Superhero Stars: Does a Comic Book Film Help or Hurt a Career?
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With a cape and greenscreen, and the tailwind of 20 years of anticipation, Brandon Routh was flying toward fame as Superman. Until he hit box-office kryptonite, that is.
Routh starred in Superman Returns, 2006's highly touted hybrid continuation/reboot of the Man of Steel series, and earned strong reviews for his performance. But Bryan Singer's darker adaptation of the source material -- as opposed to the sunny Christopher Reeve-led films directed by Richard Donner -- ran into trouble at the ticket booth, earning just $200 million domestically and $300 worldwide, curtailing any thought of a sequel and grounding the Kryptonian until next summer's pure reboot, Man of Steel.
Since then, Routh has worked and featured in plenty of movies but has not become the star that a successful superhero franchise promises to make its leading do-gooder. He stars in the upcoming CBS comedy Partners, about which his EP David Kohan joked at this weekend's TCAs, "The step from superhero to gay man isn't a big step, is it?"
He can take heart, at least, in that he's not the only one whose career didn't exactly soar after putting on tights and fighting crime.
Reeve would be known for his role as Clark Kent -- and very little else. Before he was paralyzed in a 1995 horse-riding accident, his career was largely made up of small films and TV movies. There was a lead role in Somewhere in Time, his first film after 1978's Superman; the Sidney Lumet adaptation of Broadway's Death Trap, which received solid reviews; the well-received Street Smart with Morgan Freeman; and a supporting role in the period piece The Remains of the Day. Nothing came close to his caped days.
Batman, DC's other huge property, has proved to be a mixed bag for its masked men. Michael Keaton, who played the Caped Crusader in the first two modern big-screen adaptations from Tim Burton, no doubt earned major plaudits and big box-office cash for his take on Bruce Wayne. And when he stepped away from the role, he had a few hits, including a supporting turn in Much Ado About Nothing and the lead in Ron Howard's The Paper. But a few bombs put him on the backburner, and it's largely been voice acting for him of late, including roles in Pixar's Cars and Toy Story 3.
Val Kilmer next got the keys to the Batmobile. Up to that point, in 1995, he was on his way to superstardom; he was Iceman in Top Gun, earned praise for his take on Jim Morrison in The Doors, played Doc Holliday in Tombstone and featured in True Romance. In 1995, he had a hit in Heat, but after that year, he never made a huge film again; among the many lemons, such as The Saint and The Island of Dr. Moreau, he had a few cult hits including Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Bad Lieutenant, but his star has dimmed considerably.
George Clooney, his Batman successor, has had a bit of a different career trajectory, of course -- even though his turn as the Caped Crusader crashed the franchise for years (though most blame director Joel Schumacher).
A new class of heroes has emerged in the 21st century, though many of their fates are yet to be decided. Tobey Maguire used his Spider-Man franchise to earn himself plenty of prestige roles (he leads in this winter's The Great Gatsby and earned praise for Seabiscuit and Brothers), but another Marvel hero was not so lucky: Eric Bana was the first of what is now three Incredible Hulks, with his 2003 Ang Lee-directed flick bombing all around. Still, he's had success in its wake, including Munich, Star Trek and Hanna.