Summer Flicks Preview: What makes a Blockbuster Vs. a Bust?

Published on in Director's Cut

by featured blog contributor, Jeremy Pinckert

As we enter the beginning of Summer Blockbuster Season, there looks to be a large amount of big-budget movies coming out in 2013 which are adapted from either books, comic books, or earlier TV series.

Logic tells us not all of these films will be successful or worthy of your viewing time.  With so many options you’ll either break the bank and gain 15 extra buttery-popcorn induced pounds, or you’ll simply be more critical in deciding which movies are worthy of your viewing time, money, and self-image.  Read below for ideas as to why some of these adapted films will succeed, and others will fail.

  • The Wolverine
  • Star Trek Into Darkness
  • Thor 2: The Dark World

1.) Directors / Producers must take the stories as seriously as the fans.

The most common complaint you’ll get in many adapted films are from fans of the original works who say, “It was different than the book!”  The reality is the film or TV series is of course going to be edited for length and not able to include all parts of the book. Viewers seem to accept this fact without too much issue.  Where fans get really upset, however, is when film producers & directors take creative license to stray too far in creating the world around the books, or worse, to introduce new characters or endings.

The Lord of the Rings is a great example of a very hard-to-adapt fantasy book genre which nailed the story, the acting, and the look.  In short they created a world both Tolkien and fans could be proud of.  By contrast, The Hobbit, some could argue, is an example of straying too far from the author’s original intent.  In trying to follow up on the impossible task of at least equaling the Lord of the Rings series, Peter Jackson gave us a good film, but two films for a short children’s book?  A new villain not found in the original book?  Seems somewhat arrogant and gratuitous to this fan.

In short, the successful films seem to eschew the cheese factor, or the “Hollywood ending” pressure, in favor of creating a film reflective of the already-successful original.  Here are some examples of films or TV series which have succeeded in this realm: Sherlock Holmes & The Avengers

2.) Story gets as much emphasis as special FX

Crafting a careful balance between CGI graphics, 3D cinematography, and storytelling seem to be a major factor in the success of many films.  Unless you have an Avatar-like technological surprise, for the most part the bar for special FX greatness is so high in 2013 film-making  it’s hard to sell a movie purely on CGI.  Put more simply, there won’t be a quality difference between the special FX of Thor 2 vs. Start Trek vs. Man of Steel.  This is where storytelling makes a difference.

"Once upon a time" has a magical quality to immediately enthrall viewers, and a movie like Captain America captured my attention with it’s World War II backdrop.  In fact, until well into the second-half of the movie this felt more like a combination of Rocky & Bourne Identity than an Avengers comic book.

The Great Gatsby should have no problem focusing on the 1920’s story of extravagant emptiness, but will Man of Steel be as successful?  In going back to the beginning and retelling the story of Superman’s origins, Man of Steel is taking a cue from Batman Begins.  By essentially crafting a coming-of-age story from the beginning, Batman Begins reset the franchise and allowed the viewer to connect with Christian Bale’s character, we’ll see if Superman has this same sort of story pull.

3.) At least one outstanding actor as Hero

In on of the my personal favorite adaptations, Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister in the HBO juggernaut Game of Thrones lends credibility to this argument: you won’t have a successful movie adaptation without one vulnerable (hence believable) hero.  A small-person besting others in the ultra-violent, medieval world of knights and physical brute strength?  Not hard to see why Tyrion is the beloved face of the series.

In another example, Jennifer Lawrence plays a character so manipulated and innocent in the beginning of the Hunger Games, viewers can’t help but fall in love with her as she gains strength, insight, and confidence, all while still maintaining a sense of vulnerability.  Checkout The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, set for a November 2013 release:

In the Iron Man series, Robert Downey Jr. is the smart-mouthed, witty driving force behind stellar FX in a fairly straightforward action-movie story line.  Without such a powerful personality, does a man in a robot suit succeed?  Iron Man 3 drops May 2013.

4.) Don’t use Spiderman, Batman, or Superman as reliable litmus

Spiderman, Batman and Superman are franchises so widely adapted, with many hits but even more misses, they have become a case study alone amongst themselves.  In addition to the current franchise movies, you’ve got 50’s and 60’s TV shows, Saturday-morning cartoons, and changing lead actors to further muddy the waters.

Michael Keaton as Batman? Good. Val Kilmer & George Clooney as Batman? Bad.  Christian Bale as Batman? Stellar. Tobey McGuire as Spiderman?  Okay. Andrew Garfield as Spiderman? Better. Christopher Reeves as Superman? Believable. The Guys Who Play Superman in Every Movie Since Then? Unmemorable.

See what I mean?  Trying to predict or analyze the success of those unique franchises could make one feel as hapless as Jim Carrey in a Riddler costume.

5.) Villains

Faced with an alien in my backyard in the middle of the night, I’m going to be scared.  I’m also scared by raccoons, cats, and some large moths at night as well. The point is, villains can entice varying levels of emotion from viewers.  One thing, however, is true of the Antagonist in any story…the more believable the villain, the better the story.  Evil robots or sub-human villains may work.  But if the evil-quality in humanity is effectively translated into the villain?  Blockbuster.

As you set out on your Summer Blockbuster Movie-watching, keep in mind the tips above, and remember: successful movie adaptations don’t need just one of these tips…there needs to be a balance between all of the variables to make entertaining, exciting, and memorable movies. The 2013 movie season is perhaps as good a time as any to stop reading and “Just wait for the movie.”

Captain America 2 coming in 2014

Jeremy Pinckert is the executive producer of Explore Media, an award-winning TV ad and web video production company. For more of his work you can see his portfolio, read his blog, follow him on Twitter @videocompany, or checkout the free share of “How to Produce for Video.”

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