There has been much discussion over the last few months over the relative box office failures of more cult-ish genre properties. But, the fact remains that films based on cult properties or inherently aimed at cult audiences are almost designed not to break out beyond the pre-established audience. In the end, the real victories for (among others) Watchmen, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, and Kick-Ass is that they got made and were released to a wide audience. Expectations were out of whack for all three, but those that wanted to see them had ample opportunity and will enjoy them accordingly. The problem is, at heart, an entertainment media that treats the niche as mainstream.
The issue is treating films that are adapted from a comic book as one long-running franchise as opposed to separate entities. Kick-Ass was, taken on its own, a $30 million, R-rated, very violent, mostly star-less action comedy released by Lionsgate (a studio that with the exception of The Expendables, cannot open genre films other than Saw/Tyler Perry past $21 million). By that token, it's $96 million worldwide gross and healthy DVD life makes it a solid moneymaker. Alas, the pundit crowd (and internet geeks) treated it as some kind of mainstream comic book adaptation and expected it to perform at Ghost Rider numbers. More importantly, with Kick-Ass and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, they mistook cult-geek interest for mainstream appeal and expected these films to perform like mainstream superhero pictures. Say what you will about Watchmen (which never should have cost more than $90 million), but a 2.5 hour, R-rated political parable with NO stars still pulled off a $55 million opening weekend. Let me rephrase that, Watchmen had a bigger Fri-Sun opening weekend than the last Superman picture. That it crashed after that is more about the inherent mainstream limitations of the film than the inherent appeal of the project in theory.
We fall into this trap with animated films all the time, treating Madagascar as a sequel to Shrek 2 and so-forth. We might laugh about it, but this ridiculous concept did serious damage to Dreamworks's stock after Memorial Day weekend 2005 when Madagascar 'only' opened to around half of Shrek 2's $128 million five-day total . All cult-level pictures that happen to be based on a cult comic book should not be expected to perform like uber-mainstream superhero adventure stories. The studios are not immune from this criticism, as it is this kind of thinking that lets Warner Bros. spend $130 million on Watchmen or Universal spend $60 million on Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World. Kick-Ass was not a sequel to The Dark Knight and Watchmen was not a sequel to 300. Every comic book film based on a vaguely known property is not going to perform like Iron Man. And, most importantly, just because you and I (film bloggers with certain geek mentalities) care about a project doesn't mean that anyone else does.