Biblical seas are rising and teenagers are running for their lives, but nothing makes summer seem closer than superheroes in cineplexes. Was it only a few years ago when Hollywood waited to release their costumed crusaders until May? Welcome to the new age. Summer starts on April 4th with Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Early word is overwhelmingly positive: Captain America has critics wowing and already it is a big hit overseas.
While people consider breaking out their shorts, industry watchers are already declaring Captain a major box office hit for Disney and Marvel studios. But critics are also saying Captain America is a genuinely good movie, something everybody including the still young at heart cine-snobs can feel good about seeing, even if they won’t admit it. Currently the movie has a 94 percent positive rating from aggregate reviews site, Rotten Tomatoes.
Wowing critics is nice, but money is king and overseas audiences have hit the Captain America film hard; the movie made $75 million dollars in limited foreign markets since it opened on March 26th. This coming Friday, when it opens in the U.S. and China, expectations are sky-high.
Winter Soldier‘s predecessor, Captain America: The First Avenger, made its money back, and more, but in our modern age of superhero movies it did not quite measure. The First Avenger made $176 million in the U.S., barely covering production and assumed marketing costs, and took in $193 million overseas. Not bad, but compare it to similar movies: three X-Men movies, every Spider Man, all the rebooted Batman’s, and the entire Iron Man franchise have made more money, some by hundreds of millions. The genre’s champion is Marvel’s The Avengers, bringing in $1.5 billion dollars worldwide. Luckily for Captain America, and actor-ego Chris Evans, the crime-fighting character was one of that movie’s title characters.
There are a couple possible reasons for the limited success of The First Avenger. Captain America was one of Marvel’s most popular superheroes during World War II, but the comic was discontinued in the 50’s and even making a comeback the character never fully gained back its popularity. The First Avenger also came out a year before Marvel’s The Avengers, a movie so popular it has given every related comic book movie a significant financial boost. Finally, the first was given lukewarm reviews by critics, who liked its throwback style but felt it added little to the genre.
Critical acclaim for superhero movies is a relatively new phenomenon. Superman: The Movie and Tim Burton’s first two Batman’s were well received but most others were considered kitschy or for kids only. Sam Raimi’s Spider Man could be considered the first to be accepted by both critics and audiences as it made $821 million dollars worldwide. Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, Iron Man, X-Men, The Incredibles, Watchmen, Kick-Ass and others have proven the genre can be liked by critics and as well as ridiculously profitable.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier seems poised for the big time; wowing critics are giving it ratings almost no other movie in the genre has seen, and overseas audiences already making it a hit. Superhero fans have a coming bonanza of masked heroes as X-Men, Spider Man, the revived Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Transformers and other are on their way.
Commentary by Andrew Elfenbein