Director: Guillermo Del Torro
Recently it was announced that Hellboy would receive a reboot, starring David Harbour of Stranger Things fame, 10 years after Hellboy 2: The Golden Army was released. In honor of this, I elected to watch Hellboy and Hellboy 2 over the long Labor Day weekend. As I viewed the films, I could not help but ask myself, “Why did this franchise fail and why didn’t it get more praise than it received?”
How to make a hit
It is impossible to determine just what will be a hit when it comes to any medium, be it music, television or film. You just never know what concept or intellectual property will be a hit or what will simply tank with audiences. Producers and executives all seem to think they know exactly the right formula to produce a product that will earn a significant return on investment. This thought process seems especially true when it comes to blockbuster films; movies with big budgets, big casts and big marketing. Although there are films that are destined for financial failure, looking at you Valerian, some films are strong in concept and seem to be delivered to audiences at just the right time. Such a franchise was the Hellboy movies. Hellboy and Hellboy 2 were released in 2004 and 2008 respectively, and although they were not colossal bombs, they didn’t exactly set the Box Office on fire. Hellboy managed $99 million worldwide on a $66 million dollar budget, while Hellboy 2 managed $160 million worldwide on an $85 million budget, both films fell just short of doubling their budgets internationally. Some may claim that it is simply a question of timing, however, I remind you that Hellboy 2 was released the same year the MCU blew up with the arrival of the first Iron Man. So was the story and history for the character simply not fleshed out enough?
Hellboy is based off a comic book of the same name created by Mike Mignola and was published by Dark Horse Comics. Hellboy (Ron Perlman) was conceived by a human witch after what I can only assume was a sizzling relationship with a demon named Azzael. In the original Hellboy film, the movie initially takes place in 1944 during World War II, when the mad monk Rasputin (Karel Roden), attempts to summon a monstrous entity through a portal that connects Earth with a location deep in space. The allies have successfully destroy the portal and stop Rasputin, but not before a being snuck through. The allies likely expected some demonic being set on the destruction of mankind, instead what they find is an infant demon-like creature who appears quite frightened. The infant creature is secured by Professor Bruttenholm (John Hurt) who, along with other members of allies present, name him Hellboy. The Professor and Hellboy share a bond that grows into a father-son relationship. In 1945 the Professor founded the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense which houses beings like Hellboy, Abe Sapien (Doug James) and Liz Sherman (Selma Blair). Abe Sapien is a psychic amphibious man and Liz Sherman is a pyrokinetic with an explosive personality…. Yes, that was a pun and yes… it was terrible; it seems the pun went down in flames. The Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense investigates and defends against the occult, supernatural and paranormal. Together, Hellboy and his team are all that stands between humanity and other worldly creatures hell bent on Earth’s destruction.
Not the dark horse of Dark Horse
The concept of the film is sound, the mythology well established and yet the film failed to resonant with audiences. Maybe Hellboy failed because it was based off a little known property, published in a little know label. To those of you unfamiliar with films based off Dark Horse Comics, Hellboy 2, the higher earner in the franchise, manages to rank 5th behind both 300 movies, The Mask and Alien Vs Predator. Seriously?! Alien Vs Predator, released in 2004, made more money than both Hellboy movies…. I mean I guess the Alien-Predator baby thing was kind of cool, if you’re into inter-species hybrids from outer space, if you are, I’m not judging, but I doubt most people will align with your tastes. Even if you never heard about Dark Horse Comics before, audiences were in fact paying good money for products based off their source material. On a side note, per Box Office Mojo, the number 8 Dark Horse Comics movie is Timecop. So if anyone was unsure whether or not Van Damme was actually created by a comic book artist, I think I have found the evidence that can put that debate to rest.
Hell or High Water
The original Hellboy movies were excellent, helmed by Guillermo Del Toro, audiences were taken to a fantastical world of the supernatural and paranormal. The sets were elaborate and the costumes were intricately designed and looked as if they were ripped right out some artist’s dream or nightmare. Ron Perlman as Hellboy absolutely nailed the role and really brought the character to life, this is coming from someone who has never read the comics previous to seeing this film. Like Nolan did with his Batman trilogy, Del Toro managed to produce a franchise of such high quality that it likely, at least in my case, evoked people into being more interested in the source material.
It would seem there is no definitive answer as to why the original Hellboy movies failed to strike a chord with audiences. However, with the continued success of the comic book/superhero genre it is no surprise that Hollywood is bringing back Hellboy for another go around. We can only hope Neil Marshall, currently filming Lost in Space for Netflix, will be able to produce a film of the same caliber as the original movies. Hellboy can found on Netflix, while Hellboy 2 is available on HBO, definitely give it a look.