Could ‘Ant-Man’ Be Marvel’s First Superhero Movie Miss?

In 2008, Marvel was preparing to bring a second-tier superhero that fanboys knew, but the general public did not, to movie theaters everywhere. And while it now seems inconceivable that "Iron Man" was actually a risky project, at the time the only hit superhero movies starred A-list heroes Batman and Superman.

"Iron Man," of course, turned out to be a massive hit, which, according to IMDB.com, grossed $318 million in the United States alone on a budget of $140 million. That film went on to not only inspire two successful sequels and a number of spinoffs, but the third-highest grossing film in the U.S. of all time, "The Avengers," which made over $623 million domestically.

Now only a few years later, Marvel (now owned by Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) ) faces a movie launch similar to the original "Iron Man." With 2015's "Ant Man," the company has a hero even less-known than Iron Man and a marketplace where superhero movies are certainly not guaranteed blockbusters.

Look to the Green Lantern

While Marvel has not stumbled with any of its movies since "Iron Man's" breakthrough in 2008, rival DC has had a spottier record. All three Batman movies were hits and "The Dark Night" is the fourth highest-grossing U.S. release ever, taking in $533 million, according to IMDB . The Superman movie "Man of Steel" was also a hit, taking in $298 million in U.S. box office.

But others were not as successful. According to IMDB, DC's 2010 film "Jonah Hex," based on a not-very-well-known character, brought in a disastrous $10 million domestically on a budget of $47 million. 2009's "Watchmen," based on a graphic novel beloved by comic book fans but unknown to the general public, took in $107 million in the U.S., just under its $110 million budget.

Perhaps the most comparable film to "Ant-Man" -- who despite being somewhat obscure is, in fact, a member of The Avengers -- is "Green Lantern," based on one of the lesser-known members of DC's "Justice League."

That movie starred the seemingly likable but ultimately miscast Ryan Reynolds, and cost an estimated $200 million to make while bringing in only $113 million in U.S. box office, according to IMDB. As the Fool's Tim Beyers wrote, Green Lantern is an important brand in the DC universe, and DC is as important a source of franchise material for Time Warner  (NYSE: TWX  ) , so the result was more than just one underperforming movie for the studio.

Beware Paul Rudd

Like "Iron Man" was to "The Avengers," "Green Lantern" was supposed to be for an eventual Justice League movie. That might have been too much box office pressure for Reynolds, who, according to Box Office Mojo, at that point in his career had only starred in one film that brought in over $100 million at the box office: 2009's "The Proposal." Other than that film, his starring roles have been in art house affairs like 2010's "Buried" and low-end dreck including 2002's "National Lampoon's Van Wilder."

Paul Rudd, who is starring as Ant-Man, has been in a number of ensemble hits, but has struggled to carry movies on his own despite being given several chances. According to Box Office Mojo, Rudd bombed co-starring with the previously impervious-to-failure Tina Fey in 2013's "Admission," which took in a scant $18 million. He also underperformed for writer/director Judd Apatow in 2012's "This is 40," which brought in a middling $67 million. Rudd might be well-liked and part of some big hits as a supporting character, but he has never had a major hit as a lead actor.

Can a box office misstep defeat The Avengers?

"Green Lantern" may have delayed a "Justice League" movie, but "Ant-Man" does not face similar pressure as there is probably no safer bet at the box office than the Avengers sequel "Avengers: Age of Ultron." In fact, though it has not been announced and Rudd does not appear on cast lists for "Ultron," it seems likely the Avengers film (slated for release on May 1, 2015) will serve as a launch pad for "Ant-Man," which comes out about eight weeks later on July 17, 2015.

Even if the character only appears in a cameo in "Ultron," "Ant-Man" should benefit from the frenzy for all things Avengers likely to be created by the sequel. Ant-Man may not be Superman, Spiderman, or even Thor in public appeal, but Marvel has been able to make its movies feel like must-see events. And the timing on this release suggests that while the film may not do "Iron Man" numbers, it should be a decided hit.

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Read/Post Comments (10) | Recommend This Article (2)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On February 14, 2014, at 10:05 AM, phreejak wrote:

    It's a good thing you aren't counting two Hulks, Elektra or Daredevil.

  • Report this Comment On February 14, 2014, at 10:19 AM, walleye117 wrote:

    Little boys don't want to grow up to be Ant Man. They want to be Super Man Bat Man Spider Man, or Iron Man. Kids know being small gets you picked on, and your weak.

    Another nail in the coffin for Ant Man is that it has to rely on CGI effects, which doomed Green Lantern. Green Lantern was always one of my favorite characters, and it wasn't a bad movie, but many people I think were turned off by the fake look of the characters.

  • Report this Comment On February 14, 2014, at 10:41 AM, Darrin1313 wrote:

    This article is nothing but pure and utter speculation, as there is not a shred of anything relating to the actual quality of the movie or any audience research to gauge its box office potential, as the movie has not even been made yet. One could just as easily written an article called 'Why Ant-Man will be a huge surprise', listing reasons such as: 1) Marvel is establishing a very good track record of quality (and hit) movies, produced in-house, especially those tied to The Avengers. 2) Director Edgar Wright is a very talented and imaginative filmmaker who is perfect for the material. 3) Paul Rudd is a likeable and popular actor who has headlined such hits as Role Models and I Love You Man, along with his long list of ensemble hits. There, I just wrote an equally valid article based on just as much factual evidence.

  • Report this Comment On February 14, 2014, at 10:55 AM, reverendchase wrote:

    Sure, but if we're being honest, little boys didn't really look up to Iron Man that much comparatively speaking. Ant-Man has existed and been important in comic books just as long (actually slightly longer) than even Iron Man.

