Are Superheros better Animated or Live Action?

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Are Superheros better Animated or Live Action?

Postby O.Supreme » Tue Apr 11, 2017 3:24 pm

Greetings All,

This is something I’ve been pondering for a while now. - Are comic book Superheroes better represented in animated form or live action?
I ask this because of the sentiment I hear of fatigue and burnout in terms of these films in the coming years. I mean if we go back just to the first couple of Icons for example, Superman (AC #1 June 1938) was first represented in animation via Fleischer Studios shorts made for theaters initially in 1941. Even some 75 years later, these shorts are still heralded for their groundbreaking quality of animation, and enjoyed to this day. Batman’s first time off the page was in a serialized form in 1943. Needless to say, even in those early days, low production budget prevented Batman from fully living up to his comic representation.

Throughout the 40’s & 50’s- Superman had several serials of his own, as well as a TV series with George Reeves. It wasn’t until the 1960’s that Batman first crossed over to television in both live-action and animated form, of which the live-action, while considered *campy* has a huge nostalgia factor with fans and was the most desired TV series not on DVD for the longest time until it was finally released a couple of years ago.

Of course in 1978-we got an amazing Superman film, and in 1989 quite possibly the penultimate Batman film. In 1992, we got Batman: The Animated Series-which set a new high bar for action animated series. Superman:TAS followed in 1996 by the same team involved with Batman, and while *I* personally enjoyed it just as much as Batman, I know its Batman:TAS that holds the gold standard for what is considered a well written & iconic looking animated series. In the past 30 years however –Comic Book heroes from all realms have been constantly retreaded on TV, and in film –both animated and live action.
For a long time live action was limited in what it could portray (1970’s Spider-Man is a classic example), but with modern filming techniques and CG, it seems the sky is the limit…
But I still wonder, when even the seeming *worst* Live Action representation (F4 2015) can make $168M in box office receipts, while the Best Animated Representation, may make only about 10M in media sales (DVD, Blu ray, digital downloads etc…) *citing some of the best DC Animated Films.

Now of course I know the budget for animated films is a fraction of the cost of live action, in fact the last Superhero film in animated film to be released theatrically was Batman:Mask of the Phantasm in 1993, which make only 5.6M against a 6M budget, a financial loss despite having an 82% positive score on RT
.
While not fitting the Superhero genre exactly, a more modern example would have been Star Wars: The Clone Wars. While this served little more than the pilot for the TV series, you would think that anything with “Star wars” attached would have made tons of money in the theater…

Clone wars made 68M, against a 8.5 M budget, it was a success for sure, but it still way underperformed for a Star Wars film…I feel that there was definitely an animation prejudice in this case.
For me personally I have always loved superheroes in animation as opposed to live action. I guess most people seem to *relate* more if they see real people on screen as opposed to a “cartoon character for kids”. –But for me, when I start to see how Robert Downey Junior (for example) has become so synonymous with Tony Stark that Iron Man’s portrayal in Marvel Comics, and in animation all seem to be based on RDJ, rather than the traditional Iron Man, it becomes a bit disconcerting.

I know this would probably never happen, but I would really like to see what a studio like Pixar, or DW, or Illumination could do with 100M to do a big time animated superhero film (and no Lego Batman, as a satire doesn’t count).

I’m not saying I don’t enjoy the live action films or TV series, (well I’m definitely experiencing the law of diminishing returns with them) , but I guess I just pine for an awesome animated film to be released theatrically on even ground with some of the big studio big blockbusters. I have to say the Spider-Man animated film Sony has in development for December 2018 certainly has peaked my interest, too bad we have to wait almost two years to see it.
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Re: Are Superheros better Animated or Live Action?

Postby Benjamin Haines » Wed Apr 12, 2017 11:46 am

This is kind of a tricky question for me. On the one hand, I was a '90s kid so those animated series versions of Batman, Spider-Man, Superman, and the X-Men really define those characters in my mind. When I think of Batman and the Joker, it will always be Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill's voices that I hear in my mind. The same goes for Christopher Daniel Barnes' take on Spider-Man.

