As anyone who knows me or who has read much of my writing here will know, I’m not one who is all that concerned with box office returns. As a matter of fact, I think that the current emphasis on opening weekend returns is one of Hollywood’s current biggest problems. However I found this chart from Box Office Mojo very interesting.
For those who didn’t do the click through, the chart is a comparison of the box office takes for the various Superman movies from Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman through 2013’s Man of Steel. Not surprisingly, MoS comes out on top ($291,045,518 gross) due to rising ticket prices, the 3D price effect, etc.. However, when one adjusts the 1978 film for inflation, its $134,218,018 gross becomes $476,072,500, by far outstripping the latter version, and that’s despite it only playing on 817 screens as opposed to the 4207 screens that were showing Man of Steel. Even Superman II, once adjusted, boasts a box office take of $323,000,500, an almost 50 million dollar higher return.
Of course, one of the reasons I’m interested by this is that it backs up something that I’ve long felt. (That’s right, in time honored tradition, I’m going to use these numbers that agree with me to prove my point. But hey, if you don’t like that i’ve got two answers for you: 1) my blog, my rules, and 2) if you care to make a counter argument, there’s a comment section both below and on the Facebook page where I not only welcome you to but invite you to do just that.)
I’ve made no bones about the fact that I absolutely despise Man of Steel, and that I think that the problems with the movie are inherent in it from the screenplay up. I also have often cited it as a perfect example of what is so wrong with so many not just superhero movies but movies in general today, i.e. the darkening and cynical take on those characters that are supposed to be heroes. Too often characters that are supposed to be heroes, that are supposed to be those that are looked up to and are supposed to be exemplary are either made out to be much less than that, or are made into parodies of themselves so that they are no longer characters that give not only our children, but anyone, something to look up to. (For an example of the “parody” style hero I’m talking about just look at the Johnny Depp-starring The Lone Ranger. Or, actually, no, don’t I’d hate for anyone to have an excuse to accuse me of encouraging them to sit through that absolutely wretched mess of a film.)
Anyway, one of the responses that I often face when I voice my complaints about MoS is “So are you suggesting we go back to the 1978 movie? Is that what you want?” Well, no, not necessarily, but I do think it provides a much more entertaining take on the character, and I know that I would much rather have Donner’s take on the guy in the blue and red suit be the one that is remembered than Zach Snyder’s. And – here’s where I use those Box Office Mojo numbers to my advantage – it appears that I am far from alone in that.
The other thing that that question assumes is that it’s simply an “A or B” type question. In other words, it sets up what is known as a false duality by assuming that any Superman movie has to be one or the other, and that there can be no middle ground. Actually. I would love to see a more modern take on the Superman mythos that uses today’s special effect technology to it’s full advantage. The point that I’m arguing is that that can be done without betraying what is most central to the character, and without turning him into someone that simply is not Superman. Nor am I arguing that every character needs to be as bright and shiny as Donner’s take on the “big red S”. I am a huge fan of Christopher Nolan‘s take on Batman (even though I found The Dark Knight Rises to be extremely problematic, bit again, that’s more a problem with the screenplay than anything else), and despite my extreme wariness about everything else we know so far about the upcoming Superman vs Batman movie I am very much looking forward to Ben Affleck’s portrayal of Batman, because that darker tone absolutely fits that character. He’s always (well, almost always) been almost the flip side of his brighter DC counterpart. That’s a huge part of why the two characters work so well together because of that contrast. And if one should ever be an influence on the other, it is not Bruce Wayne’s vengeance seeking vigilante that should be dragging Clark Kent down to his level.
But hey, that’s just my opinion. Or is it? After all, in this case, for a change, I’ve actually got the numbers to back me up.