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Johnny Depp Is Doctor Strange!

Longbox Graveyard #76

Since these funnybooks we all love have grown into multi-billion dollar film and television franchises it’s only natural to start thinking about which of our favorite heroes will next appear on the silver screen. Marvel has already worked through their “A” and “B” characters and seem ready to greenlight anything in tights these days (Ant Man? Guardians of the Galaxy?), so to assist our friends at the House of Ideas I’m inaugurating a new feature here at Longbox GraveyardSuperhero Greenlight, where we pitch film takes for superheroes that don’t yet have a date with box office glory!

Joining me in the smoke-filled star chamber are my old comrades-in-comic-book-crime, Chris Ulm and Tom Mason, both dudes with deep roots in the intellectual property business, and both shameless fanboys still carrying a torch for the adventures of men (and women) who wear their primary-colored underwear on the outside. For this first Superhero Greenlight it’s my job to pitch my take on a comic book property for film, and the guys either buoy it up or shoot it down.

After due consideration, I’m offering up …

… Doctor Strange, earth’s Sorcerer Supreme!

Co-created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, and making his first appearance in Strange Tales #110 (cover dated July 1963), Doctor Strange is a master of the mystic arts, doing battle in far-flung dimensions to protect the earth from demons and supernatural beings intent on destroying mankind. Doctor Strange might be the last great Marvel Silver Age superhero who hasn’t yet had a meaningful screen presence. Aside from a couple animated appearances, a one-and-done TV movie in 1978, and the Doctor-Strange-By-Any-Other-Name film Doctor Mordrid from Full Moon Features in 1992, Doctor Strange has been an unknown quantity outside of comic books.

He’s one of my favorite characters — I reviewed his Strange Tales run here, and I spotlighted the strange faces of Steve Ditko’s Doctor Strange here — but Strange is a difficult character to do right. His own book hasn’t always worked, though you can see some of the better attempts over at Mars Will Send No More. Wedging Strange into the superhero-filled Manhattan of Marvel Comics sometimes feels forced — Strange seems to work best when in his own little corner of the superhero world, battling things unseen by the rest of his four-colored brethren (and no less a luminary than Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin seems to agree, based on his own informal take for this character).

My pitch: It’s the energy of Guy Ritchie‘s Sherlock Holmes crossed with the bump-in-the-night thrills of Paranomal Activity; in TV terms, it would be like turning House MD loose on Supernatural.

Brilliant surgeon Dr. Stephen Strange has it all — wealth, fame, fortune, and fatal hubris. When his drunk driving injures his beloved Clea in a car crash, Strange insists on performing the operation that can save her life himself; when his fiancee dies on the table, Strange loses his reputation, his license, and his soul in one fell swoop. Now he searches the world for a teacher that will let him rescue Clea from the spirit world, and is caught up in a diabolical web of black magic, demons, secret sorcerers, and an extra-dimensional dark god that threatens to possess Strange … and through him conquer earth itself!

Casting: Johnny Depp is my A-list first choice, but there are a host of actors appropriate for the role — including fellow A-Lister Leonardo DiCaprio, the always-reliable Guy Pearce, ready-to-blow-up Joseph Gordon-Levitt, or how how about … wait for it, baby birds … Daniel Radcliffe as a grown-up sorcerer supreme?

TOM: Okay, I’m in. I like your pitch and I think Depp would make a great Doctor Strange — not too young, not too old, and a reputation for playing characters full of quirkiness with some comedy (that the ol’ Doc desperately needs). Your other choices would be good too, but I think Depp could actually bring people into the theater. Iron Man is one of the lesser known Marvel characters to the general public, but Robert Downey Jr. was the draw that made that movie. Dr. Strange is even lesser known than Iron Man, and you need an actor like Depp who can open a certain kind of movie.

Iron Man & Doctor Strange, together again for the first time

PAUL: Depp couldn’t draw flies for Dark Shadows this summer but I’m putting that down to the public’s exhaustion with these Tim Burton/Johnny Depp gothic fetish pictures. Disney thinks Depp still has enough mojo to throw buckets of cash at Depp as Tonto in next year’s very dubious-looking Lone Ranger so I’m going to assume Depp’s star is undiminished and that he’d be key to making Dr. Strange work. At the same time, I’m going to let Burton sit this one out and go with whatever director Marvel pulls off the bench — they’ve had good luck with matching television and film auteurs with their superhero properties and I expect for a superhero picture they’d want a hungry director they could keep on a short leash in any case.

