It was just a little bit later than this last year that Dredd 3D, the R-rated comic book adaptation beloved by its small number of fans, failed not only to take #1 at the U.S. box office but even to crack the top five. That film went on to earn only $13.4 million domestically and its sequel hopes rest squarely on home video sales. Well, Kick-Ass 2 managed a bit better than that, anyway. It didn't make the cut for our five favorites of all time, but the R-rated comic book adaptation managed a $13.6 million opening weekend, coming in at #4 behind Lee Daniels' The Butler and last week's holdovers We're the Millers and Elysium. But given the fact that nobody started to seriously consider the idea that Kick-Ass 2 might not come in at #1 until late last week, it's likely the studio is seeing this as a disappointment and, again, its sequel hopes might ride on international performance and the home video market. In fairness, that's what they said about Kick-Ass the first time around...and now we're talking about the second movie. Mark Millar is reportedly already writing a third film, so unless this performance is substantially lower than studio expectations, it wouldn't be too surprising to see an announcement fairly soon. The film's B+ CinemaScore among audiences shows that most people who saw it, liked it, and could bode well for repeat viewings, word-of-mouth and home video sales.
But back to Dredd for a minute--when it was headed into theaters, those attached to the film said that it would need to make at least $50 million at the U.S. box office in order to be considered for a sequel. At the time, Travis and screenwriter Alex Garland said that there was an outline in place for three films, and so there were high hopes for the film to become a franchise for Lionsgate and Relativity. That didn't happen, obviously, but after it left theaters, something interesting did: the home video numbers have been great, and if you compare them to the theatrical numbers they're flat-out astounding. It regularly tops sales and rental charts for Amazon, Netflix and others and, each time the energized and motivated fan base headquartered at the Make a Dredd Sequel Facebook page launches a new campaign, the movie surges into the top twenty, sometimes completely depleting the stock of online retailers like Amazon and sending them back to order more from the distributor. The sequel hasn't yet been greenlit, but at Comic Con, star Karl Urban was telling fans and reporters that the prospects for a sequel were as good as they've been since the movie was in theaters. Home video sales have saved fan-favorite TV series like Arrested Development and Family Guy, so why not Dredd? If Dredd 2 happens because of the movie's hardcore fans, it won't be the first time. DVD sales and the passionate fans who buy t-shirts and extra copies of the movie to lend to friends have helped films like Kick-Ass have theatrical sequels and other movies that were considered flops, like 30 Days of Night, to have comparably less-expensive direct-to-video or TV follow-ups. That R-rated comic book movies tend to do poorly in U.S. theaters, relative to internationally and on home video, is arguably not a surprise. The comic book-reading audience has been aging, so while R-rated movies would seem to have plenty of potential for growth, the reality is that many of those potential audience members have kids or other responsibilities that make it harder to get out to theaters. PG-13 and under movies mean they can take their kids, but an R-rated comic book movie isn't going to be a family outing. That means if you're unable to separate from your kids for a night, it becomes "Meh--I can wait for the DVD. It's only three months nowadays."
And then DVD sales come in at impressive numbers that don't reflect the mediocre box office turnout. International audiences, too, tend to turn out differently with this. The U.S. has a different perception of comics than do many nations, especially markets like China and the U.K., where mature comics and manga are more common. The international take for Kick-Ass was more than the U.S. tally, as was the case with Dredd (even more substantially). This is less uncommon now than it was when Kick-Ass came out, but it's still not the norm for American-made movies. Other R-rated comic book movies have had more success on video than at the box office, as well. Watchmen just barely made back its budget at theaters, but on video the initial version and Director's Cut sold well enough to justify an Ultimate Cut--a multi-disc set that included a three-hour-long cut of the movie that closely mirrored the comic books and a ton of special features. Most recently, yet another new box set was released with some new special features--this one packaged with a hardcover version of the graphic novel.
Sin City was a cult hit even in theaters, bringing in about twice its modest $40 million budget in the U.S. (for context, its numbers match up pretty well with the first Kick-Ass, give or take), but when it came to DVD it was a runaway bestseller. A deluxe edition of the movie, which included a digest-sized reprint of the the first Sin City graphic novel and a three-disc set complete with a recut version of the movie that played in the order of the comics rather than the intercut running order of the film. 300 was a huge hit in theaters--and continued to be a great performer on video for Warner Bros., complete with a box set as well. These are significant because a film that isn't performing on DVD doesn't get second and third and fourth chances to lose money in new and creative ways; these repackagings are generally reserved for "evergreen" products like Batman and The Wizard of Oz, where they know there will always be an audience and that some of the core audience will buy each new iteration as well. Could Kick-Ass 3 happen, then, as a direct-to-video product? That's not likely; the margin simply isn't high enough, and it's shrinking all the time as the DVD marketplace shrinks. But that shrinking DVD marketplace means that movies like Dredd, which perform remarkably well in spite of the fact that comparable or sometimes even bigger movies turn out to be a dud on home video, stick out and studios are more likely to take notice.
Kick-Ass 2 will be an interesting experiment, in that most of the things that "went away" and then came back as a result of strong video sales and fan pressure have gone on to perform well in their next outing. Arrested Development thrilled Netflix with its return, and Family Guy did so well that the showrunner has essentially taken over creative control of the network. Even Futurama, in spite of having been recently cancelled, performed strongly for the first little while after its return and continues to do better in its final season than many of Comedy Central's other shows (it's more expensive, though, and that's why it's under the gun). That Kick-Ass 2 made significantly less at the box office this weekend than did Kick-Ass in its opening weekend, in spite of the leap of faith that the studio took in making a second movie when they weren't overly thrilled with the performance of the first one, will put a huge amount of focus on how it does on home video. The promise of a third movie could vanish into the wind if, like Hellboy II: The Golden Army, the film fails to do what the studio hopes on home video after the underwhelming box office performance, or it could change the way the studio looks at franchise-building if it turns into a movie with legs, a strong international take and a big number on Blu-ray. And, ideally, if it does well and gets a sequel, it could pave the way for the Dredds of the world, and other beloved movies that didn't make enough to blow away a studio head, to be given another chance.