20th Century Fox, Warner Bros, and Marvel Studios are the companies that currently have the greatest pull in regards to superhero films. That's not to say that other studios can't go about creating their own independent projects. Universal has the rights to the Hulk (and formerly Namor), should they choose to use it. It's also important to note that once upon a time, Sony's Spider-man films were the superhero films because Fox's X-Men franchise was still developing. However, the purpose of this article is to look at their strategies for building the films and the universes associated with them. I'll be looking into everything from the major films to the reboots (both hard and soft). This is also meant to be a critique from the perspective of the director as they're the most directly affected by studio intervention.
Proper Funding And Distribution Or A Potentially Damaged Reputation?
I'm not going to sit here and defend this film. This film is just one of numerous examples that showcase someone signing on to a project with a lot of potential and the strong backing of a studio only to have the film do poorly and the blame be put onto one person. Obviously, there is no real way to know how much studio intervention played into the success or failure of this film. However, up until the birth of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the studio was not blamed for the failure of a film. In this case, it was Ben Affleck who was blamed instead of the writers or director. In the case of Warner Bros.'s films, the director gets blamed before the writers or producers. If you want more examples of films where a single person was blamed for the entire film, feel free to click my article found here.
Marvel Studios stands out as its own separate case. The Russo Brothers' films have been praised vehemently for how well executed they are compared to Avengers: Age of Ultron. This is obviously a matter of opinion, but the Russo Brothers have explained their secret to success: a lack of intervention. Most people may not know that Marvel Studios had a group of people whose job was to literally intervene wherever they saw fit during the development of films. This team was known as the "Creative Committee" which has since been disbanded as of September 2015. These were the people that could be blamed for most of the issues people had with Marvel Studios's films until that time.
However the other side of this is that studio intervention allows projects to exist that might not have existed otherwise. Punisher, Ghost Rider, and Blade are three properties that were brought into the world of film that may not have without a studio deciding to give the projects a chance. These kind of films introduce audiences to the characters and now the audience is now aware of these characters. It doesn't matter if a franchise develops or not because these people have now been exposed to the character and will probably recognize them later. This is especially true with Disney/Marvel recently having the rights to these characters returned to them within the last few years.
Another prime example of studios giving a project a chance is the recently released film Deadpool. For one of the few times in history, the executives at a highly successful business ignored the pleas from their lawyers and funded an extremely risky project. However, said project was wildly successful and has gone on to set in motion plans for a franchise. While it's important to note that long time comic book fans were rallying for this film to exist for close to a decade, it was ultimately up to the executives at 20th Century Fox to decide that this film should be made. If you're interested, I wrote a piece on what I would like to see in the sequel to Deadpool which can be found here.
The last important project I would like to touch on is Captain America: Civil War. You may have heard within the past month that Kevin Feige gave his approval for Civil War after Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice was announced. Regardless of how valid this story may be, this shows that comic book fans were given the opportunity to see the fights they'd spent decades reading about in comic books. Warner Bros. and Marvel Studios both decided to fund films that showcased the first time major superheroes fought each other. Up until then, fan films and video games were the closest forms of this, but studio intervention allowed these films to happen. Just sit back and imagine what Captain America 3 could have been like had Marvel Studios not moved forward with Civil War.
A Second Opinion Or Creator Versus Studio Conflict?
If you have been following Marvel Studios news for the past few years, you know that more than a few directors have bowed out of their Marvel Studios projects. As I said above, the "Creative Committee" most likely caused this strife; however, that does not diminish the importance of the committee's impact on Marvel Studios's projects. Joss Whedon was the second director to bow out after having Avengers: Age of Ultron torn apart by the committee. He claims that the Thor vision scene was cut down because the committee held his farm scene hostage. I honestly feel that the Thor scene is great and better sets up the larger idea of the Infinity Stones in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Before Whedon dropped out, high amounts of tension on the set of Ant-Man led to Edgar Wright abandoning the project he had supposedly been working on for several years. These events also hurt Marvel by leading their would be director of Black Panther to turn down the offer.
But that's not to say that there isn't a gray area for studio intervention. The gray area of studio intervention is, for better or worse, the point where studios step in and are willing to talk with a director. Something good may or may not come out of the situation, but that's just a matter of opinion. You are probably familiar with the original Spider-man trilogy directed by Sam Raimi in the early 2000s. However, no one knew why he did not continue onto the planned fourth installment until recently. Raimi has stated that the studio wanted him to come back for a fourth film and he wanted to redeem the franchise for his fans, yet time constraints prevented him from creating what he felt would be a decent story. So, he simply left Columbia Pictures on "good terms" as he described it. I consider this part of the gray area because some people may feel that the Amazing Spider-man film was a good reboot and others may feel that Raimi's planned fourth film would have been better. Regardless, it seems that neither franchise took as strong a hold as Sony wanted them to and the way Sony's film rights have been contracted require such a feat to be accomplished in order to maintain said rights.
This box office bomb is the center of a lot of controversy. After the film was released, it began to receive an extremely high amount of negative criticism. To counter this, director Josh Trank tried to defend his original work. He claimed that his idea for the film was far better than the final product; however, several anonymous sources have come out and said that the producers were legitimately worried about the project when they were moving with Trank's idea. While we may never know what Trank's original script entailed, it seems that studio intervention works to our benefit by offering a second opinion in this situation.
Another film that brought about quite a bit of controversy while still having a solid second opinion from its studio is Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Christopher Nolan was a producer on this film as well as Man of Steel which warrants his input on the film. While we do not know how much influence he had on the direction of the film, it was reported that early screenings of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice led executive producers to push for a focus on Ben Affleck's Batman character. Christopher Nolan was an executive producer and likely pushed for this change in narrative. Regardless of whether these screenings happened or not, Affleck was praised by audiences for his portrayal and currently has a solo film set to be released in the near future. This is another situation where a studio gives the director the reigns and occasionally steps in to have a conversation without taking over the project and putting a strain on the director.
For better or worse, studio intervention exists within the film industry and will continue to exist so long as AAA film studios continue to make movies. Intervention has proven to be extremely prominent within the world of comic book films, but intervention is not all bad. I will admit that I walked into this article with a negative opinion some months ago, yet my research and speculation on the subject has proven to change my opinion. I believe that studio intervention works in moderation. But that's just my opinion, so what's yours?