Wednesday Oct 29th, 2014

Will the Comic Book Movie Bubble Burst?

Marvel and DC Plan 20 Movies for the Next Six Years: Will the Comic Book Movie Bubble Burst?

By Rich Goldstein [The Daily Beast]

Ben Horton/Getty

Are audiences tired with caped crusaders and gritty reboots? Or is this just the beginning of a 21st century dominated by comic book cinema?

In 1957, Life Magazine wrote about the collapse of the Hollywood Studio System:

With the assembly line broken down and the mass production methods of the past made obsolete, no other key to profits, or even to continued solvency, was left.

The proportion of Hollywood's revenue coming from overseas has been rising and rising in the last few years (because domestic revenues have been dropping) and stands now at an unparalleled 40 to 50% of the total worldwide film rentals Hollywood takes in.

50 years later, those same alarm bells ring every few months. However, like a test of an emergency broadcast system, if it had been an actual emergency, the message would be followed by a spate of subtitled superheroes and a gritty Pippi Longstocking reboot.

As of 2014, The Avengers, the highest grossing comic book adaptation to date (and the third highest grossing movie of all time), earned 59 percent of its total gross overseas. In 2013, the last year for which data is available, the average per film was 69 percent.

A 30-40 percent increase seems like a lot, but spread out over the 57 years sinceLife issued their dire proclamation that amounts to a change of about +0.6 percent per year. Following that same logic, it is therefore safe to assume foreign audiences will account for 100 percent of Hollywood’s box office revenue by the year 2060. That is approximately the same year the BBC predicted Moon miningcould become commercially profitable. Since 1972, Life Magazine has folded three times

With more than twenty planned comic book movie adaptations on the horizon, it is tempting to see a cinematic “bubble” forming around comic book franchises. But predictions of the genre’s demise have been vastly overstated. Just last year, predicted the comic “bubble” popping and cited the upcomingGuardians of the Galaxy as proof of the impending collapse. Three quarters of a billion dollars later, the film was the highest grossing movie of the summer, beating its closest rival, the well established Transformers franchise (which was also predicted to flop).

It appears that, rather than having burst, the comic book “bubble” is just getting started. Marvel has announced 11 comic book movies over the next five years while rival DC Comics currently has an equal number of films planned through 2020.

The most profitable comic book movie in sheer budgetary terms was 2010’s The Dark Knight Rises. On a budget of $130 million, it earned over $1 billion at the box office. The Avengers, despite its overall gross, only earned back 690 percent of its total budget. Still an impressive showing, but only enough to place it third highest of the last decade’s comic book movies (behind 300 which earned back $456 million on a $65 million budget).

Of the ten lowest performing comic book movies of the last decade, seven have been produced in the last five years: Jonah Hex, Punisher: War Zone, Whiteout, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, RIPD, Son of the Mask, and Scott Pilgrim. Meanwhile, five of the top ten best performing were made in that same time frame: Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, Iron Man 3, The Avengers, and The Dark Knight Rises. On average, the 73 or so comic book adaptations made since 2004 have earned about 270 percent of their budgets back at the box office.

It is important to note that this is a return of box office receipts only, which Edward J. Epstein, in his book The Hollywood Economist, said constitute about a tenth of total revenue after factoring in DVD sales, licensing, and foreign distribution. Added to that, film is only a part of the total comic package, with both companies’ ongoing graphic novel publication and television series rounding out diverse media portfolios.

And diversity is playing an ever increasing role in maintaining profitability. Despite their persistent racist homophobia on the Internet, comic book uberfans comprise a small part of the total audience for such films with some estimates placing the total as low as 4 percent. A report from Facebook last year indicates that as much as 40 percent of comic fans are women.

While still a vocal minority, the slavish devotion to a majority white and male fan base in the world of comic book adaptations is giving way to what some are calling a “Diversity War” between the two major studios.

Although The Hollywood Reporteracknowledged six of the planned comic book movies still focus on a cisgender, heteronormative white male lead, part of the upcoming releases will feature aWonder Woman movie as well as adaptations of Cyborg, Shazam, and Aquamanwith actors of color playing those roles. In their announcement today, Marvel fired back with a planned Captain Marvel movie featuring Carol Danvers and a Black Panther film starring actor Chadwick Boseman in the respective titular roles.

