Much has been made about the Marvel Curse, a supposed enchantment that kept Marvel from making a movie worth a ticket for decades. But, with R.I.P.D. coming to theaters, and possibly leaving shortly thereafter, a new curse has come to light. Namely, the Dark Horse Curse. Think we’re wrong? Let’s look at Dark Horse’s history, which has some highlights, true… but also more than a few lowlights.
Dark Horse has actually been very successful in terms of getting comics to the screen, partially because they’re a publisher who takes risks and trusts creators; they’re not hidebound by continuity and enraged fans as much. Dark Horse has managed to bring no fewer than ten properties it’s worked with to the screen, more if you count the work it published being the source of movies like Aliens Vs. Predator. But there’s a consistent pattern: The movie usually bombs, and if it doesn’t, the sequel is promptly chucked into development hell.
The Comic: A darkly funny, and profoundly bloody, comic about the id and cartoon violence.
The Movie: A cartoony and substantially bowdlerized version of the comic, although it hits more notes than you might remember. The Mask is still at best an anti-hero and he’s not shy about committing violence towards people that have wronged Stanley Ipkiss.
The Results: Actually, Dark Horse started strong on this one. The Mask launched Cameron Diaz, helped make Jim Carrey’s career as a leading man, and was one of the top ten highest-grossing movies of the year racking up five times its budget.
That said, the success also made it impossible to turn this into a franchise, something that curses every successful Dark Horse movie. Jim Carrey turned down $10 million for the sequel, and it became a respected but short-lived animated series. Then the Dark Horse Curse really kicked in… But more on that a few slides down the road.
The Comic: Based on a short piece by Mark Verheiden, it’s pretty much what you expect from the title.
The Movie: Being a mid ’90s action movie based around Jean Claude Van Damme, it’s pretty much what you expect from the casting. Although it must be said this is probably a high point in JCVD’s resume, not least because Verheiden actually handed in a surprisingly strong and well-thought-out screenplay for a movie about kicking people in the face.
The Results: It was a solid movie, that did solidly in theaters, and is generally well-respected among action movie fans. Unfortunately, it became a failed TV series, followed by a direct-to-video movie that had nothing to do with the original in 2003 and now… it’s getting a reboot.
The Comic: Dark Horse only handled the reprint rights for this title, and it’s best described as… manic. Manic is a good way of putting it.
The Movie: Surprisingly, the movie, by John Waters’ producer Rachel Talalay, is faithful to the spirit of the comic in a lot of ways. It’s hampered a lot, though, by Alan Grant and Jamie Hewlett not caring that much about plot, and caring a lot about ripping on British society. It’s just not a property Americans really care about.
The Results: This not only grossed $4 million on a $25 million budget, it actually managed to kill the magazine the strip was being published in over in Britain. But the attempts to cash in on girl power weren’t done yet.
The Comic: A Comic’s Greatest World title from John Arcudi, and a lot of fun for what it is.
The Movie: Yeah. The less said, the better.
The Results: Here’s where the Dark Horse Curse really kicks into high gear: Not only did it bomb at the box office, it was nominated for six Razzies. That’s what happens when you remake Casablanca with more action scenes and leather bar bits.
The Comic: Flying Carrot Comics, a sharp-tongued parody of superheroes and comics fandom, written and illustrated by Bob Burden, although to be fair to Dark Horse, they were just the third of Burden’s four publishers on this title.
The Movie: Surprisingly, this actually sticks somewhat to the comics, although the Flaming Carrot himself never made the cut. It also has a killer cast: Paul Reubens, William H. Macy, Tom Waits, and Ben Stiller and Janeane Garofalo back when they were funny.
The Results: Yeah, a hipster comedy about how much those hugely popular superhero movies suck unsurprisingly did not play to middle America in 1999. It doesn’t help much that the movie never fully chooses a tone: Is it a comedy about the underdog, or is it a parody of the crappy superhero movies of the time? Either way, it tanked hard, although it has a cult audience thanks to home video.