Here’s why I think Doctor Strange would work — it’s a supernatural picture with a streak of humility, humor, and romance for the date night crowd. I pitch this as a summer effects thrill ride perfect for the Ghostbusters and Men in Black audience. The underpinnings of loss, love, and spiritual longing give the movie just enough grit to feel substantial and anchoring events in the now-understood Marvel cinematic universe will let audiences quickly accept the larger-than-life monsters and (subtly) costumed characters at the heart of the story. Just as Iron Man had huge upside hidden by a black hole of a character at the center in Tony Stark, so too will the reinvention of Stephen Strange unlock one of comicdom’s richest visual properties for the silver screen!

ULM: One word on the Doctor Strange pitch — SOLD! The high concept pitch and the character arc are great — arrogant bastard learns wisdom. You’ve definitely built a very strong premise and a hero we can identify with. Throw in some humor (Doctor Strange should be the last human on earth to believe in magic) and a strong supporting cast (who plays Wong?) and I think you have a potential Thor-sized hit. Casting is great — I think all the choices you listed would work.

PAUL: A possibility for Wong is to cast him as an action hero — he’d be Strange’s servant and student, but he’s also a young, physical dude with immense strength or martial skills that contrast with Strange’s cerebral abilities. For comic relief, he could also be the world’s worst butler — maybe he’s clumsy and always dropping things, maybe he’s rude, or maybe he just brews the world’s most horrid tea but everyone (even Strange) is afraid to say anything because he’s such a glowering physical presence.

TOM: I like the idea of Strange trying to revive the love of his life, but two things stick out for me — first, we probably won’t get enough of Clea on screen pre-threat for us to believe in the couple’s love for each other so his quest runs the risk of not being emotionally involving. And second, if too much of the movie takes place in the weird mystical world I think the audience will tune out. It seems that most super-hero movies function better if the big action set pieces are set on Earth. The parts of Green Lantern that were the least interesting were the ones where Hal Jordan was on some distant planet.

PAUL: We might be able to communicate Strange’s love for Clea if he spends part of the first act coming out of some kind of traumatic mental or emotional melt-down, putting the pieces together for himself even as the audience comes to understand what happened. I’m reminded of how Sela Ward had only a few minutes on screen in the movie version of The Fugitive yet her presence and murder were still keenly felt.

The concerns about the story’s otherworldliness are legitimate. I think the most difficult tightrope that Thor walked was integrating action in Asgard with events on earth. I think we need to have at least one big scene where Doctor Strange visits that ropey, Ditko “otherverse” with off-kilter doorframes and pathways stretching off into the void, but for the most part I think the action should be set in the shadows of our own world, building on the idea of other realities infringing on our own (which audiences have already come to accept thanks to the Harry Potter and Twilight franchises).

the classic Ditko “otherverse”

ULM: The other missing ingredient: a villain that isn’t incredibly stupid. The villain needs to be two things: relatable and understandable. Perhaps it is an old rival of Strange — maybe somehow related to Clea (brother, former lover, sister, etc). Someone who cannot and will not forgive Strange for Clea’s death. Perhaps this character is possessed by the Dread Dormammu and is able to finally wreak vengeance …

PAUL: Strange’s great rival was Baron Mordo, who was also a student of Strange’s mentor, the Ancient One (and now I recognize I’ve cut that character from my pitch, though I suppose Strange will encounter him when he goes on his second-act road of trials, and becomes the sorcerer supreme). I like that Strange’s rival might have been part of a romantic triangle with Strange and Clea — we could also make him a surgeon, maybe better qualified to save Clea than Strange, but Strange pulls rank to perform the operation himself, losing a love and gaining a nemesis at the same time. Maybe the rival turns to the black arts to raise Clea from the dead, crosses lines our hero will not cross, and is possessed by demons or otherwise becomes the Big Bad. Or maybe the rival is a touchy-feely type who could have saved Clea with some tinfoil hat remedy that Strange foolishly discounted.

Baron Mordo

TOM: I think you can unfold the story in real time without too many flashbacks.

