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Man of Iron, Feet of Clay: Nothing Succeeds Like Success…

A little while ago, I mumbled something about how ‘failure’ didn’t really mean much, despite how often the term was thrown around in discussions about films like Watchmen and Kick-Ass. They generally made their money back, received cult attention and didn’t enter the history books as massive wastes of time or energy – which I figured was kinda fair given that neither example was a box office bomb in the style of, say, Motherhood, Uma Thurman’s last film (opening weekend of £88 at the UK box office – I’m not kidding and I didn’t omit an ‘m’). Still, it looks like success isn’t a particularly better deal, given what is circulating on the web regarding Iron Man 2 and its opening weekend – just shy of $130m, I believe. When is success not success?

There may be blood in the water... but Ivan isn't the only shark circling...

Don’t get me wrong, nobody would dare use the f-word to refer to Favreau’s superhero sequel. Of course, there’s an elephant in the room when we talk about box office for the film – there’s the simple fact that the tracking polls anticipated that the film would open with the biggest box office figures in the history of mankind, surpassing The Dark Knight for that honour. Instead it takes home a few minor records: ‘widest opening ever’ chief among them. But those don’t pay the bills.

Okay, they do, but they don’t pay the kind of bills people were expecting.

Let’s look at this rationally though. The film took over $100m internationally before it even opened Stateside, which is where the bulk of business is going to be. Even factoring in the complex economics of Hollywood (handily summated by the superb Castor here), the film has already made back its production budget and will likely make back every penny spent on it in any way by this time next week. From about then on, the film is pretty much a license to print money by the studios.

However, because the DVD can’t be advertised as “the biggest opening ever” it seems the film will remain something of a reasonably well-received sequel. Hell, it didn’t even secure the biggest May opening weekend ever – that honour goes to Spider-Man III. The simple fact is that – on a per theatre basis – Disney’s Alice in Wonderland made more money than this hugely hyped sequel to a beloved film in its opening weekend, way back in March.

The pundits are quick to jump all over this this one. Some are suggesting that this is the end of the big budget non-3D superhero film. Maybe they are right. Maybe Iron Man 2 represented the last gasp of a conventional blockbuster. However clunky one may deem Favreau’s vision, it’s hard not to think the guy has been more than a little cool, making the movie with honest thoughts rather than dollar signs in his eyes. The rumours go that not only did he veto a 3D conversion for the film (rumours abound that Thor, the next Marvel film, is being prepared in 3D, based on the cameras used), but also that he refused to film in Imax because he worried that the higher definition would undermine the film’s heavy effects work. Am I the only person who thinks that’s really cool? I doubt it, but I don’t think it will make a difference.

Iron Man didn't exactly blow away the box office records...

I can understand the desire to push the boundaries by the studios. You might argue that inflation makes this whole “biggest” nonsense a waste of time and an exercise in futility – Gone With the Wind will always be the all-time box office champ if you factor in inflation. But the studios do like to compete. And – given it’s the movie business, not the movie hobbyworks, after all – money seems to be an objective measure of success (much more than “artistic merit”, anyway) and, well, people like money. The more of it, the better.

Seriously though, perhaps we really need to calm down a bit. To “cool the jets”, as it were. Not everything can smash records or be ‘the best’ by the objective measure of the day. Surely being the fifth biggest opening weekend of all time is enough, right? Evidently not.

So, despite the fact that the movie ended up making a lot people happy, it didn’t really make anyone ecstatic. Which means it will be forgotten in the grand scheme of things. It won’t teacha lesson or encourage a particular style of movie-making. It won’t kill a genre, but it won’t inspire dozens of copycats. In short, I can’t help but feel a little bit like maybe those prognosticators may be right. Was Iron Man the last great white hope of 2D blockbusters? It certainly seems like it.

And it seems like, despite the fact that it succeeded by any measure, and despite the fact that Tony may save the world, Iron Man hasn’t succeeded enough to save 2D.

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4 Responses

  1. I don’t think Iron Man 2 is the savior or killer of 2D movies. 3D is the logical next step in the evolution of movies. A decade or two from now, I definitely expect the vast majority of movies to be in 3D and 2D to be relegated to nostalgic film-makers and indies.

    The technology will evolve and soon enough, watching a movie in 3D will be just as common and ordinary as watching 2D right now.

    • I’m with you – though the format isn’t truly dominant until it’s established in the home (though we’re almost there). Shame – I wear glasses, so 3D hurts my eyes a bit.

  2. I still have my doubts about 3D really making it. Avatar made it seem all but inevitable, but then Clash of the Titans hit. Unless studios become willing to do the legwork of filming, totally, in 3D instead of doing a conversion in post, 3D isn’t going to become the dominant technology.

    Of course, more likely, the industry will learn from Clash’s mistakes, but until that becomes a truly apparent reality, I’m not sold. Aside from the fact that I don’t think much of 3D as anything more than a gimmick.

    As for IM2’s numbers…they’re fine. It was never a super front loaded film in the first place; Iron Man, as a character, just doesn’t have the same pop culture visibility as a guy like Spider-Man, even if the first film did do really well and both feature Downey. There’s a better case for Kick-Ass being a failure, but then we’re talking about a 30 million dollar film financed primarily out of Vaughn’s pocket that’s pulled in 75 million worldwide (46 at home). All things considered, that’s success– which I agree is a very relative term.

    • Yep. Word. Total word.

      However, didn’t Calsh of the Titans do well enough at the box office that Hollywood won’t have to learn those sorely-needed lessons about post-production 3D rendering?

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