However, by that same measure, I really haven't taken to any animated series adaptation of these characters in the years since. As a kid, I lost interest when the shows that defined these characters to me ended up being replaced with the likes of Spider-Man: Unlimited, X-Men: Evolution, and The Batman. I've tried watching more recent shows like Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes, Ultimate Spider-Man, Batman: The Brave and the Bold, etc. and I just do not care. I can't get into them. They mean nothing to me and I'm not compelled to spend hours upon hours of my life taking them all in. I've seen some of the recent direct-to-video features like Batman: Under the Red Hood and Superman/Batman: Public Enemies. They were good, I liked them, but I'm just not interested in actively seeking out more of them.

I've always been fascinated with movies, particularly with the potential of translating concepts from different media into a live-action cinematic experience. To me, cartoons have always been able to do anything because people can draw whatever they want. That's one of the reasons I love animation but I've always gotten and still do get that wow factor that live-action film and TV offers in a "what if this was real?" sense.

I get that some people feel burnt out on comic-based superhero films but I don't feel that way at all. I don't think I'll ever not see this genre from the perspective of my kid self seeing the live-action Batman and Superman films for the first time after knowing them from the animated series. I still remember how it blew my mind to experience Bryan Singer's X-Men and Sam Raimi's Spider-Man at such a young age when they were brand new, to think "holy crap they made them real!" and also "I wonder what else they can do." Well, over the last 15 years we've seen how much more they can do and I think it's fantastic! I'm a huge fan of what Marvel has done with their cinematic universe. One of my favorite things about the Spider-Man animated series in the '90s was how many other Marvel characters would pop up sporadically, really giving the sense that Spidey and his rogues gallery are part of a larger world of colorful characters, and I think the MCU has totally captured that same essence. On the flip side, one of the many things I love about Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy is how self-contained it is. It's an old-fashioned film trilogy with a definitive beginning, middle, and ending. On the other flip side, I love the fact that the X-Men film series that started in 2000 is still going today, with the cast/setting changes cleverly incorporated into the movies' narratives.

I haven't liked every live-action superhero adaptation that I've seen but to me the genre as a whole is worth keeping up with, and since I don't do that with animated adaptations, my vote goes to live-action.


O.Supreme wrote:But I still wonder, when even the seeming *worst* Live Action representation (F4 2015) can make $168M in box office receipts, while the Best Animated Representation, may make only about 10M in media sales (DVD, Blu ray, digital downloads etc…) *citing some of the best DC Animated Films.

Now of course I know the budget for animated films is a fraction of the cost of live action, in fact the last Superhero film in animated film to be released theatrically was Batman:Mask of the Phantasm in 1993, which make only 5.6M against a 6M budget, a financial loss despite having an 82% positive score on RT

I know this would probably never happen, but I would really like to see what a studio like Pixar, or DW, or Illumination could do with 100M to do a big time animated superhero film (and no Lego Batman, as a satire doesn’t count).


Why does being a satire disqualify The Lego Batman Movie? It's as legitimate an interpretation of the source material as the Adam West film/series and it's much more recent than Mask of the Phantasm.

Lego Batman had an $80 million budget and grossed more than $300m worldwide. That's a prime example of a studio investing big bucks in an animated superhero film adaptation and reaping big rewards for their effort. Another example would be Disney's Big Hero 6 which made $657m worldwide on a $165m budget.


O.Supreme wrote:While not fitting the Superhero genre exactly, a more modern example would have been Star Wars: The Clone Wars. While this served little more than the pilot for the TV series, you would think that anything with “Star wars” attached would have made tons of money in the theater…

Clone wars made 68M, against a 8.5 M budget, it was a success for sure, but it still way underperformed for a Star Wars film…I feel that there was definitely an animation prejudice in this case.


