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The final numbers are in, and Kick-Ass did take the #1 spot at the US box office after all – by $200,000. It’s a win, but a very, very close one… so what happened?
Despite some interesting theories to the contrary, there’s little denying that Kick-Ass seriously underperformed this weekend; initial projections had the movie making somewhere in the region of $30 million, but as early as Saturday, studio execs were saying that the movie “never took hold the way many of us thought it would.”
[T]he Kick-Ass machine rammed outrageousness, colorfully vicious action and self-referential humor down people’s throats but lacked purpose and story. It was true to its sensory-bound but nondescript title. Furthermore, while some spoofs work, people aren’t as eager to see heroes torn down. Watchmen and television series Heroes alienated many viewers with such themes, so a movie brazenly dissing heroes in its presentation, like Kick-Ass, was only going to go so far.
Let’s consider both of these points for a second. Firstly, while there was a lot of push for this movie, with television, print and online ads appearing all over the place, the marketing really seemed to be confused with online trailers giving a more honest view of the stylized ultraviolence-and-swearing that filled the movie instead of the weird teen comedy you’d have expected from the television ads, or the garishly colorful posters with their oddly-inspirational slogans (“Shut Up. Kick Ass.” Really?) – You could be forgiven, if you weren’t already paying attention, for not really knowing what Kick-Ass actually was, from the way it was being marketed.
The second point, though, may be the more important one in the larger picture: This was another deconstructionist superhero comic that disappointed when adapted to another medium. It’s not necessarily another Watchmen – If nothing else, the smaller budget and involvement of its creator saves it from that fate – but it could be construed as a sign that moviegoing audiences like their superheroes more inspirational than flawed, Dark Knight-aside. And why not? The superhero genre is still pretty much unexplored in that medium, and to that audience, so they haven’t necessarily reached saturation point or the need to see icons stripped down and humanized just yet (Again, Batman aside – but you could argue that he’s been in the public consciousness at least since Adam West’s turn in the late ’60s, and is almost separated from superheroes as a genre due to his pop icon status). Kick-Ass underperforming on its opening weekend, despite the guaranteed attendance of its core fanbase, may be taken as a sign by some studios that the subversive nature of superhero movies stretches as far as Iron Man‘s snark before audiences start to wander away to other thrills.
(Actually, to Box Office Mojo’s point – what other action genre does have successful parody movies? I suddenly just remembered the failure of Cop Out earlier this year, and now can’t think of any. What am I missing?)
There’s also the possibility – spoken quietly in comic circles if at all – that Kick-Ass was never going to be a mainstream hit because it’s so intent on shocking audiences and declaring its edginess, at the cost of things like story or characterization. For a while, it seemed as if that was even considered a selling point for the movie, as it positioned itself as the punk of superhero cinema, but bad reviews from reviewers not knowing for reactionary conservatism might have warned off potential moviegoers with warnings of a film that lacked morality, has an unconvincing plot or, worst of all, featured Nic Cage as giving the film’s “most nuanced performance.” Maybe, despite all the hype and the excitement beforehand, Kick-Ass was never the kind of film that could have been a massive mainstream hit.
And so, fans and industry observers alike turn their attentions to next weekend. Lionsgate hopes that the movie will have such positive word of mouth that it’ll break the pattern of 60% second weekend dropoff and have a long life… much like How To Train Your Dragon. But even if it doesn’t, it’ll easily make back its production budget while still in theaters and, let’s face it: That’s all the success it really needs for there to be a sequel – even if it’s a direct-to-DVD one.