Look, up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane!
No, it's another "Spider-Man" rumor.
For nearly seven years, speculation has run rampant among comic-book geeks and genre-film fanatics about the red-and-blue building-climbing superhero. Nearly every director worth his box-office salt has been linked to "Spider-Man" at one time or another, beginning with no less than James Cameron ("Titanic") and ending with Sam Raimi ("A Simple Plan," "For Love of the Game"), who is now supposedly the front-runner for the job.
One thing's for certain: "Spider-Man," one of the most highly anticipated films in memory, is now on the fast track at Columbia Pictures. The studio wants to release the film in summer 2001, and that means a director is expected to be hired soon -- perhaps within a few weeks. At long last, Marvel Comics' biggest franchise property will get his big-budget Hollywood makeover, a privilege that, until now, has been afforded only to characters from rival DC Comics (home of Batman and Superman).
"Spider-Man definitely has the potential to be a very successful franchise," says Mirko Parlevliet, creator of the Spider-Man Hype! Web site (www.spidermanhype.com), launched in March 1999 when years of legal battles over Spidey's theatrical rights ended and Marvel and Columbia struck a deal to make the movie.
"Unlike Batman and Superman, Spider-Man is a character many people can identify with," Parlevliet adds. "Peter Parker [the web-slinger's secret identity] is a teen-ager who is always picked on for the wrong reasons." He says Spidey is more realistic and down-to-earth than his DC rivals, a positive role model and a "fun guy" to chill out with. "How can you identify with a millionaire orphan or an alien with superpowers?"
For the record, this won't be the first live-action adaptation of the arachnid-man. There was a short-lived TV series in the late 1970s starring Nicholas Hammond as a pudgy Peter Parker. The show featured neato special-effects tricks, like tilting the camera sideways while Hammond crawled across the side of a wall. There also was a Japanese "Spider-Man" teleseries in the late 1970s, in which the web slinger drove around in a cool racecar. And the infamous Cannon Group proposed a Spider-Man movie during the 1980s but, thankfully, did not follow through. There have also been numerous cartoon series over the years.
The current Spider-Man project began as Cameron's brainchild; he wanted to make the movie immediately after "Terminator 2: Judgment Day." Cameron wrote a lengthy Spidey treatment and Carolco obtained the theatrical rights to the character -- or so it thought. Pretty soon it seemed like everyone in Tinseltown was suing to get a piece of the Peter Parker pie.
By the time Sony/Columbia emerged as the Spidey legal sweepstakes winner, Cameron had signed an exclusive deal with Fox that basically barred him from directing the superflick. However, Sony got the rights to Cameron's treatment, and screenwriter David Koepp ("The Lost World") was hired to fashion a screenplay out of The King of the World's outline.
For the record, the following names have been linked to "Spider-Man" since 1993:
James Cameron, Ron Howard, Tim Burton, Ridley Scott, David Fincher, Chris Columbus, Jan De Bont, Stephen Sommers, Ivan Reitman, Barry Sonnenfeld, Sam Raimi, the Wachowski brothers, Terry Gilliam and Robert Rodriguez, in no particular order, have been rumored to direct.
Charlie Sheen, Corin Nemec ("Parker Lewis Can't Lose"), Michael Biehn ("Aliens," "Terminator"), Bruce Campbell ("Army of Darkness"), Jason Patric, Leonardo DiCaprio, Owen Wilson, Jim Carrey and Australian actor Heath Ledger ("10 Things I Hate About You") have all been rumored to star as Peter Parker/Spidey.
In the villain department, Jack Nicholson has been pegged as Spider-Man's arch nemesis, the Green Goblin, while Arnold Schwarzenegger could play either Doctor Octopus or Venom, according to the rumor mill. There hasn't been much talk about who might play Peter's girlfriend, Mary Jane, or his editor at the Daily Bugle, the hot-headed J. Jonah Jameson.
David Mamet, if you believe the latest word, has been secretly hired by Columbia to revamp David Koepp's screenplay.
For the uninitiated, "Spider-Man" (the comic book) is the story of Peter Parker, a high school whiz kid who is bitten by a radioactive spider during a biology experiment. The bite gives Peter some nifty powers, like the ability to walk on walls, and enhanced strength and agility, plus a "spider sense" that enables him to detect danger.
