Marvel’s The Avengers is the third highest grossing movie of all time, on a global scale, so I’m going to ask an obvious question; “Why.” Don’t get me wrong, the Avengers was a brilliant movie, but there are more factors that went in to making The Avengers a success. Without a doubt this is because Marvel marketed the movies to fans, and not just to the general public. In the not too distant past, when comic book movies were made, they were marketed to those unfamiliar with the characters, but over the years, companies seem to have learned that they should be marketing these movies to people who are already fans. If you treat the fans well, they are more likely to spread positive word of mouth, drawing in future fans. A portion of these new fans will check out the comic and the whole cycle will start over.
Comedian Lewis Black said “We always feel better in anticipation. You don’t think about something and think “Aw, it’s gonna be shitty.” NO! You say “This is gonna be the greatest weekend ever! Sonuvabitch!” The anticipation of an event builds and adds to the event itself. Now, let’s look at the lead up to the Avengers movie. Thor, Captain America, two Hulk movies, and two Iron Man movies. This is a lot of build up for such a major picture, and each has spawned its own series upon that (With the exception of the Hulk movies). But the anticipation machine goes even deeper than that. Hidden in each movie are a number of Easter eggs, the holy grails of geekdom. These hidden gems reference bits of the past that fans can pick up on and discuss with like minded friends, or people on the internet. However, these Easter eggs are also a reward. Subconsciously, aficionados will feel that their fanaticism is being acknowledged and rewarded. It strikes a cord with the viewer, reminding him that he is part of a community. That’s why it works so well. That brief little flash is a common thread that releases a flicker of good feeling.
In addition to respecting the fans as a community, the movies have to respect the source material. Without this, the people who love the comics will most likely pick apart the movie, spreading negative word of mouth, and turning people away from the film instead of drawing new viewers in. On the other side of things, if a film is respectful to a beloved source, community will praise it. New viewers will be drawn in, fans will be happy, and more leeway will be given to future films. Now this is not baring companies for making new and interesting adaptations of a character. Batman for instance is a character of many different portrayls, and the campy Adam West Batman is just as valid of a character as Christian Bale’s Batman. That being said, an unusual version of a loved character will face a great deal of resistance, and any character changes need to be important to the story. The mythos of a character or characters is built around a history that took decades to solidify.
Michael Bay’s changes to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles hit a wall of resistance because a group of aliens is needlessly contradictory to the classic origin story. The 1980’s TMNT story, however was beloved even though it was different from the dark and gritty Laird and Eastman group. The lighthearted turtles were still the beloved characters from the comic book, even though they were modified into their kid friendly forms. Good writing is about both psychology and history, and few people know these aspects of a character like a true fan. When characters are retooled and reworked in movies, some of this is lost and, perhaps only subconsciously, the fans will pick up on it. So, while writers and directors may complain about having to appease the fan-boys, its that same group of devoted followers that keep the characters true to themselves, making every new iteration better. After all, the fans are just as responsible for the creation and life of the characters as the writer.