Just as Maude spun off from the sitcom All in the Family superhero characters have often left the safety of the ensemble to strike out on their own. This weekend Wolverine leaves the comfort of Professor Charles Xavier’s School for Gifted (read: Mutant) Youngsters to headline his own movie, X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
It’s not uncommon for television and movie characters to appear in spin-offs, but why does the comic book world seem to spawn more ancillary projects than any other genre?
“Because superhero movies are based on strong characters with rich histories it’s almost impossible to fit all the most compelling aspects of these heroes and their key stories into one film,” says watchtowerpodcast.com comic book expert Jeff Moss. “That’s especially true in the case of ‘team’ stories. Even some of the peripheral characters in the X-Men universe have deep back-stories that would make for great movies.”
Among the first of those deep back stories producers tried to exploit sprung from the phenomenally successful Christopher Reeve Superman movies. 1984’s Supergirl is the story of Superman’s cousin Kara Zor-El, (Canadian Helen Shaver in her big screen debut), who leaves her isolated Kryptonian home to reclaim the powerful Omegahedron orb (which can infuse an artificial structure with life) from the evil witch Selena (Faye “I’m considering nothing less than world domination” Dunaway). Unlike its male oriented predecessors it was a critical debacle, but grabbed the number one slot at the box office on its opening weekend nonetheless.
Another female superhero spin-off didn’t even fare as well as Supergirl. Elektra, an offshoot from the 2003 movie Daredevil, should have been a slam dunk for star Jennifer Garner. Coming off the success of her butt-kicking secret agent series Alias, she should have aced the role of Elektra, an international assassin whose dispatches enemies with a deadly dagger but audiences stayed away. On its opening weekend it ranked 5th at the box office and only earned a 34 % rating on Metacritic.
Catwoman, Halle Berry’s Batman spin off, was an even bigger disaster, even ranking on Roger Ebert’s list of most hated films. Berry acknowledged the film’s failure when she accepted the Golden Raspberry for Worst Actress. “I want to thank Warner Brothers. Thank you for putting me in a piece of sh**, God-awful movie…”
The ultimate superhero spin off and comic fan geek-out, however, is yet to come. The Avengers, featuring an all-star line-up including Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, Ant Man and Captain America, already has a confirmed released date of May 4, 2012.
“The idea of a team movie with so many great actors–Hugh Jackman, Robert Downey Jr., and Ed Norton—reprising their roles is too cool not to get excited about,” said Moss.
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