In 2008 the landscape of big-budget box office movies changed forever. While everyone had Dark Knight fever, seriously, it was crazy, Marvel was behind the scenes with their first big venture into the theater with a little movie called Iron Man. It was the surprise hit of the Summer. People were so caught off guard by how good it was that some actually debated if it was better than The Dark Knight. Ironically though, it was just one brief scene at the end of Iron Man that a decade later would leave Hollywood executives doing everything they can to try and copy what Marvel has been doing.
Whether it’s Warner Bros. attempting to make as many movies as possible in hopes of having a cinematic universe that can compete with what Marvel is doing or Universal trying to bring back their roster of classic movie monsters, so many have tried and are trying to create their own movie universe, but as of now, they’ve all struggled to connect with audiences in the way that Marvel has. Movie studios haven’t always tried to tell this type of story though. It’s one of the reasons why 2008 is so interesting. It really is a great example of classic storytelling versus the new school of storytelling.
Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy had no intentions of connecting to any other film. In fact, the way those stories were told made it near impossible for another superhero to show up. It would be like if you were watching Heat and suddenly Superman showed up and started fighting Robert De Niro. Movies, especially superhero movies, being standalone films was the norm. Spider-Man and originally X-Men are all great examples of studios using the properties they owned to try and make standalone movies and the thought of making a Spider-Man movie that was just about Venom would have never been thought of back in and maybe that’s a good thing. Either way, Spider-Man was the star of the show and Sony didn’t think audiences would be interested in a story about one their side characters and to be honest, that makes sense. Before Spider-Man became the highest grossing film domestically in 2002, no one really knew if Superhero movies could be a thing. Yes, in 2000, X-Men was the 8th highest grossing film domestically that year, but that was the first modern superhero movie (sorry Blade) and the genre was still unproven. Also, I really like to imagine that studio execs in the year 2000 had no idea what audiences wanted and were just trying everything. The top 10 highest grossing films domestically that year included What Women Want, What Lies Beneath, and Castaway. Wow!
While Fox did make an attempt to start an X-Men Origins line of films, the first being about Wolverine, the idea of having prequel films about their heroes was quickly scrapped. To this day, I’m still not sure why movie makers think people want prequels. I’m not sure they’ve ever been accepted by audiences. Back to 2008 though. As audiences left theaters after seeing both Iron Man and The Dark Knight, while excited for both, they were left with two very different schools of thought. For The Dark Knight, audiences left the theater discussing what they thought might happen in the finale of the series. Batman is on the run from the police because they think he’s responsible for the death of a famous figure in the city. What villains could be introduced to fit that storyline? Obviously, what audiences ended up getting really didn’t have much to do with how The Dark Knight ends but that’s a topic for a different day. With Iron Man though, when audiences left the theater they weren’t just talking about how fun the movie was and what they’d like to see in the sequel, they were also talking about what future superheroes could start appearing in upcoming Iron Man movies. When Nick Fury tells Tony Start, “I’m here to talk to you about the Avengers initiative,” everything changed.
Of course, when that line was said, most of the audience didn’t know what the Avengers even was, but for those of us that did, we were all still in that old school way of thinking. Maybe Thor will show up in the next Iron Man 2. The thought that there would be a Thor movie that took place around the same time as Iron Man 2 never crossed anyone’s mind. It wouldn’t be until June of that year when at the end of The Incredible Hulk, Tony Stark himself arrived. Suddenly, it all made sense. Suddenly, we realized just what was happening.
Hollywood being slow to react to new trends didn’t immediately jump at the thought of making movies like they were episodes of a really long running tv show. Seeing the success of Iron Man, Warner Bros. decided that they should have their own fun, light-hearted superhero. Everyone loved The Green Lantern, right? Sorry, Ryan Reynolds. With that film’s failures and The Dark Knight’s success just a couple years earlier, Warner made the decision that all of their future films should be dark and brooding. The success of The Dark Knight Rises the following year after Green Lantern flopped was even more confirmation.
Even more examples of Hollywood being late to the party and then not understanding what makes the party good is ironically The X-Men franchise, Fast and Furious, and Transformers. Fox was so desperate to reboot the X-Men franchise after X-Men: The Last Stand was considered the worst of the series, while at the same time, refusing to fully walk away from their original cast. While I really enjoyed X-Men: Days of Future Past, I can’t imagine a casual moviegoer fully understanding what’s happening in that film. No, it’s not Memento, but there’s two Wolverine’s and I’m pretty sure they aren’t the same person because they are in different timelines, but if the Wolverine that’s in this Wolverine’s head saves the day in this timeline, he’ll save the original cast of X-Men that are in this other timeline… Yeah, in the early 2000’s execs probably thought audiences were too dumb to handle complex storylines and apparently in 2014 they thought we had become Albert Einstein. Fox realized they had made such a mess of a story that they actually ignored the ending of Days of Future Past when they made the next X-Men film Apocolypse.
As for Transformer series and Fast and The Furious, while I can’t speak on these two franchises as in-depth as I can some others, we do know that a Bumblebee spinoff is coming. Of course, it’s a prequel so I’m sure that’ll go over well, but it is an attempt by a studio to freshen up a film franchise by taking one of its characters out on its own. And while I literally have no idea what’s going on in the Fast and Furious franchise, I do know that The Rock and Jason Statham have a spinoff coming next year and while there doesn’t seem to be much information, from what I can tell, isn’t a prequel. This one is actually an attempt at building a Fast and The Furious cinematic universe. Remember when those movies were about learning how to drift? Anyways, both franchises seem to be doing reverse Marvel universe building by already having the big team-up movies first and now planning the individual films. It’s worked great for Warner Brothers so I’m sure these upcoming films will be great.
You know, now that I’ve laid everything out, I realize that maybe that end-credit scene in Iron Man wasn’t the best thing after all. Sure, the Marvel movies have all been great but between Fast and The Furious spin-offs that have actually delayed the main films from coming out, Universal ruining the good name of their classic monster movie characters, and Warner Brothers constant failures at delivering good superhero movies, maybe things would be better if this never had occurred. Then again, Meet The Fockers was the 4th highest grossing film domestically in 2004. Maybe Hollywood has always been terrible.