    The Ant-Man movie has great potential in its cast (including Michael Douglas as Hank Pym), its director Edgar Wright (easily one of the most consistent filmmakers of this generation) and that it appears to be structured like a heist film more than a general superhero film.

    The actual test that Marvel Studios faces is this year's Guardians of the Galaxy, a property which even many people who know comic books are unfamiliar with.

  • Report this Comment On February 14, 2014, at 11:36 AM, mrcarlg200 wrote:

    There could only be one reason for this movie's downfall. Most fans know Hank Pym as Ant Man and not basing the movie on him is a big mistake. Let's not forget using Hank Pym for Ant Man also opens the door in possible sequels for Yellow Jacket and Giant Man to show up, other characters fans got to know because of Hank Pym. Right now everyone is waiting to see what the Ant Man movie will bring to the table but no one is expecting much.

    As far as the failure of Green Lantern, I chalk that up to a very bad storyline for the movie. They pretty much threw up all over the Green Lantern comics when they wrote the script. They used too much creative license with the characters origin stories and the villian Paralax as well. Paralax shouldn't have even been in the first movie because of the history of the character in the comics and the change he brings to the Green Lantern story in general. If they had a better script with a different villian I think the movie would have done better at the box office, even with Ryan Reynolds.

  • Report this Comment On February 14, 2014, at 11:43 AM, scarygarymc wrote:

    I'm predicting that Guardians of the Galaxy will make less than Ant-Man. Disney's record with space-related movies isn't anything to brag about. Treasure Island, Mars Needs Moms and John Carter (which was actually an entertaining movie) are pretty much all failures in the eyes of investors. With Guardians, they are taking a basically unknown team and hoping to cash in on the Thanos / Avengers crossover.

    When I saw the extra scene in Thor 2 that set up the Guardians movie, I (and most of the other comic fans in the audience) were not blown away.

    Now, with Ant-Man, you are getting an existing character (even though it's the 2nd guy to don the outfit) who can fit right in to the Disney / Marvel Universe. Paul Rudd's is becoming more popular with each film that he does. They are also bringing in Michael Douglas to please the fanboys as he will portray Hank Pym (the original Ant-Man). Edgar Wright knows what comic geeks want (see Shaun of the Dead & Scott Pilgrim Vs The World) and being an actual fan of Ant-Man lets me know that the character is in great hands.

    One other prediction - I'm betting that we see Ant-Man turn into Giant Man during the end credits.

  • Report this Comment On February 14, 2014, at 12:07 PM, Loves2Splooge wrote:

    This article and the comments along with it show exactly how little your writers, and most people know about Ant-Man, GotG, and anyone else this isn't a "mainstream" superhero. Ant-Man is widely regarded by comic fans across the world as the true leader of the Avengers. Most of the people who go to superhero movies have at least the slightest bit of knowledge about the material its based on. Furthermore, Marvel has proven it doesn't "miss" on its films. Before everyone says the Eric Bana Hulk, Daredevil, Elektra, those movies were not under the "Marvel Films" group, they are Marvel characters films were made about. Beyond all that, Rudd is about the perfect guy to play Ant-Man. He can be serious, funny, smart-assed, and quirky. He fits Ant-Man to a T, and is supported by fans all over the country. Great direction, great actors, and exactly the right time to bring him in.

  • Report this Comment On February 14, 2014, at 4:34 PM, Pssst123 wrote:

    I love Paul Rudd's movies and will watch anything he acts in. However, he's a funny, sweet guy, sometimes a bit of a f**k up. But he's NOT a super hero. I can't begin to imagine how a studio would put this kind of expectations on someone who is expected to play a character so far off of what he's known far. I see a huge disaster coming.

    What Marvel should be working on is a re-invention of Fantastic Four, a film that was so badly botched in its two films that I was very upset, as FF was one of my very favorites as a kid. With today's film technology and the science basis of the storyline, it could have been incredible. The way 'Man of Steel' was imagined on the screen was how I'd have done FF, but no, they had to turn it into some idiotic mess. They completely destroyed one of the coolest villains in all of comicdom in Doctor Doom. What a pansy portrayal!!! I also had friends who were upset with Green Lantern, but it was OK for me. Not as great as it should have been, but you can't blame that on Ryan Reynolds. He played it exactly as it was directed. At least Reynolds has a super heroes physique. Rudd, not so much. It's going to be a disaster.

  • Report this Comment On February 15, 2014, at 9:30 PM, cwjian90 wrote:

    @Pssst123: While the Fantastic Four certainly deserve a reinvention, unfortunately they are still owned by Fox (who made the last two films), and it is unlikely they will relinquish the rights soon (they are in the process of making a new Fantastic Four movie).

  • Report this Comment On February 17, 2014, at 8:21 PM, arbee54 wrote:

    When I first started hearing people riot over an Ant-Man film to happen I was beginning to get annoyed to the extent of researching the character to figure out what the big fuss was about to drive fans demand a live action film. I still wasnt WOWed, and honestly wasnt that interested. Then I found out that they were casting Paul Rudd Ant-Man and I was immediately sold. Not just because of the character but because of the Actor. So Paul Rudd shouldnt be a reason to why this movie might be a flop. Have you seen the man in Our Idiot Brother, he was a superb actor. People should be worried at the fact that theyre making Michael Douglas play an older version of Pym. That means that the story line of Ant-Man will completely change, and Wasp is just another old gal. Hopefully Evangeline Lilly will play a made up character (Pyms daughter) and take up her mothers mantle as the Wasp after Lang is approved by Pym to keep the Ant-Man suit he stole throughout the movie. Thats the only way i see this working out

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