Peter is also a gifted inventor; he creates wrist-mounted "web-shooters" that spray a sticky compound resembling a spider's web, from which he swings from skyscraper to skyscraper. Peter dons a Spider-Man suit and greedily uses his powers for personal gain (he becomes quite a celebrity) until his uncle is killed by robbers and he re-dedicates his life to fighting crime. Peter becomes a newspaper photographer, using a well-placed, timer-activated camera to snap pictures of himself (as Spider-Man) in action.
One major issue that remains to be decided is whether Columbia's film will be based on the old-school, idealistic Spidey comics of the 1960s, or one of several more recent incarnations, such as comics guru Todd McFarlane's dark, moody version.
"I'd prefer to see Spider-Man done old school," said Rob Worley, Webmaster of the Comics 2 Film Web site (www.comics2film.com), which tracks (what else?) comic books optioned by Hollywood. "The thing that made Spider-Man great (the thing that current writers of the comic have forgotten) is that the character, under the mask, was so relatable. Peter Parker is an Everyman. He's not some square-jawed, iron-willed vision of perfection. He's a kid who has all the normal problems that a regular young man has, in addition to the monkey wrench of having the great power that he feels compelled to use responsibly."
Now it remains to be seen whether Spidey can escape the curse -- real or imagined -- that has plagued film adaptations of other Marvel Comics franchises in the 1990s.
Witness "Captain America," a 1992 film version of Marvel's Nazi-fighting hero, starring Matt Salinger. In this barely watchable, low-budget film (which was widely advertised for a theatrical release, then instead went straight-to-video), the Cap's evil foe Red Skull is inexplicably Italian, not German, and the villain wears an embarrassing rubber mask.
Then there is "The Fantastic Four," a $2 million epic shot by Roger Corman's (say no more) Concorde Pictures, and then suddenly shelved before release when Marvel cut a new deal with 20th Century Fox wherein Chris Columbus was to direct a new megabudget version.
"I have a sentimental attachment to The Fantastic Four, and I was heartbroken to think it might appear only as a low-budget quickie," Marvel godfather Stan Lee told Entertainment Weekly. That was way back in 1994. There has been nary a peep about the film since.
Rights have been acquired and screenplays have been written for film versions of The Incredible Hulk and Silver Surfer, two Marvel properties with amazing potential, but both have landed in development hell.
So far, the only Marvel property to get a (fairly) big-budget film adaptation is New Line's "Blade" (1998) starring Wesley Snipes. New Line is currently developing an Iron Man movie, with Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott ("The Mask of Zorro") writing the screenplay and Tom Cruise supposedly interested in the starring role as reclusive billionaire/inventor/superhero Tony Stark.
Worley says one reason that Marvel's film adaptations have mostly been low-budget has to do with poor licensing decisions made by the comic book company that gave Marvel little say in the way the movies were made.
"I recall readi g a letter from Stan Lee [in a comics trade magazine] around the time the low-budget Fantastic Four movie was due to come out. Lee said fans asked him all the time why Marvel movies sucked. He promised fans that it was due to bad negotiating on Marvel's part and ... no movies would be made from that point forward without Marvel having a say in things. So Marvel sold off their movie rights, cheap, to filmmakers who didn't get it."
Now all fanboys' eyes will be on Fox's "X-Men," due out this summer from director Brian Singer and starring Patrick Stewart, Sir Ian McKellen, Anna Paquin, Halle Berry and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos.
"In the past, it seemed the low-budget constraints hurt Marvel's superhero adaptations," says Parlevliet. The X-Men film, he says, will be Marvel's big test. "If it succeeds, the film will set the stage for many similar projects in the future. There really is no such thing as a Marvel curse. It's just hard to adapt a comic book and make it believable on the big screen."
Nobody saw "Nobody." Almost.
With an unwhopping $488 take (less than the price of a big-screen TV), the Phaedra Cinema release was 1999's lowest-grossing feature on record through Dec. 30, industry statistics show.
The film, a Japanese import, represents the flip side of Hollywood's chest-thumping and box-office boasting. For each blockbuster that pulled in $100 million-plus last year (there were 18 in all), there were at least 20 that grossed less than $2,000.
Directed by first-timer Toshimichi Ohkawa, "Nobody" was an action thriller about three friends whose lives changed when a bar fight became something far, far beyond their control. In a review for @NZone Magazine, writer Dustin Putman awarded the film a passing two-and-a-half (out of five) stars, calling it a "tautly filmed and tightly developed" flick that ultimately fell apart.