When Stephen was a kid, he had the powers and the Eye of Agamotto and while experimenting with it, he inadvertently pissed off the dreaded Dormammu. Dormammu wanted the Eye but Strange was clever enough to hide it in another dimension, denying Dormammu. Enraged, Dormammu responded by killing Strange’s family, wiping out his hometown and leaving Strange for dead.

But Strange survived, vowing never to use the Eye again and to use his powers to atone for the damage he caused earlier.

PAUL: I like that Strange could have had a personal supernatural experience when he was younger, but has denied it or blocked it out. Maybe he made some conscious decision to be a man of science, turning his back on magic, making him a character with an internal conflict between his head and his heart. We could even tie this to some (wrong) decision he made while Clea was on the table, trusting the book (his head) over what his instincts were telling him to do, whether it was some risky, House M.D.-like procedure or even refusing to trust his rival to do a better job with Clea than he could.

TOM: Cut to: It’s now the present day in NYC. He’s an adult now, a medical doctor, working at the hospital (he seems to keep moving; this is hardly his first job), helping others, but finds the city is inspiring him, his relationship with Clea is growing, but there’s evil afoot — assorted demons and dimensional troublemakers keep popping up wreaking havoc and Strange must summon his long-dormant powers again in order to defeat them. (Think Ghostbusters, as the ghosts get progressively worse). It’s all part of a plan by Dormammu who has been searching for the Eye for years but finally discovered that Strange was alive and has plotted to get him to use the Eye again so that he can take if from him once and for all.

PAUL: It feels a bit like Sauron looking for the One Ring, but that’s not a bad thing — audiences understand that story.

TOM: So with demons pushing him around NYC, and Dormammu threatening Clea, Strange is left with a choice: recover and use the Eye that he’s long since sworn to never do again or lose everything he’s tried to build since he was a child. This way, when there are giant-sized third act fights of sorcery, Doc must confront his personal demons while fighting some real ones across mid-town.

PAUL: Making recovery of the Eye and/or seeking out the Ancient One does give some direction and shape to our second act. The Ancient One is the classic mission giver/wise old man figure, and it would make perfect sense for him to award the Eye of Agamotto and the Cloak of Levitation to Strange after our hero completes the requisite montage and has his Moment of Enlightenment … but, sheesh, I’ve bored myself just talking about these things! I think the second act needs a judo flip.

the Ancient One, by Steve Ditko

TOM: I think one of the things you can do to flip it may not be the second act, but in the final act. Strange gives up the eye in exchange for Clea, then once assuring her safety, he has to go up against Dormammu who now possesses the power of the Eye and isn’t afraid to use it. And he starts by incapacitating the Ancient One and then sets about destroying everything Strange holds dear.

Now Strange has to fight, calling forth all his power, even stuff he blocked out from his childhood experience. And now the flip: Clea isn’t just “the girlfriend.” I don’t know enough about Doctor Strange continuity to care and I have no interest in the movie following lockstep with Marvel continuity, but it seems like it would be fun to make Clea more than we think — perhaps connected to the Ancient One, or someone else.

PAUL: In Clea’s first Ditko/Lee Strange Tales appearances she is deeply connected to Dormammu. He turns out to be her uncle or something.

Clea and Dormammu, by Steve Ditko

TOM: And she didn’t just happen to be at the hospital when Strange showed up for work — she was there to watch over him or something like that. Maybe she even has connections to his past in some way.

If you remember The Mummy, the Medjai are tasked with guarding the sarcophagus of Imhotep. Maybe Clea has a similar role with regard to the Eye?

PAUL: Now I’m all turned around. I thought I understood my pitch when I came in here, but now I’ve got a lot of parts that don’t fit.

ULM: What do you expect? This is Hollywood, baby! You’ve got to think like an executive! Don’t sweat the small stuff … hire some writer to put the pieces together, and if you don’t like what he gives you, claim he’s ruined your vision and fire the poor bastard.

TOM: And after you’ve hired a writer to clean up your mess, there’s only one thing left to do.

PAUL: What’s that?

ULM & TOM: Lunch!!

NEXT WEDNESDAY AT LONGBOX GRAVEYARD: #77 Longbox Graveyard Comic Book Holiday Gift Guide

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Revelations and retro-reviews from a world where it is always 1978. There's a new blog every odd Wednesday at www.longboxgraveyard.com!

