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Too Many Men in Tights? 5 Reasons the Superhero Summer Has Been a Bust

This summer, three studios set out to launch hit comic-book inspired franchises. So far, none have succeeded

Why aren’t the superheroes delivering audiences this summer?

Dropping more than 65 percent in its second weekend from an inauspicious $52.3 million premiere, Warner’s DC Comics-based “Green Lantern” proved that moviegoers’ appetites for superhero fare has mortal limits. (Though Warner is already developing a sequel.)

Thor” fared much better, but it's not the hit other Marvel properties have been. Same for the reboot of “X-Men.”

In fact, none of the superhero franchises this tentpole season have fared anything like the model that inspired them: the gargantuan hit that was “Iron Man,” whose sequel did even better. (See graphic)

Also read: 'Men in Black 3': Delays, Script Problems and Will Smith's Really Big Trailer

So what’s the story? TheWrap investigated and found five reasons why superheroes are struggling this summer. Our five reasons start below this chart: 


Moviegoers have seen too many movies featuring heroes in tights saving the country, planet or alien worlds.

In fact, each of the three comic-based films released this spring/summer has debuted to more domestic box-office revenue than the next.

Also read: 'Green Lantern' in 3D: Accounted for Only 36% of Attendance, 45% of Box Office Revenue

The Onion summed up this narrative repetitiveness the best. Several days before “Green Lantern’s” premiere, the comedy group released a satirical entertainment news segment that was comically full of vague generalities that could pretty much fit any superhero film.

“Warner Bros. executives say the movie will remain faithful to the comic books, adapting a classic plot line in which the Green Lantern encounters a conflict and overcomes it using his Lantern powers!” read the cheery faux ET newswoman.

So yes — “Green Lantern” looked like every other superhero you’ve never heard of that’s been released so far.

“I think the public is tired of shitty mega-budget movies, and social media has given them the tools to warn their friends to ignore $100-plus million domestic marketing campaigns,” said a marketing executive at a rival studio who was clearly put in an ill humor by all of this.


Perhaps no other genre has been as affected by the sharp decline in consumption by what has been traditionally the most active moviegoing demographic — men under 25.

Also read: Review: 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon' Can't Get It Up 

For “Green Lantern,” for example, men accounted for 64 percent of the opening-weekend audience, but only 37 percent of the audience was under the age of 25.

For “X-Men: First Class,” only 46 percent of the audience was under 25; for “Thor,” it was only 28 percent.

“It’s a huge problem,” said one studio distribution executive, referring to the flight of younger males from the multiplex. “I keep banging the drum about it to anyone on the lot who will listen to me.”

Now, so are we.


While converting “Green Lantern” to 3D only added to production costs in excess of $200 million, it’s questionable how much benefit was gained at the box office.

Only 36 percent of ticket buyers chose to see the movie in 3D on opening weekend, despite the fact that more than half of the movie’s initial screen count — around 3,200 screens — were showing the film in 3D.

For “Thor,” 43 percent of moviegoers chose the non-IMAX 3D option.


Robert Downey Jr., an Oscar-nominated actor with something to prove after well-chronicled drug problems, brought his innate charm and comic timing to "Iron Man," setting the bar high for future actors in comic book roles.

It helped that he was working with a good director with a light comic touch (Jon Favreau) and a good script. 

Neither "Green Lantern" star Ryan Reynolds or "Thor" star Chris Hemsworth could measure up to that standard. Nor, for that matter, are Martin Campbell and Kenneth Branagh known for their comedic touch.

These projects are comic book adaptations, remember. 


Few properties beyond “Batman,” “Spider-Man” and “Superman” have established the kind of broad popularity needed to create a worldwide hit at the box office. “Iron Man” is proving to be the rare exception,

Fox had some success adapting “Fantastic Four.” But the studio’s attempt to extend the franchise beyond the second installment, “Rise of the Silver Surfer,” effectively ended when the sequel dropped more than 65 percent on its second weekend. 

And in 2008, Universal tried re-adapting Marvel’s “The Incredible Hulk” with Edward Norton in the starring role. The movie got off to a $55.4 million start. But it too dropped more than 60 percent in its second weekend and never spawned a sequel.

The good news for the box office: ew installments of Batman and Spider-Man are due out next summer, with fresh incarnations of Superman and Iron Man following soon after.