I wouldn't call it animation prejudice. I think a lot of American adults simply don't watch cartoons of any kind for their own entertainment. The release of Star Wars: The Clone Wars couldn't change that fact and highlighted the limitations of brand-based drawing power even for a brand as big as Star Wars.

Animation just doesn't appeal to everybody. There seem to be certain 'tiers' of viewership among American adults. There are those who don't watch anything animated on their own beyond what they're exposed to if they have kids. Then there are those who indulge in popular, long-running comedic cartoons like The Simpsons, Family Guy, South Park, King of the Hill, Futurama, or American Dad. Beyond that, there are those who also watch more relatively obscure adult cartoons like Archer, Rick and Morty, The Boondocks, The Venture Bros. and Adult Swim in general. Then there are the super nerds like us who just watch whatever the hell we want, whether it's comedic or action/adventure-oriented, whether it's intended for kids or more general audiences, whether it's an American series or Japanese anime. The deeper into these 'tiers' that a work of animation is targeted, the fewer people there are who want to see it.

The Lego Batman Movie and Big Hero 6 were hits because they appealed strongly to kids while also entertaining adults. Star Wars: The Clone Wars was more of a straightforward, serious action/adventure movie, like a regular Star Wars film but animated instead of live-action. That's really only going to appeal to a certain subset of adults who not only are willing to pay to watch a serious, animated adventure movie on their own time but who specifically want a Star Wars variation of that. That's a limited appeal even within a limited subset of the population. For instance, I'm a guy who would drive an hour to see the upcoming anime Godzilla film if it played in American theaters, and I also paid to see both The Force Awakens and Rogue One on the big screen, but I couldn't care less about Star Wars: The Clone Wars and I didn't contribute to its box office take.
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Re: Are Superheros better Animated or Live Action?

Postby lhb412 » Wed Apr 12, 2017 12:37 pm

In terms of pure form they're probably better animated because animation is closer to superheroes' original form: the comics page. One of the most prominent early animations was by Winsor McCay (Little Nemo) just showing characters from his newspaper strip 'come to life' on screen.

While special effects have allowed what was impossible before (like Spider-Man's speed, flexibility, and wall-stickiness or Hulk's hugeness) to be shown, I think other powers are more tricky to make 'real.' I'm not sure the stretchy, shape-changing powers of Plastic Man, Mr. Fantastic, Kamala Khan, Metamoprho and The Metal Men can ever be captured satisfactorily in a realistic fashion.
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Re: Are Superheros better Animated or Live Action?

Postby O.Supreme » Wed Apr 12, 2017 1:17 pm

Benjamin Haines wrote: Star Wars: The Clone Wars was more of a straightforward, serious action/adventure movie, like a regular Star Wars film but animated instead of live-action. That's really only going to appeal to a certain subset of adults who not only are willing to pay to watch a serious, animated adventure movie on their own time but who specifically want a Star Wars variation of that. That's a limited appeal even within a limited subset of the population. For instance, I'm a guy who would drive an hour to see the upcoming anime Godzilla film if it played in American theaters, and I also paid to see both The Force Awakens and Rogue One on the big screen, but I couldn't care less about Star Wars: The Clone Wars and I didn't contribute to its box office take.


You make a good point here, but I guess it just saddens me. While I do like comedy on occasion, even in Superhero form (The Tick and Freakazoid are still among my favorites...) , I prefer my action superheroes, especially when animated, to be more serious in tone, not really "R", but PG-13 is good, even PG can be edgy when done right (the 1986 Transformers animated movie for example).

I had an idea, way back in high school, just after the Infinity Gauntlet & Infinity War series were published - I wanted to see a grand scale epic animated film based on this. early 90's anime is one of my favorite styles because of the super-detailed look of the times. I would have wanted one of the best animation houses in japan to animate it, get some of the best VA's in the industry, and produce a full 2-hour epic animated film for general release. Now of course this never happened, and with MC leading up to the Infinity War in 2018 it never will. Now I have little doubt that the pinnacle event of the MCU "Avengers: Infinity War" will be a spectacular experience in 2018.....however all that said, in my mind, it will be a pale comparison of what could have been accomplished through animation. I mean in the original 6 issue series, there are literally HUNDREDS of characters, An animated film could have been a scene-for-scene true adaptation, at the time Marvel would not have had to worry about which characters it had rights to, and which it didn't... I know its probably hard to describe in words...but to me it would have been so amazing...I'm just sad it will never happen.