The Comic: To be fair, Virus started as a movie script by Chuck Pfarrer (who’d go on to write the script for Barb Wire, so, yeah). But nobody could afford the effects, so he took it to Dark Horse and it made a decent miniseries.
The Movie: Unsurprisingly, when you finally make an effects-heavy movie after seven years of development hell, it’s going to feel a little dated.
The Results: It’s currently got a 9% at Rotten Tomatoes, and made less than half its budget back. This was enough to put a nail in the coffin for a while; Dark Horse isn’t involved in another film release until 2004. But the time off did them some good.
The Comic: Mike Mignola mixes fairy stories, Lovecraftian mythos, and a cigar-smoking demon with a stone hand to wildly popular effect. Hellboy is such a strong book that its mythos is currently makes up quite a bit of Dark Horse’s current releases, and are some very high-quality horror books.
The Movie: Guillermo Del Toro, a director who is not only an artist but actually cares about comic books, got his hands on it and made a genuinely faithful and well-made action flick out of it. It streamlines the mythos a bit but manages to capture Mignola’s quirky tone: Mignola being heavily involved in the production at Del Toro’s request no doubt helped.
The Results: It was a pretty solid hit, financially, brushing up against $100 million worldwide, although not quite breaking it; the movie had to sell well on disc to get a sequel into theaters. More importantly, it got good reviews. And it helped break the logjam for…
The Comic: Frank Miller delivers straight-up noir to comics, with some of his best art as he experiments with negative space and lack of color.
The Movie: Essentially the comic on the screen, deliberately so. Artistically you can argue whether that’s for better or for worse, but either way, it didn’t take any liberties.
The Results: $158 million worldwide and critical acclaim. Albeit the curse strikes again in the form of the sequel struggling in development hell for years. Still, not bad, there’s no way this could possible go wr-
The Movie: Oh, goddamit, we spoke too soon.
The Results: Let’s see here, seven Razzie awards, some of the most amazingly toxic reviews ever written, and needless to say, it didn’t make the $84 million New Line somehow spent on a movie starring Jamie Kennedy back.
The Comic: Frank Miller retells a Greek popular myth the way only Frank Miller can. Whether that’s a good thing is up to the reader.
The Movie: Again, essentially the comic, for better and for worse.
The Results: Aside from The Mask, this is the single biggest hit Dark Horse has ever been involved with. Nobody was expecting it to gross $450 million worldwide, which is part of the reason Zack Snyder got so many chances at the box office, and yet it did. Critics took issue with the fact that it’s basically the most self-consciously and self-righteously macho movie ever made, but nobody cared.
Oh, and the sequel promptly got stuck in development hell. Naturally. Speaking of sequels…
The Movie: Pretty much the Batman Returns of the Hellboy franchise, such as it is. Del Toro’s obsessions with fairytales and clockwork overwhelm the movie, which is still well made.
The Results: It made its budget back, but we’re unlikely to ever see a Hellboy III, partially thanks to Del Toro developing a dozen movies, five video games, three comic books, and a TV series all at once, and partially thanks to the fact that it didn’t break out like it was supposed to.
Which brings us to…
The Comic: Published way back in 2003, it’s fairly straightforward: A cop, post-life, is hunting down the guy who kills him, which turns out to be a bit more complicated than expected.
The Movie: It’s fairly close to the comic, by all accounts, although this video does a good job of explaining why it feels familiar:
The Results: Partially thanks to constant delays, currently R.I.P.D. is looking like this summer’s biggest bomb. Against a $130 million budget, it might make as little as $17 million this weekend. In fact, it might actually get waxed by its own cast: Ryan Reynolds is the main voice in Turbo, and Mary-Louise Parker is starring in RED 2, both of which look to do well, or at least better, than the other movie they’re starring in.
Sin City 2 and 300: Rise of An Empire are both staggering out of development hell to screens next year. To be fair, Sin City 2 was delayed not least because of Robert Rodriguez’s self-inflicted personal problems, and 300 by the fact that suddenly everybody involved could get better checks elsewhere. Still, excitement seems… moderate for the two, so we’ll just have to wait and see.