses???

Stupid stuff.

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