So, "Nobody," at least according to one reviewer, wasn't terrible. Was it worthy of something bigger than the three-figure gross it pulled in last June?
Sometimes victories aren't measured in dollars and cents.
"Just the fact that you are able to shatter the barrier of getting into a theater is victory enough," says Adam Jahnke, assistant director of Los Angeles operations for Troma Entertainment. "You have to first narrow your vision to the very few independent theaters operating, and then actually get your film booked. It is not an easy process."
Troma - home to low-budget legends such as "The Toxic Avenger" -- knows of where it speaks. The company released the 14th-lowest-grossing flick of '99, "Terror Firmer." The horror flick, a wildly comic tale of carnage, sex and bloodshed on the set of a low-budget movie, earned $1,434 the hard way on just two screens, according to box-office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations.
"It is an uphill battle all the way," Janhke says. "If you make any money after all that, that's a bonus."
Of course, not all low-grossing films are the products of scrappy filmmakers devoid of big-time studio bucks. Five of 1999's bottom 20 were released by major distributors. Miramax ("Heaven"), Strand Releasing ("Pink Narcissus"), Gramercy ("I Want You"), Lion's Gate ("Elvis Gratton 2") and MGM ("Tinseltown") all issued titles that wound up in the under-$2,000 gross category.
These flicks didn't necessarily want for star power, either. Tony Spiridakis' "Tinseltown," a black comedy about two homeless screenwriters who befriend a possible serial killer with hopes of selling a movie based on the would-be sicko's exploits, featured familiar faces like Kristy Swanson ("Buffy, the Vampire Slayer") and Ron Perlman ("Beauty and the Beast"). The crime drama "I Want You" starred Rachel Weisz, who made 1999's top-grosser list as Brendan Fraser's love interest in "The Mummy." Name talent or no, "Tinseltown" and "I Want You" earned less than $1,800 - combined.
And while 19 of the bottom 20 features played at no more than two theaters, Lion's Gate opened the French-language Canadian comedy "Elvis Gratton 2" on a not-too-shabby 91 screens. But with just under $1,200 at the domestic box office through Dec. 30, "Elvis" actually performed worse (per-screen-average-wise) than any other film on the low-grossers list.
In some cases, last year's bottom feeders are still in release and may well end up making more cash before calling it quits and praying for video pay dirt. Troma's "Terror Firmer," for instance, continues its Los Angeles run -- moving from the USC-area University Cinema to the midnight confines of the New Beverly Theater.
Ultimately, the fate of a very small film -- like a "Nobody" -- is traditionally grim. Without money to promote and little incentive for theaters to book, these features are rarely given the exposure they need -- regardless of quality and content.
"Many times you simply can't put together the marketing campaign that will shout loud enough to get above the Hollywood films that command the market's attention," says Sam L. Grogg, dean of the American Film Institute's Center for Advanced Film and Television Studies. "What is important is the critical play and getting the attention of the film intelligentsia."
But Grogg says realists understand that even that kind of breakthrough is rare.
"You have to understand what the limitations are and use them accordingly," Grogg says. "I've always thought of the theatrical release as a launching pad for other release mediums - whether home video or cable TV. A theatrical release is still sought after, however. If you have a movie, you want to have it shown in front of people."
And not "Nobody."
Here's a complete look at the 20 lowest-grossing films of 1999, according to Exhibitor Relations:
1. "Nobody" (Phaedra) -- $488 2. "Bastards" (Margin) -- $503 3. "Tinseltown" (MGM) -- $517 4. "Summerspell" (Margin) -- $603 5. "Olympia" (King) -- $640 6. "Port Djema" (Shadow) -- $783 7. "The Underground Comedy Movie" (Phaedra) -- $856 8. "Flushed" (1st Look) -- $935 9. "The Milky Way" (Kino) -- $1,098 10. "Wallowitch & Ross: This Moment" (1st Run) -- $1,145 11. "Elvis Gratton 2" (Lion's Gate) -- $1,156 12. "Lilian's Story" (Phaedra) -- $1,220 13. "I Want You" (Gramercy) -- $1,242 14. "Terror Firmer" (Troma) -- $1,434 15. "Sixth Happiness" (Regent) -- $1,540 16. "Virtue" (Margin) -- $1,565 17. "Young and Dangerous" (Margin) -- $1,624 18. "The Pusher" (1st Run) - $1,656 19. "Pink Narcissus" (Strand) -- $1,724 20. "Heaven" (Miramax) -- $1,983
After catching her live-in boyfriend in a compromising position Amanda sets out to find a new place to live. She ends up rooming with four supermodels (Shalom Harlow Ivana Milicevic Sarah O'Hare and Tomiko Fraser) whose apartment has a great view -- especially of Jim the "perfect guy" across the way. When Amanda in a "Rear Window"- type scenario witnesses Jim committing what she thinks is a murder she sets out to prove that he did it. However to her surprise she ends up falling head over heels (literally a lot of the time) for him instead.