As for modern animation, I get that many adults "just don't care" anymore, but as an avid fan, let me make some recommendations..

You said you tried to watch Avengers: Earths Mightiest Heroes---I'd say definitely give that show another chance. The writing is amazing, as are the stories. It was a complete travesty that this show got cancelled for the animated MCU rehash "Avengers Assemble" which currently airs on Disney. If you can find EMH to watch online, I highly recommend it. Also there is Young Justice. This is currently on Netflix, and by the greatest of miracles, is getting a 3rd season, after being cancelled back in 2013. Fan demand (and yes I signed many a petition) was so great, that this series was brought back. Only Family Guy & Futurama have had this distinction, and as you said, those are more adult comedies that have a broader fan base. The return of Yong Justice is a huge triumph, and I hope that it will encourage more great action oriented animated series to be developed in the future, even if they are only on subscription services, I am fine with that since Cartoon Network is dead to me (but alas we have another thread for that).

Why adults who loved animation as kids (based on super hero & action based comics they read as kids) , abandon animation later, --but still read comics, and still want to see live action movies is truly puzzling to me. I appreciate and acknowledge it happens to the majority of folks.

Two Adults in a comic store-
#1"You Read the latest issue of Justice league?"
#2 "Yeah That was pretty awesome right?" - did you see the newest JL movie trailer?"
#1"yes I am super excited for the film. How about Justice League Action? Have you been watching that?"
#2" Justice League Action what's that?"

a conversation I've had way too many times :wink:

Benjamin Haines wrote:Why does being a satire disqualify The Lego Batman Movie? It's as legitimate an interpretation of the source material as the Adam West film/series and it's much more recent than Mask of the Phantasm.

Lego Batman had an $80 million budget and grossed more than $300m worldwide. That's a prime example of a studio investing big bucks in an animated superhero film adaptation and reaping big rewards for their effort. Another example would be Disney's Big Hero 6 which made $657m worldwide on a $165m budget
.

Personally I liked *most* of the Lego Batman movie. But to me I don't see it as a true interpretation of the source. It's a big joke, a spoof, a parody- THATS it's appeal. Now I'm not really a big Batman fan, so I'm not one of those Batfans hurt because they were poking fun at Batman, I actually enjoyed this aspect. I watched the film knowing in my mind "This isn't Batman, but its a great joke" based on all of Batman's tropes etc...

Big Hero 6 - I enjoyed very much, but again, Disney changed it quite a bit form the source material. The changes no doubt increased its general appeal. I mean I'd personally like Baymax more as a kickass Robot-Dragon rather than the Michelin Man we got, but I know I'm in the minority.
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Re: Are Superheros better Animated or Live Action?

Postby Benjamin Haines » Fri Apr 14, 2017 9:39 pm

O.Supreme wrote:I had an idea, way back in high school, just after the Infinity Gauntlet & Infinity War series were published - I wanted to see a grand scale epic animated film based on this. early 90's anime is one of my favorite styles because of the super-detailed look of the times. I would have wanted one of the best animation houses in japan to animate it, get some of the best VA's in the industry, and produce a full 2-hour epic animated film for general release. Now of course this never happened, and with MC leading up to the Infinity War in 2018 it never will. Now I have little doubt that the pinnacle event of the MCU "Avengers: Infinity War" will be a spectacular experience in 2018.....however all that said, in my mind, it will be a pale comparison of what could have been accomplished through animation. I mean in the original 6 issue series, there are literally HUNDREDS of characters, An animated film could have been a scene-for-scene true adaptation, at the time Marvel would not have had to worry about which characters it had rights to, and which it didn't... I know its probably hard to describe in words...but to me it would have been so amazing...I'm just sad it will never happen.