Posted on November 28, 2012, in Superhero Greenlight and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 32 Comments.

  1. Paul may unleash the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak on me for this–but as much as the thought makes me cringe, I think Tim Burton would see himself to be a natural fit for a Dr. Strange film. And in some ways, I can also see that–e.g., Strange’s “sanctum sanctorum” is a set just waiting for a Tim Burton touch. Burton signing would more than likely be the kiss of death for the film–but hey, at least it would bring Depp running, whom I agree would be an excellent choice to play Strange. Now we just have to figure out who Helena Bonham Carter is going to play. My guess would be Umar. ;)

    BTW, I absolutely love Paul’s ideas for Wong’s characterization. I can just see Depp’s reaction shots now. Keeping your composure can’t be easy when you see your manservant trip while holding the Orb of Agamotto. :D

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  2. I saw a Dr. Strange animited movie a couple of years ago which I thought was pretty good, and frankly could have made a pretty decent live action movie. As far as I know, it was reasonably faithful to the comics, with Dr Strange being an arrogant surgeon who has his hands damaged and can’t operate anymore, then goes off into the Himalayas and becomes Sorcerer Supreme up there. Stephen is one of those characters I need to read up on.

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  3. Nah, you can’t have Burton do it. You don’t really want that creepy gothic vibe that’s now a proven audience turn off. What you want is some director with a healthy disrespect for the source material. The first Star Trek movie by Robert Wise was too reverential and it’s glacial and not even watchable any more. Once Nicholas Meyer steps behind the camera (and takes over the writing) Star Trek grabs you and doesn’t let go. Aside from the personal story of Dr. Strange, you’re going to need epic magic battles between Strange and his opponents and I don’t see Burton pulling that off. You want someone like Martin Campbell or Mimi Leder or even Gore Verbinski or Guy Ritchie.

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  4. umm, has anyone thought about David Lynch making the movie …?

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    • My kid has been on a David Lynch kick lately. It weirdly enraged me that he was able to watch Eraserhead in his bedroom on his hand-held touchscreen supercomputer instead of braving a midnight showing at the Nuart in Santa Monica like I did … kids these days!

      I consider myself a David Lynch fan (or at least a Blue Velvet fan), so I say this with all respect … but I think it would be crazy to trust Mr. Lynch with Doctor Strange, and not just because his track record with Hollywood blockbusters (Dune *cough* Dune) is a trail of tears. I think what makes Lynch interesting are his own insecurities and pathologies, which (aside from the inevitable, leaking pustules of the demons that Strange would fight) would make for a poor match for this property. I don’t think Doctor Strange should be about intimacy anxiety and the banality of modern life. A superhero film also requires a sense of humor, which Lynch definitely has, but it is an arch, kind of bizarre sense of humor that I don’t think would play at all.

      No, aside from enjoying the spectacle of seeing a lot of money burn, I’m not seeing a lot of upside to a Lynch Dr. Strange …

      (I know you are a fan of Doctor Strange, and would welcome your take on why Lynch would work. Lay it on me, Babe!)

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      • Dr Strange operates in worlds which are ‘mystical’ in the sense that they function within natural laws and forces which are alternate to our own – they are worlds which we just don’t get and it would be better for us that we didn’t know about them so we can continue functioning ourselves. And yet Stephen Strange is of and from this world – he is all too human but has mastered the Mystic Arts. He therefore lives between the two worlds – the physical/political and the occult worlds – or rather he lives amid at the same time. He is ‘strange’ because he bridges these two worlds, and this is the central pull of the character for me.

        In comics the ‘occult’ world was depicted fantastically (the floating-island footsteps of Ditko, the swirls of Colan) because it was a visual medium meant for younger audiences (growing up); but the occult world doesn’t so much ‘look’ strange (like a childishly re-arranged physical world), in fact it isn’t even a different world it is the same world ‘seen’ (and ‘heard’ and ‘felt’ and acted in) differently. What was equally attractive about Dr Strange (and under-used in the comics) was the depiction of the character in ordinary, recognisable surroundings but knowing he was actually operating in a world out of the space-time continuum. I would conceive that Strange’s ‘battles’ took place while he was strolling through a park, while walking on the street, in the blink of an Eye (herm).

