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The Weekend Movie Takeaway: 'Hellboy'

April 15, 2019
2 min read time

A superhero took the top box office spot over the weekend, but not the one everybody may have been anticipating. 

David F. Sandberg's Shazam!, which is being celebrated for its light tone and sunny demeanor, pulled in $25 million in its second weekend in theaters, which speaks to the overall positivity surrounding the film's reception. 

It's more than double the take of Hellboy, the newest superhero film on the block that premiered over the weekend, which took in only $12 million to earn third place. It's a result that no doubt shocked the rights holders of Hellboy, but may have been slightly less shocking to the legions of Hellboy fans who felt like the property was being mishandled. 

Indeed, the new Hellboy's lackluster returns reflects the perils of mismanaging the most volatile aspect of mass-market superhero films: the fans. Oscar-winner Guillermo del Toro previously made two Hellboy films in 2004 and 2008, both starring Ron Pearlman in the title role. Del Toro always said he wanted to complete the trilogy, but the people who owned the rights to Hellboy decided that starting again with a new cast and a new director was a better bet. Big mistake.

Although Hellboy comic book creator Mike Mignola was on board, this reboot arrived at a time when the vast majority of fans were still heavily invested in seeing the first Hellboy trilogy play out. The new Hellboy feels like what it is—a cash grab by some people who found themselves holding the rights to a comic book character, and wanted a piece of that sweet, sweet superhero blockbuster coin, without stopping first to examine what makes the best superhero films work. 

The two biggest takeaways from the way superhero films dominate the blockbuster market are that you have to honor the source material, and second: listen to the fans. Although the new Hellboy may have technically satisfied the former criteria, it was somewhat out of touch regarding the latter, and that is reflected in the film’s poor returns. Lesson: Finish the story you are telling before you start a new one. It's something reboot-happy Hollywood could stand to remember. 

In between Shazam! and Hellboy on the weekend box office table was Little, a light comedy about a harsh businesswoman (Regina Hall) who wakes up as her thirteen-year-old self (Marsai Martin). The breezy film almost feels like it’s from another era when mainstream, high concept comedies were still a thing, and speaks to the audience’s desire to still see these kinds of stories on the big screen.

It's also narratively notable that two of the top three films at this past weekend’s box office—Shazam! and Little—heavily reference the 1988 Tom Hanks hit, Big. Shazam! has repeatedly been  described as Big meets Superman, while Little is essentially Big in reverse; again highlighting tangible audience nostalgia. 

From a narrative perspective, it's worth noting that the weekend's specialty box office results featured two new films about pop stars:Max Minghella's Teen Spirit, starring Elle Fanning, and Alex Ross Perry's Her Smell, starring Elizabeth Moss. Although they are very different films, their dual release suggests that filmmaker and audience interest in films about singers and the music industry isn't waning.

It should also be acknowledged that the main narrative news over the weekend did not emerge from the world of cinema, but from premium cable. There are very few TV shows that the entire world stops to watch, but the streets were surely empty as the first episode of the final season of Game of Thrones premiered on Sunday evening.

Our massive collective investment in seeing how this narrative resolves ties directly into our primal need for storytelling as a species. It's the biggest campfire in the world, and we're all gathered around it, together.

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