With the estimates for its third weekend in ($11.5m towards $94m to-date, domestic) it’s safe to consider Ghost Rider a qualified success as it’s quite likely that it will surpass director Mark Steven Johnson’s previous effort, Daredevil — which topped out at $102m after 22 weeks in release — by the end of next weekend, despite receiving even worse reviews; and its final domestic take should, at least, cover its pricey $120m production budget. In doing so, it will also likely match, or beat, the combined box office of Daredevil and its ill-conceived spinoff, Elektra, which bombed two years ago with a mere $24m domestic take.
Did anyone other than Avi Arad, Johnson and Nicolas Cage (for whom Ghost Rider represents his widest initial release and best opening weekend box office ever) really see this coming? Suddenly, the decision to postpone its release from August 2006 and invest in some top-notch special effects seems to have paid off immensely as it’s hard to believe it would have found this level of success in last summer’s crowded schedule, lost in the shadow of the likes of Pirates of the Carribean, X-Men: The Last Stand and Superman Returns.
In light of the perception that Superman Returns was a relative disappointment last summer, and the creative turmoil surrounding the Wonder Woman and Flash movies, combined with the imminent release of the Spider-Man and Fantastic Four sequels, it would appear that Marvel is poised to project its dominance of the Distinguished Competition in print onto the silver screen. Marvel’s patented formula of relatable, human characters struggling to come to terms with newfound powers seems to translate even better to Hollywood than it does in comic book form, which probably explains why Batman is arguably DC’s most bankable character and Smallville has been such an unexpectedly long-legged success.
Perhaps it’s time for Warner Brothers to look beyond their sorely dated, ill-conceived Trinity and tap into their deep roster of second and third-tier characters, a la Blade and Ghost Rider, many of whom have more crossover potential and appeal to a non-comics reading audience? They have a much stronger Sci-Fi-based pool to pull from than Marvel does, with Green Lantern Corps, Adam Strange and even the new Blue Beetle being prime candidates for adaptation; Jonah Hex would be perfect for the big or small screen (cable only, please), especially with the recent introduction of Tallulah Black; and Gotham Central would be a no-brainer for the Fall 2008 TV season, which will likely be Smallville’s last.
With their only surefire hit not hitting screens until the summer of 2008 — the upcoming Batman Begins sequel, Dark Knight — they’ll have plenty of time to study Marvel’s hits and misses and figure out how to develop a successful slate of films from their rich character pool, but much like it is on the comics side of things, if they’re depending on the high-risk gambles of Wonder Woman and Flash to lead the charge, they’re in for an even bigger disappointment than One Year Later turned out to be.