New superheroes for Hollywood?
Film franchises have rarely, if ever, failed Hollywood. The greatest advantage of spinning cinematic yarns around comic book characters and fantastical nether worlds is that the audience knows exactly what to expect for the price of a ticket.
It makes the job of filmmakers that much easier - when working with tried and tested material, they have the luxury of a clear sense of what will work and what won't. Therefore, they do not usually go wrong with packaging and positioning.
Which explains why Superman Returns, Pirates 2 and X-Men - The Last Stand, and numerous other products of the hyperactive Hollywood franchise factory click big time at the box office.
But, then, too much of a good thing can be counter-productive because there is something in showbiz that corresponds to the law of diminishing returns although the superlative showing of
, which has far outstripped the first film of the franchise, might belie those worries. Walt Disney Company's
is scheduled for release next year, as is Sony Pictures'
Chances are that neither of the two money-spinning movie franchises will go beyond a third instalment, no matter how much it ends up grossing. If Tobey "Spider-Man" Maguire, as quoted by USA Today, is to be believed, the next film in the series could well be the last.
"We've done an amazing job at keeping things fresh. (But) it's hard to imagine continuously coming up with stories that deserve to be told. I'm not sure if there are more stories for this character that are interesting enough to be excited about doing more," the star has said. Maguire could well be talking about all franchise films.
It is understandable, therefore, why Hollywood is desperately scouring around for new franchises. Having successfully mined the better known superheroes and literary sources - Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, X-Men, the Incredible Hulk, Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, among others - the industry has now turned its attention to characters that are more obscure, at least outside of the US.
Future projects stem from best-selling books, graphic novels, video games, toys and television shows as Marvel Entertainment, who have just set up their own film production arm, and D.C. Comics pursue lesser titles such as Captain America, Ant-Man, Iron Man, Thor and the Spirit.
Marvel's move to make its own movies is an obvious strategy to milk the characters to fill their own coffers. The company has for too long watched from the sidelines as the Hollywood majors have grossed billions of dollars from movies about popular comic book superheroes.
Starting with Iron Man in 2008, Marvel Studios is expected to release two films a year from now on.
That's not all. Other players in the franchise game have numerous new plans up their sleeves. 24, the innovative, thrill-packed TV drama series now set to enter its sixth season, is being readied for a big screen debut next year. The show's creators, Robert Cochran and Joel Surnow, have inked a deal with Fox for script development.
Also in the Hollywood works is a series based on the adventures of the Black Belt Club, a bunch of globetrotting, time-travelling, multi-cultural karate kids. The first of the graphic novels in a series being authored by Dawn Barnes for Scholastic, The Black Belt Club - Seven Wheels of Power, was released last year. Eleven more novels are in the pipeline, so one can expect a fairly healthy number of film versions as well.
In line to be the next Harry Potter is the filmed version of The Golden Compass, Philip Pullman's trilogy of books about a girl who lives in a surreal recreation of England, inhabited by ageless witches, animal companions and armoured bears. Like the adventures of Harry Potter, The Golden Compass, referred to as Pullman's "Dark Materials", is targeted at children and young adults.
In the Dirty Harry mould, ex-military man Jack Reacher, a fictional homicide investigator created by Lee Childs, is also poised to hit the big screen soon. There are as many as ten Jack Reacher books out in the market and Hollywood superstar Tom Cruise's production company has the movie rights to these adventures.
In various stages of pre-production are films inspired by Halo, the video game in which people blast pixilated aliens; Knight Rider, the hugely successful 1982 NBC TV series about a crime fighter and his talking Pontiac; and Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective, a character created by the Florida-based children's writer Donald J. Sobol.
Sobol is 82 years old and the last Encyclopedia Brown book, The Case of the Jumping Frogs, came out in 2003. The boy detective may be nearing the end of his life on the pages of Sobol's books, but if the author, who is reported to be opposed to bringing his creation to the big screen, relents, Encyclopedia Brown may well earn a new lease of life in a new medium. But even if he doesn't, the universe of movie superheroes might not be all that badly affected. It is on the brink of an all-new invasion anyways.