That would be really cool. Something like that could still be done. Marvel did co-produce those direct-to-DVD animated features with Lionsgate from 2006 to 2011. They seem to be focused on their live-action films and shows right now but maybe WB's continued success with their DC animated features will inspire Marvel to adapt some of their famous comic storylines into more animated movies.


O.Supreme wrote:While I do like comedy on occasion, even in Superhero form (The Tick and Freakazoid are still among my favorites...) , I prefer my action superheroes, especially when animated, to be more serious in tone, not really "R", but PG-13 is good, even PG can be edgy when done right (the 1986 Transformers animated movie for example).

Personally I liked *most* of the Lego Batman movie. But to me I don't see it as a true interpretation of the source. It's a big joke, a spoof, a parody- THATS it's appeal. Now I'm not really a big Batman fan, so I'm not one of those Batfans hurt because they were poking fun at Batman, I actually enjoyed this aspect. I watched the film knowing in my mind "This isn't Batman, but its a great joke" based on all of Batman's tropes etc...


The fact that it's a satire is certainly a core element of the movie's appeal, sure, but I think it's a mistake to dismiss the other equally vital element of that appeal: Batman. It's not like every parody movie that hits theaters pulls in $170m domestic and $300m worldwide. The Lego Batman Movie demonstrates the appeal of a Batman movie that's as lighthearted and self-aware as you can get, the polar opposite of Zack Snyder and Ben Affleck's current grimdark take in live-action. It shows that there's room for multiple approaches to the character.

But speaking of serious-toned animated adaptations of comics, I forgot that there was that limited theatrical event for the R-rated Batman: The Killing Joke last summer. It made $3,175,000 in 1,325 theaters on Monday, July 25 and another $600,000 from encore showings the next day. That may be chump change compared to what The Lego Batman Movie and Batman v Superman made in wide release but it shows that there's a proportionate audience of viewers who will turn out to see such an animated adaptation on the big screen.


O.Supreme wrote:Why adults who loved animation as kids (based on super hero & action based comics they read as kids) , abandon animation later, --but still read comics, and still want to see live action movies is truly puzzling to me. I appreciate and acknowledge it happens to the majority of folks.

Two Adults in a comic store-
#1"You Read the latest issue of Justice league?"
#2 "Yeah That was pretty awesome right?" - did you see the newest JL movie trailer?"
#1"yes I am super excited for the film. How about Justice League Action? Have you been watching that?"
#2" Justice League Action what's that?"

a conversation I've had way too many times :wink:


I might be able to clarify this since I'd likely be guy #2 in one of those conversations. :wink:

Some of my favorite action/adventure animated shows as a kid were Beast Wars, Spider-Man, Batman, Speed Racer, X-Men, and Godzilla: The Series. They were among the many shows I curiously checked out but these were shows that, for one reason or another, got me hooked. They made me care about the characters, the premises, and what the shows had to offer, so they made me want to see more episodes. In the case of Beast Wars, Spider-Man, and Godzilla, I was even able to studiously keep up with them, to more-or-less watch the episodes in order or otherwise get a mental grasp on their chronological flow. It was a rewarding challenge.

I certainly haven't abandoned any of those animated shows that I mentioned. I still like watching them whenever I do. What I did abandon a long time ago was my tendency to check out pretty much any animated show that Cartoon Network, Fox Kids, Nickelodeon, Disney, or Kids WB happened to air. I don't have a limitless palate for this stuff, whether it's action/adventure or comedy, and I also just grew more selective about the shows I devoted my time to following. I remember when Cartoon Network came out with new shows like Time Squad, Grim & Evil, and Codename: Kids Next Door, and I just found myself wondering why I should care.