        I once heard David Lynch talk about how he achieves his perspectives in his work is by ‘filming through the eye of a duck’ meaning that he doesn’t just film ‘lineally’ he films simultaneously/alternately – he shoots a scene/whole films which physically depict one narrative but which affectively show an alternate landscape in which they play out. What better ‘mise-en-scene’ist than David Lynch to depict the life of a character who has ‘mastered’ the arts of living bridged across two worlds-in-one? No need of CGI, no need of costumes, not even much need of action! I know, I know, not the ingredients for your standard summer blockbuster money-maker. But they have been done and will continue to be done under their own momentum. Dr Strange, as you mention, has always been a peripheral character because he is so … strange. Perhaps this would be time to make a different take on the comics-to-film translation formula …

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        • (Imagine this in the voice of studio boss Ben Geisler, from Barton Fink)

          Congratulations, Redford, you just made a $140M art picture. This is me, calling security. No, wait, before I throw you out of my office, why don’t you come over here, to my side of the desk, and sit where the adults sit. Don’t get used to it, Redford. And get your feet off the table!

          Let me tell you something. This is show business. Show BUSINESS, understand? If it wasn’t a business, we’d call it Show Show. You’re overthinking this, Redford. Wallace Beery. Wrestling picture. What do you need, a roadmap?

          Now open your Rolodex and find me a director who doesn’t shoot his pictures through the eye of a duck. You come in here and talk about ducks to me? Me who lived through the failure of Howard the Duck over at Fox? You know what Variety’s headline was after that picture? “DUCK COOKS FOX’S GOOSE!” You kill me, Redford, but you’re one of the smartest guys in the business and that’s why we want to work with you.

          All right, get out here, before I forget why I like you. And bring me back a director the kids can understand! Ratner! Ratner needs work, and he’s done these long underwear pictures before! Start there, and get back to me.

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  5. Good pitch. We’d see the film.

    We like the idea of Wong as a kind of Kato to Strange’s Green Hornet. The terrible tea is some good comic relief although we’d not like to see him made a slapstick buffoon.

    Strange’s overcoming personal demons as well as magical ones is very true to the character, though the early mystical experiences may be pushing it. That’s a ‘Young Sherlock Holmes’ approach to the character that would make a good ‘alternate universe’ story. Better is Mordo’s rivalry with Strange opening the door for some Mordo pact with the evil Dormammu to open this plane of existence to conquering, or some similar plot. The Baron is the Darth Vader to Dormammu’s Emperor Palpatine. You could easily include both villains to keep things both human and cosmic.

    Finally, while the Clea death gets the plot rolling, it would also be a shame to kill off his great love at the beginning. Not sure about that one. You could just as easily make the person(s) on the surgery table a first wife, or a school bus of kids he hit in his accident, or any other emotionally-charged non-Clea person. That way Strange can feel bad and lose his rep but still keep Clea in the picture.

    Thankfully, your alteration of the origin leaves out something that always seemed wrong with the Doc. He started on his quest for magic after damaging the nerves in his hands so badly he could no longer be an adequate surgeon. Yet, he is always configuring his hands in some kind of magic ritual gesture. Seems like he is still pretty good with his hands, doesn’t it? Furthermore, what kind of supreme sorcerer can’t fix some nerve damage? You mean he can kick Dormamu’s butt but he can’t fix his nerves? Not buying that for second.

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    • That bit about Strange’s hands is interesting, Mars, and I don’t know as any comic series has explored it. Seems to me there is a rich storyline there — if Strange is competent to cast spells, but his hands shake when he holds a scalpel, then what is really going on? It can only be that Strange’s nerves aren’t damaged at all … the shakes derive from psychological damage that Strange still needs to confront. Even the Sorcerer Supreme is defenseless before the demons of his own imagination.

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  6. Wong as comic relief probably doesn’t pass the PC police unless you either go the Dark Knight/Alfred route or maybe the Jude Law Watson ala Guy Ritchie. Otherwise you risk the bumbling Asian sidekick backlash from the very large APAC market.

    You mentioned House MD and all I can think of is Hugh Laurie as Dr House/Strange. I know that was not your intent but an interesting choice, eh? But resist the temptation to have Stephen Fry play Mordo. As much as we love Mr Fry that’s probably too much on the comedy side of the aisle for the movie.

    Burton would probably work as director. Despite protestations otherwise even Dark Shadows at least breaks even when you factor in Worldwide figures. I am totally sold on Depp as Dr Strange.

