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 411mania » Movies » Columns

Why Guardians of the Galaxy's Success is Bad for Hollywood
Posted by Steve Gustafson on 08.04.2014

It's a week of change! While this would usually be where I welcome you to the Big Screen Bulletin, I'm here to tell you that the Bulletin is gone. In its place is an open forum for me to spew about Hollywood and the like. No subject is off limits, no topic too taboo. My name is Steve Gustafson and thanks for stopping by.

Guardians of the Galaxy made $94 million. $94 million.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is a financial juggernaut that cannot be stopped. We first heard about "superhero movie fatigue" in 2013. Then Iron Man 3 did over a billion dollars worldwide. More people came out to proclaim Thor: The Dark World would be too "different" for audiences and to date the movie has made $644,783,140. Then came Guardians of the Galaxy. THIS had to be the movie that was the tipping point of popularity. While it would be popular with the fanboy crowd, mainstream audiences would stay away. A talking RACCOON? A tree? Strange aliens? That's NOT in the Hollywood recipe book for box office hits!

$94 million. Worldwide it made $160.4 million.

It's safe to say that our favorite comic book characters will be on the big screen for a long time coming. Which could be a very bad thing for Hollywood in the not so distant future. But VERY good for us, the fans. Why would I make such a statement? Because Hollywood hates anything that upsets their cookie cutter ways and a movie like Guardians of the Galaxy upsets the apple cart. Here's a quick rundown of what's making the studio execs so nervous:

Brand Loyalty Over Star Power
Guardians of the Galaxy lacked proven box office draws. That scares the studios because they usually make any project that comes before them have at least one proven commodity to hedge their bets. Take a look at what the Guardians was working with:

Chris Pratt. This movie lived or died on the shoulders of a guy who is best known for playing a goofy character on Parks and Recs. It's very easy now to say that he's the perfect "every guy", a modern day Han Solo but at the time of casting, a lot of people were scratching their heads or ignoring the news.

Dave Bautista. A WWE wrestler. No big time acting experience on the big screen. There was a small outcry when Khal Drogo was rumored to be cast and that turned to confusion when Dave got the call.

Zoe Saldana The biggest name of the three but her hits have been with an ensemble cast (Star Trek) or under heavy make-up (Avatar). A great utility player but not someone you'd pin your hopes on. Not only that, you wouldn't want to hide her under bodypaint.

The two biggest names didn't appear for one second on the screen but voiced two of the characters that everyone is talking about. Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper. I looked and didn't see anyone posting on Facebook that they were going to see Diesel and Cooper's voice acting. Oh, I know Glenn Close is in the movie but, again, Guardians didn't rely on her to sell tickets.

Why will all this scare Hollywood? Because now someone can use this movie as an excuse to give a relatively unknown a chance! Movies that had ballooning production budgets from big time actors pay rates can look for the next "guy next door". Audiences voted with their dollar and the results are in: When people go into the theater to see a MARVEL cinematic feature, they know they are going to get a satisfying adventure. No matter WHO the cast is.

Breaking Barriers
Guardians of the Galaxy is breaking box office records but did you know that it's breaking barriers in Hollywood by being the first Marvel script credited to a woman? That's right. Guardians of the Galaxy is the first Marvel film to have been written by a woman that's actually received credit for their work.

While director James Gunn co-wrote Guardians' script, Nicole Perlman is being given credit by Marvel. Rumors say she is writing a treatment for the solo Black Widow film featuring Scarlett Johansson.

In a very interesting interview with TIME magazine, Perlman spoke about her attempts to persuade studios to put their trust in a woman's hands to write sci-fi, saying, "I was noticing that I was having trouble convincing people, when I was pitching on projects, that I would be capable of doing this. There was a little bit of an attitude of, ‘Well, you're a woman, you're not writing romantic comedies, we'll give you the Marie Curie biopic.'"

That's Hollywood thinking for you.