Also, and this is kind of hard for me to articulate, but I think I learned a sort of abstract lesson from what happened to the shows Johnny Bravo and Dexter's Laboratory. Both series underwent significant production overhauls that made them look and feel like entirely different shows from what they used to be. I could tell that there must have been different people working on the shows than before (I didn't know at the time that CN had continued producing them without their original creators). I could tell the classic episodes from the newer ones based on the changes to the characters, the art design, the animation, and the humor. I found it all really off-putting and I stopped watching new episodes of each show. It happened to Johnny Bravo first in the late '90s and then Dexter's Lab in the early 2000s. It changed my perspective on ongoing TV shows in general, to realize that they could eventually not be themselves, but it particularly impacted my outlook on animated shows. It made me realize that new episodes of the cartoons I loved as a kid wouldn't always be a continuation of what I knew, that it was a matter of who was making them and, perhaps just as importantly, when they were being made. I think that was how I started to see shows and movies not just as artistic works but also as unique time capsules.

Plus, like I mentioned in my earlier post, those were the same years when Spider-Man, Batman, and X-Men gradually ended and were replaced by Spider-Man: Unlimited, The Batman, and X-Men: Evolution. All of that coalesced with the general fact that I was getting older, entering middle school, and spending more of my time on things other than watching TV. When I did watch TV, I was getting into more and more live-action shows: crime dramas like CSI and Without a Trace, sitcoms like Seinfeld and The Drew Carey Show, plus watching the news and nature documentaries. Cartoon Network's Toonami and Adult Swim programming blocks really became my source of new cartoons during the 2000s. Dragon Ball Z was my jam and I liked what I saw of shows like Outlaw Star, The Big O, and Cowboy Bebop, but I gravitated more toward the dark comedies than the anime. Shows like Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law, 12 oz. Mouse, and Metalocalypse were right up my alley and I still watch them regularly.

My point is that while I dug Batman: The Animated Series as a kid, I still dig it now, and the same is true for a lot of other shows. I haven't abandoned shows like Justice League Action because that was never something I was into in the first place. Looking at Wikipedia, that show didn't even start airing until a few months ago.


O.Supreme wrote:You said you tried to watch Avengers: Earths Mightiest Heroes---I'd say definitely give that show another chance. The writing is amazing, as are the stories. It was a complete travesty that this show got cancelled for the animated MCU rehash "Avengers Assemble" which currently airs on Disney. If you can find EMH to watch online, I highly recommend it.


I'll admit I only watched the first episode of Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes. I actually thought it emulated the first MCU movie, Iron Man, quite a bit. Unless the movie was just really accurate to the comics in the first place, it felt to me like the show's Tony Stark was based on Robert Downey Jr.'s performance, Pepper Potts was based on Gwyneth Paltrow, Rhodey was based on Terrance Howard, etc. It just didn't make me want to keep watching.
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Re: Are Superheros better Animated or Live Action?

Postby O.Supreme » Mon Apr 17, 2017 11:10 am

Thanks for your comments, I really appreciate them. As for Avengers EMH. While it is true, because it came out in 2010, the Iron Man on that show did to some extent start to copy RDJ (part of the problem I mentioned earlier). But because it was only 2010, and only 3 MCU movies had been out, and Disney had not taken full hold of it, the rest of the series is really closer to 616 than MCU. The first 5 episodes literally "build" the team focusing on one or two members of the Avengers. Then you get to episodes 6-7 which is a 2-parter that sees the team assembled for the first time, and it truly is the original Five (IM, Thor, Hulk, Ant-Man & Wasp). Just like in the comics, Hulk leaves early on, but then returns. Cap is introduced early on, but doesn't became part of the tam until later in the season (just like in the comics). Black Panther and Hawkeye round out the team for Season 1, but there are so many other heroes and villains in this series, it is great. Season 2 is great also, but Jeph Loeb started to meddle and some of the long terms story arcs were obviously cut short, it doesn't diminish the greatness that much, but believe me when I say my disdain for what he has done as head of Marvels TV division is pretty intense.

Avengers Assemble which started in 2013 (in the shadow of the First Avengers film), is a full on MCU clone from the beginning, and has been completely underwhelming for its entire run.
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