    Another topic to tackle for your SuperHero Greenlight posts is how do you get the errant Marvel characters into the same Universe?

    I am talking Spider-Man, Daredevil, the FF and the X-Men. Fox has FF and X-Men, Columbia has Spider-Man and they just rebooted the franchise to keep the rights with similar plans for the others, but how hard would it be to work a deal to put everyone in the same Universe? Most studios are as much Distributor as they are an actual Production unit these days and I say something can be worked out given the potential gross receipts if you can join everyone all together. Isn’t the Avengers Box Office proof positive that the Whole is greater than the sum of the parts? I say it is.

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    • Well, Dark Shadows is sitting on $239M worldwide gross against an announced budget of $150M, and considering the rule of thumb that a picture must return twice its budget to account for marketing and distribution fees, I think it will need a healthy life on cable, pay-per-view, and home video to make its money back. Not a bomb but not a franchise, either, and that there’s been no sequel announced indicates more than anything the film fell sort of expectations.

      I like Burton fine, and Depp too, and if they come as a package that’s fine with me, though it would likely balloon the budget above where Marvel likes to pitch these pictures ($150M or so being the sweet spot). Could we do a Doctor Strange picture for the same pricetag as Dark Shadows? Maybe.

      And I like Hugh Laurie … as Baron Mordo, but not as Strange. (And I say this as a guy who watched every episode of House MD, even after the show lost its mojo). The Doctor is an older guy in the comics but we need someone with more sex appeal, and the youth to carry a three-picture franchise for our title character. He can grow older along the way and you can even put a little salt-and-pepper in his beard if you insist but one of the least attractive aspects of Doctor Strange in the comics is that he seems like your dad in a flying bathrobe, and we have to expunge that from our cinematic take.

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  7. @Chuck: “I am talking Spider-Man, Daredevil, the FF and the X-Men. Fox has FF and X-Men, Columbia has Spider-Man and they just rebooted the franchise to keep the rights with similar plans for the others, but how hard would it be to work a deal to put everyone in the same Universe?”

    And that would never happen. There’s too much money at stake, too many risks, too much corporate ego in the mix for the competing studios to make that happen. I don’t see any of them “loaning” a property they have the rights to to a competing studio.

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    • There was some news that Fox was going to cut a deal with Marvel to send them back Silver Surfer in exchanged for an extension on their option with Daredevil but I agree that it is unlikely we’ll see a unified Marvel cinematic universe any time soon, for all the reasons he cites. Over time, though, I expect these characters will all rejoin the fold — it will just take a very long time. Disney has shown extraordinary patience in this regard, and the Mouse never forgets (witness the decades Disney waited before reclaiming Oswarld Rabbit).

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  8. @ Tom I will cede you the part about massive egos but Studios do joint distribution deals all the time. Disney could handle WW disty, Columbia or Fox could handle US. I spent ten years working with entertainment companies and it all comes down to money and risk. Two studios putting up money for a very pricey movie spreads out the risk. Adding characters increases the potential audience and box office money. Deals can be worked out to handle the merchandising, these guys do more horse trading than you’d think. As Paul points out they traded Al Michaels for an animated character. (OK, technically not really, but a fun story anyway)

    And Disney deals from leverage, the Avengers Box Office and their ability to extend existing agreements gives them the high ground here. There’s every reason to believe Avengers 2 could outperform the first movie. Does any reasonable person think the same is likely true of Amazing Spider-Man part 2? And once you make Spider-Man 3, what then? Fox has a franchise in X-Men that appears to be played out and two others in FF and DD that never really launched. Avengers is the concept that could break the hypothetical 3 movie shelf life on franchises.

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  9. @Chuck – it is true that studios have done joint distribution deals, but I thought those were mostly in the past when the logistics and finances of the business were different. And my understanding for most of those kinds of deals is that they were done because the movie in question had a huge budget and both studios agreed to split the budget in exchange for one studio getting US/North America distribution rights and the other studio getting all other territories. I haven’t heard that happening lately, but I could easily be wrong.