The chemistry between Prinze and Potter is near perfect. Potter does a great job of playing a klutzy girl who can't seem to stay on her feet long enough to have a conversation with Jim. But then again who could? Prinze exudes his usual charm and winning smile while at the same time showing great comic timing. The more pivotal moments with the four models who are "struggling " as they like to say are well done and surprisingly hysterical. Who needs a drama when you can have four models who are actually funny?
Director Mark S. Waters and Prinze Jr. are together again after their 1997 film "The House of Yes." "Head Over Heels" is a cross between "Fatal Attraction " "An Officer and a Gentleman" and "There's Something About Mary " which means it's a bit muddled in its direction. Waters tries a little too hard for the shock value while at the same time trying to convey romantic comedy elements almost overshadowing the performances of the actors. But hey then again we get to see supermodels covered in poop. Priceless. Still the fairly clever and darker script plus the winning chemistry between the lead actors makes it worthwhile.
Director John Woo has left Sony and signed a three-year movie and TV deal with MGM, according to Entertainment Weekly Online.
Woo didn't end up making any films with his resident studio, planning two other projects instead with MGM. The projects include "Wind Talkers," starring Nicolas Cage. For now, Woo's got another action flick on his plate: "Mission: Impossible 2," starring Tom Cruise, opens this summer.
SECRET AGENT MAN: John Dahl, who directed the noirish Matt Damon poker pic "Rounders," is in talks with Mandalay Pictures to direct "End Game," a spy flick starring Sean Connery, reports Daily Variety. Written by Adi Hassock and Stuart Kelban, Connery will play an old-fashioned CIA agent who goes on a special undercover assignment to expose illegal arms dealing. In the process, he discovers that he's been set up to take the fall in a conspiracy. Connery then teams up with a young counterpart to prove his innocence.
LET'S HOPE IT'S TEMPORARY: "Cruel Intentions" director Roger Kumble is in final talks to helm Columbia Pictures' romantic comedy "Screenplay Without a Title Yet." The story follows a club-hopping hipster who believes she's finally met her soulmate. The next morning at a wedding party, she is horrified to find that he's the groom. According to Variety, "Screenplay" was purchased for $1.5 million from "South Park" staff writer Nancy Pimental.
WHAT, NO FOUL-MOUTHED ANGELS?: As if he's just asking for "Dogma"-like religious controversy, "King of the Hill" creator Mike Judge will direct "Messiah Complex," a comedy about a pious college student who starts to believe he was cloned from the Shroud of Turin. No word on whether Beavis and Butthead will co-star.
SPELLING BEE: Catherine Zeta-Jones, who's been a busy bride-to-be lately, is in talks to star in "Traffic," a film that looks at the high-revenue industry of drug trafficking. According to EW Online, the film is based on the acclaimed British miniseries "Traffik," but American studios had to change the title. But we're still afraid moviegoers will think it's a film about the Los Angelesfreeways.
REAL TRAFFIC: Jamie Foxx, fresh from his success in "Any Given Sunday," will star in "National Security," a buddy-cop comedy. Foxx will play a man beaten by a white cop, who then teams up with the officer wrongly accused of the beating.
ADDITIONS: Liev Schreiber, a recent Golden Globe nominee for the cable film "RKO 281," will join the cast of "Pay it Forward," starring Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt and Haley Joel Osment... Tim Guinee ("Blade") has been added to Dimension Films' "Impostor," whichstars Gary Sinise and Madeleine Stowe ... Lisa Thornhill ("Ally McBeal") has been tapped to co-star with Nicolas Cage in "Family Man," to be directed by Brett Ratner ("Rush Hour") ... Alexandra Paul ("Baywatch") will co-star with Ron Silver in the independent film "Exposure," to be film in NewZealand.