On a side-note, during the interview, Perlman also suggested that Marvel is developing a movie around female superheroes. Another huge barrier barrier broken. It's not out of the realm of possibility that Marvel was watching how Guardians performs before they continue delving onto the road less traveled.

Back to Hollywood. It's not too surprising that to read that Guardians of the Galaxy was Marvel's first dance with a female screenwriter. What IS surprising is it looks like Perlman revealed she went uncredited for Thor, despite writing, "all of Natalie Portman's scenes." Time for Hollywood to think outside the box when it comes to hiring. Perlman knocked it out of the ballpark with this one.

Say Goodbye to the Big Name Director
Director James Gunn is a cool guy. Quirky and does things his own way. One thing he didn't have was "director clout". Before helming Guardians, his first big-budget blockbuster for a major studio, he directed indie genre films like Slither and Super. You can't tell me that with the scope of this Marvel movie, with the goal of appealing to the biggest demographic possible, the first name they thought about was James Gunn. The concept (which will get to next) alone had to scare execs.

It's easy to say that Gunn was made for Marvel and Guardians but prior to this movie, the scope of his movies never appealed to the same broad audiences that Marvel looks for. Gunn was a huge gamble and it looks like it payed off huge. How many other studios are going to start combing the independent circuit for the next "it" quirky director?

Brash adventurer Peter Quill finds himself the object of an unrelenting bounty hunt after stealing a mysterious orb coveted by Ronan, a powerful villain with ambitions that threaten the entire universe. To evade the ever-persistent Ronan, Quill is forced into an uneasy truce with a quartet of disparate misfits—Rocket, a gun-toting raccoon, Groot, a tree-like humanoid, the deadly and enigmatic Gamora and the revenge-driven Drax the Destroyer. But when Quill discovers the true power of the orb and the menace it poses to the cosmos, he must do his best to rally his ragtag rivals for a last, desperate stand—with the galaxy's fate in the balance.

Definitely not your usual Sunday at the movies offering.

There is little doubt that studio execs had conservative expectations (which comes next!) when they greenlit this movie. More importantly, other studios were most likely left scratching their heads with WHY this movie was greenlit. Didn't they see what happened to Ryan Reynolds' Green Lantern? Green Lantern followed the rules of casting a big name but stumbled with the execution of the concept. Guardians of the Galaxy would surely suffer the same fate and be a blemish on the Marvel name.

Some could point out that Thor and Man of Steel handled off-world adventures well but Thor balanced real world elements and had an anchor with The Avengers. Superman is a known property and even then, they focused more on Earth and made it a mission of discovery. It's not out of bounds to say that Guardians threw warnings to the wind and dove straight into the sci-fi pool. Trailers were filled with aliens, alien worlds, two main characters were CGI and two others were covered with body paint.

This one is especially troubling for Hollywood. In a world of remakes, an oddball movie based on a lesser known comic book is ridiculous. Expect to see plenty of copycats on this one. The majority of them will be forgettable and missing the point.

When Guardians of the Galaxy was first announced, early word was this would be Marvel's first disaster and project anywhere from a $25 million to $45 million opening. Compared to other recent Marvel openings, the poor number could be used to squelch any more calls for niche fanboy movies.

I have to point out that opening Guardians in the late-summer was incredibly risky. At this point in the schedule, audiences have theater fatigue after being bombarded with months of huge studio tent-pole movies. This weekend flipped that all on it's head. $94 million tends to do that.

In Conclusion...
From time to time Hollywood studios throw a scrap to comic book fans but that's rare. For the most part, comic book movies are geared to draw the largest audience possible. If that means changing elements of the source material, so be it. As we've read, Guardians stayed very true to the spirit of the book and kept in elements that normally would have been taken out or done away with entirely.

With it's box office success, expect other studios to follow suit with copycats to soak up as much of the success off Guardians as possible. What will be telling is the movies that studios choose to greenlight from here on out.

My question:

Before I say GOODBYE!
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That's all the time I have. See you next week!


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