    I think Paul’s scenario is more likely – eventually all non-Disney rights will lapse and all characters will return to Disney control. Disney has all the power and there’s no benefit to them to do anything other than wait out the other studios. Disney has all the Avengers characters (and the majority of the other Marvel Universe ones) and billions of dollars in their pocket; the other studios just have the one-offs. They can spin-off X-Men into other character movies, but Spider-Man’s universe won’t expand and neither will Daredevil’s. You won’t see a Gwen Stacy or Foggy Nelson movie, for example. Disney is the studio with the most toys and doesn’t need to play nice and help the opposing studio make several hundred million with a property that Disney will eventually own anyway.

    If you’re the Disney exec who loans the characters to Sony and the Sony movie’s a hit during the weekend a Disney movie gets crushed by it, then you’re out of a job. And, conversely, if you’re the exec who loans Spider-Man to Disney to appear with the Avengers and that movie absolutely crushes the competition, including your movie for that weekend, then you’re out of a job, and, worse, ridiculed in the trade press. You might not even get a golden parachute production deal when they escort you from your office.

    I think it’d be fanboy awesome to see everyone in one big movie (the feature equivalent of a big summer Annual from the 1960s), but I don’t see it happening until Disney’s got all the pieces back under their control.

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    • All good points Tom. I agree about the fanboy awesomeness involved with getting everyone into one big movie but as Paul indicated in the very funny Barton Fink sequence above, it is show “business” with all due emphasis on the last word. I see the ability to get a deal done if only because the potential reward is so large.

      Disney has already demonstrated a willingness to cut deals to get access to characters as witnessed by their buying back distribution rights from Paramount for Avengers and their attempts to get back the Silver Surfer from Fox.

      Solo characters like Spider-Man and Daredevil will likely revert back over time since there isn’t much spinoff potential (Although, “Gwen Stacy 2: This time it’s personal!”
      would be fun to pitch…) and eventually Sony and Fox have to decide if a $150-$300 million roll of the dice is warranted to try and re-re-reboot one of the solo characters.

      But even acknowledging Disney’s legerdemain in managing their properties long term “money now” is always viewed as better than future money, especially in an industry where the future may have someone else sitting in your chair. It will be some years before Spider-Man has played out on the reboot. And there are plenty of examples of Disney wanting to maximize the hot property now instead of later. (See the career of Shore, Pauly for an example.) So while Disney can wait out Sony and Fox and New Line, et al, not wanting to make the next movie to keep the movie rights active, Sony had a good enough of a result with Spider-Man to be willing to at least take a meeting over the concept.

      The big prize is the X-Men, that’s a strong enough franchise for Fox to keep going for years with their ability to make endless character spinoff films. Avengers + X-Men = lots more money for both entities. Marvel certainly thinks so as the just completed A vs. X story line and the resulting Uncanny Avengers and similar titles indicate. Rest assured any direction that Marvel Now takes certainly has the movie properties firmly in mind.

      A joint distribution deal makes a lot of sense. If the joint films make oodles of money then both studios win and I don’t see the head of Fox lambasted for making a deal with the most relentless marketing machine on the planet anymore than I would see Disney criticized for extending the shelf life of the Avengers franchise. If they fail, then yea, the knives come out, but Disney sells failure better than anyone and besides faxing people pictures of your butt to kiss when you succeed when they did criticize you is a lot of fun.

      Regarding the joint film killing any other property at the Box Office there is already a lot of scrambling that happens when an Event Movie is due to release if only because they eat up so many of the available screens. If I am Fox and a Marvel film, where I lent an X-Men to to spark interest in a future mega joint production, comes out I just have to make sure I am not releasing anything important those first two weeks. The Majors do not release enough films these days, nor enough of them mega budget, to make this difficult to pull off. This is a the perfect place to assassinate something your predecessor greenlit a year ago.

      Finally the brand is Marvel, not Disney, or Fox, or New Line or anyone else with rights to a character. Disney has shown an ability to let the separate brands stay separate as long as they succeed.Thiis has been the case with Pixar and Touchstone and now appears to be happening with Marvel. Does the average movie goer see Captain America as a Paramount film or a Marvel picture? I am betting the latter. Working a deal to get Spider-Man into an Avengers movie or lending Black Widow into a Daredevil reboot is not the same as Disney lending out Mickey Mouse to Warners for a feature length animated picture. (Mind you Warners did lend out Bugs Bunny to Disney owned Touchstone for Roger Rabbit, so weirder things have happened…)

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      • Fox appears to be doubling down on X-Men (which depending on how you count has already beaten the three-movie-maximum by two films) — the next film is Days of Future Past, the time-jumping X-Men story from my favorite period of the book, and they’ve got Bryan Singer on board to splice his old series with the new First Class take in a movie that is supposed to include the casts of both X-Men film franchises. I’m not 100% thrilled by this direction … as much as I liked Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan I also quite liked First Class, and hoped to see McAvoy and Fassbender get a chance to breathe a bit when they reprise those roles — but tossing them all into one giant superhero film is a big zip/flop for Fox and serves notice they intend to compete head-to-head with the Avengers.

