The House of Mouse is about to get darker. Positive fan reactions to more violent superhero film interpretations, plus plans for a gruesome new video game, suggest grittier days ahead at Walt Disney (DIS).
There's a large fan base hungry for more comic book noir. Just look at the reaction to the new teaser reel for Marvel's blind comic-book crime fighter, Daredevil. There's violence throughout, even in the PG-13 version.
Director Joe Carnahan, whose film credits include The Grey as well as the big-screen adaptation The A-Team, promised to release two versions of his Daredevil promo, but only if his Twitter account grew to 6,000 followers. He got them in an hour.
There's Dough in Darkness
In the wake of Christopher Nolan's highly successful and noir-esque take on Batman, audiences might find a darker Daredevil appealing. The Dark Knight Rises has now earned more than $830 million at the worldwide box office for Time Warner (TWX), which produced the series via its Warner Bros. studio subsidiary.
However, for now, Carnahan's hopes for a big-screen reboot of 2003's Daredevil, which starred Ben Affleck in the title role, are dead. "Think my idea for a certain retro, red-suited, Serpico-styled superhero went up in smoke today kids," Carnahan wrote on Twitter.
What's interesting is that News Corp.'s (NWS) 20th Century Fox didn't pass on the project because of the content. "Time simply ran out," Carnahan wrote in a follow-up tweet Wednesday morning, which suggests the movie rights to the character will revert to Disney and Marvel Studios.
Frights for the whole family
You'd think Carnahan's vision for an R-rated Daredevil film wouldn't gain much traction at Disney or Marvel Studios, which has long maintained a desire to keep its superhero films rated PG-13 in order to attract the widest possible audience.
So far, the fun-for-the-whole-family strategy is working brilliantly. Marvel's The Avengers is as close as we've ever seen to a kid-friendly, popcorn action flick that also does justice to comic-book fans. More than $1.46 billion in global box-office sales later, it's probably fair to call that project a success. Disney has already booked writer-director Joss Whedon to develop the sequel.
And yet Disney and Marvel do have a darker side.
Witness the trailer for the forthcoming video game starring Deadpool, a mutant mercenary who has gained a following in the comics for mixing humor with bloodlust. The trailer is sure to appeal to fans familiar with his gruesome antics. Marvel joined with High Noon Studios and Activision Blizzard (ATVI) to produce the game.
Meanwhile, at this year's San Diego Comic-Con, actor Thomas Jane screened a fan film titled Dirty Laundry, featuring his interpretation of another of Marvel's more violent characters, the vigilante known as The Punisher. The bloody 10-minute promo has already attracted more than 2.4 million views on YouTube. Fans apparently would like Jane to reprise the role he played in 2004's The Punisher, which Lions Gate (LGF) produced. Marvel has since regained movie rights to the character.
Can Edgy Fare Attract Crowds?
Is fan appreciation enough? History shows that violent, R-rated features typically fail to draw the massive crowds needed to produce a blockbuster:
|Film||Date Released||Rating||Worldwide Box Office (millions)|
|Avatar||Dec. 18, 2009||PG-13||$2,782.3|
|Titanic||Dec. 19, 1997||PG-13||$2,185.4|
|Marvel's The Avengers||May 4, 2012||PG-13||$1,461.9|
|Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace||May 19, 1999||PG||$1,027|
|The Dark Knight||July 18, 2008||PG-13||$1,001.9|
Maybe it doesn't matter now that digital technology has made filmmaking a more accessible art. Write a strong script, develop a rabid fan base, and get a project in production, and profits will follow. Carnahan clearly believes he has the right formula for a Daredevil reboot. Jane no doubt feels similarly about The Punisher.
Don't be surprised if Marvel and Disney reach out to one or both of them.
Motley Fool contributor Tim Beyers owned shares of Time Warner and Walt Disney at the time of publication. The Motley Fool owns shares of Activision Blizzard and Walt Disney. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Walt Disney and Activision Blizzard, and creating a synthetic long position in Activision Blizzard.