Marvel and Warner Bros./DC make doing big superhero box-office numbers look so automatic that over the weekend, “Hellboy” was a reminder of how much can go so wrong.
With WB’s “Shazam!” winning its second-straight domestic weekend with a $25.1 million take, according to studio estimates Sunday, comics-adapted action titles have already won seven weekends this year — including “Aquaman,” “Captain Marvel” and “Alita: Battle Angel.”
Lionsgate/Summit’s “Hellboy,” however, is providing a very different financial and philosophical story line.
The third “Hellboy” film, with Neil Marshall now inheriting the director’s chair, grossed a woeful $12 million in its domestic debut — on a $50 million production budget.
That’s nearly half of what 2004’s original “Hellboy” ($23.2 million) opened to for Sony/Revolution; that Guillermo del Toro film went on to gross a modest $99.3 million worldwide on a $66 million budget. And del Toro’s 2008 sequel, “Hellboy II: The Golden Army,” opened to $34 million domestically (before going to gross $160.3 million worldwide on an $85 million budget) for Universal.
In other words, Hollywood’s PG-13 adaptations of Mike Mignola’s half-demon character for Dark Horse Comics were never major breakouts. But they were solid, soulful horror hits that felt pleasingly idiosyncratic right before Marvel Studios and WB/DC began to dominate the landscape with massive cinematic universes.
Marvel, especially, has had a steady hand in Kevin Feige, who has overseen 22 straight box-office champs for the MCU.
By comparison, the attempt to complete a “Hellboy” trilogy seems to have been bedeviled by a crisis in leadership.
Del Toro was not brought back for the third film, which reportedly led to Ron Perlman choosing not to reprise his iconic title role for the new movie. The actor told Collider last year that the dissolution was “still an open wound.”
Enter director Marshall (HBO’s “Game of Thrones” and “Westworld”) and David Harbour as the new Hellboy.
But as the Wrap reported last week, Marshall clashed with two of the movie’s 16 producers. Accounts differ on what creative battles ensued, but cinematographer Sam McCurdy was replaced, and the gore was turned up to an R rating.
The critical result? The new “Hellboy” gets only a dismal 15 percent “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes; an average score of 31 on Metacritic; and a sad C from audiences according to CinemaScore.
If Marshall’s “Hellboy” continues to flop, the second-guessing will intensify: Should del Toro have been secured for the return? Should the trilogy have been completed years ago, on a cycle more like Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy — when fans were engaged in one director’s coherent vision? And should the franchise even have been rebooted at this point, without the freedom of an auteur’s vision and with Hollywood’s stacked schedule of comics-sprung movies?
However this project became so misguided, film fans have spoken.
Even modern comic-book movies can be too hellacious to find a sizable audience.