        In the end I’m not sure it’s a bad thing that these characters are spread over several studios. For one thing, big pictures stuffed to the gills with lots of characters, villains, and subplots rarely work well (the third installment of nearly every other superhero movie being the proof while Avengers — so far — is the obvious counter-example). A wiser head on a much more popular comic book site noted that if all these characters were still at Marvel then we’d probably never see movies like Guardians of the Galaxy or Ant Man (and might not have seen Avengers) — instead of rolling the dice on pictures like these, Marvel/Disney would instead be making “sure things” like Spider-Man and X-Men, and as there are only so many films a single studio can float at one time, that would almost certainly shoulder aside some of the more adventurous bets Marvel has placed so far.

        Now the studio that needs a Kryptonite boot up its ass is Warners … but that is another story, one that we hopefully will get to in our next Superhero Greenlight. Mister Miracle movie, anyone? Or how about we pitch something easy, like The Flash?

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  10. Ah, now there’s a valid point I had not considered – I think you’re right, we’re getting more Marvel-based superhero movies because the projects are spread out among different studios. And it’s led to a certain diversity of projects from Disney/Marvel. Ant Man and Guardians would indeed be laughed out of the boardroom if Disney/Marvel had the rights to Spidey, X-Men, FF, and Daredevil.

    I’d rather eat bees that contemplate a Flash movie. I’ve never liked the character and my first instinct for a movie would be to jetison nearly everything about the concept and start all over with the Fastest Man Alive concept and build out a brand new story. Now Mister Miracle I could support wholeheartedly.

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    • I don’t want to jump the gun on the Flash greenlight column but let me give you three words that might change your mind: Neil Patrick Harris.

      (I also found the article that advanced the idea there would be no Guardians of the Galaxy movie on the way if Marvel still held Fantastic Four — it’s at ComicBookMovie.com)

      And when you are ready to enter the star chamber with that Mister Miracle pitch, Tom-baby, I am all ears. The Ulm is going to be a tough sell on that one, though.

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  11. I always liked the idea of Hugh Laurie as the Doctor. He is age appropriate! And wasn’t Roman Coppola big on the idea of directing a Doc Strange film in the 90s? Burton or Del Toro aside, he’d be a good pick for a big budget SFX bonanza. Tim Pope too.

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  12. I think we’ve come full circle on what makes for a great SFX popcorn movie director. For a time it was about being a master of technology, and this was the era when guys like Jan de Bont, Michael Bay, and (prequel-era) George Lucas were best in class. Now that the technology is more of a commodity and widely-understood, the pendulum has swung toward directors who can work with actors (not just technology) inside the highly technical environment of a green screen picture — Peter Jackson, Joss Whedon, and Brad Bird all spring to mind. Interesting to note that James Cameron has always been at the top of the class — he has simultaneously helped pioneer the computer-effects driven spectacular with films like Terminator 2, Titanic, and Avatar, but has also understood the human side of film making, getting authentic and grounded performances out of his leads.

    In recent years, Marvel has had good luck in picking directors less for their technical chops than for their story strengths, and I expect this trend will continue. Where this leaves us for a Doctor Strange director I am not sure. There have been several excellent suggestions in this thread, but as an outsider I of course am inclined to pick someone on the basis of their past work, and in this it is easy to miss the next big auteur. Looking at Evil Dead 3 would have given me only the slightest confidence to give Spider-Man to Sam Raimi, and I see nothing in The Frighteners that tells me Peter Jackson was up to Fellowship of the Ring.

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  13. Wow. I’ve no idea what character you’re discussing but it’s not Dr. Strange. The entire backstory is garbage, as is the characterization. Stop reading Geoff Johns and pick up a book on writing.

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