The diversity of comic book films, while often considered a recent trend, is more of a return to form. Although Spider-Man is often cited as the first film in the comic book movie revival, it was Wesley Snipes as Blade and Michael Jai White/Keith David as Spawn that rescued the comic book movie from the Schumacherean depths to which it had descended in the late 1990s.

The fear now is that declining revenues will be blamed on the attempts to diversify the lily white world of comic book films instead of a public bored with the repetitive, formulaic superhero movies from an entrenched culture of masculine cis-heteronormativity.

It is also worth mentioning again that previous success is no indication of future performance. While many fondly remember Star Wars, Star Trek, and Jaws, the films that spawned Hollywood’s current Blockbuster Era, less well remembered are their equally expensive, underperforming knockoffs like The Adventure of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, Solarbabies, and Orca (despite the former’s cult status, and the later’s Ennio Morricone soundtrack).

With any luck, the comic book “bubble” will never pop, but all golden ages must eventually come to an end. Let’s just hope it’s never replaced with the propagandistic war pictures and westerns that once dominated American movie screens.

White House Computers Hacked


A White House computer network has been breached by hackers, it has been reported.

The unclassified Executive Office of the President network was attacked, according to the Washington Post.

US authorities are reported to be investigating the breach, which was reported to officials by an ally of the US, sources said.

White House officials believe the attack was state-sponsored but are not saying what - if any - data was taken.

In a statement to the AFP news agency, the White House said "some elements of the unclassified network" had been affected.

A White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Washington Post: "In the course of assessing recent threats, we identified activity of concern on the unclassified EOP network.

"Any such activity is something we take very seriously. In this case, we took immediate measures to evaluate and mitigate the activity.


"Certainly, a variety of actors find our networks to be attractive targets and seek access to sensitive information. We are still assessing the activity of concern."

The source said the attack was consistent with a state-sponsored effort and Russia is thought by the US government to be one of the most likely threats.

"On a regular basis, there are bad actors out there who are attempting to achieve intrusions into our system," a second White House official told the Washington Post.

"This is a constant battle for the government and our sensitive government computer systems, so it's always a concern for us that individuals are trying to compromise systems and get access to our networks."

The Post quoted its sources as saying that the attack was discovered two-to-three weeks ago. Some White House staff were reportedly told to change their passwords and there was some disruption to network services.

In a statement given to Agence France-Presse, a White House official said the Executive Office of the President received daily alerts concerning numerous possible cyber threats.

In the course of addressing the breach, some White House users were temporarily disconnected from the network.

"Our computers and systems have not been damaged, though some elements of the unclassified network have been affected. The temporary outages and loss of connectivity for our users is solely the result of measures we have taken to defend our networks," the official said.

The US's National Security Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation and Security Service were reportedly investigating.

Requests for comment were referred to the Department for Homeland Security, a spokesman for which was not immediately available. A White House spokesman has not responded to the BBC's request for comment.

FBI lured suspect with fake Web page, but may have leveraged media credibility

By Ellen Nakashima and Paul Farhi [The Washington Post]

U.S. flags fly outside of the FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C., in this 2013 file photo. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

News outlets and privacy advocates reacted sharply Tuesday to the revelation that the FBI in 2007 tricked a school-bombing suspect into revealing his whereabouts by getting him to click on a link to a fake Associated Press article infected with tracking software.

“We are extremely concerned and find it unacceptable that the FBI misappropriated the name of The Associated Press and published a false story attributed to AP,” spokesman Paul Colford said in a statement. “This ploy violated AP’s name and undermined AP’s credibility.”

The disclosure came when American Civil Liberties Union chief technologist Christopher Soghoian on Monday spotted and tweeted out a reference to the ruse in a set of documents obtained in 2011 by another privacy organization under the Freedom of Information Act.

The news follows a story this month that the Drug Enforcement Administration created a phony Facebook account in a New York woman’s name as a way to identify other suspects in an alleged drug ring. The fake page included photos of the woman in a bra and underwear. The Justice Department is reviewing the DEA case.

In the latest incident, the FBI Seattle field office created a false AP news story with headlines that served as click bait: “Bomb threat at high school downplayed by local police department” and “Technology savvy student holds Timberline High School hostage.”

The agents sent a link to the story in a private message to the owner of an anonymous MySpace account who was believed to have been making bomb threats against Timberline High. By clicking on the link, the suspect unwittingly downloaded a piece of malware, a computer bug that enabled agents to identify his Internet protocol address.

The suspect, who was 15 years old at the time, later pleaded guilty to making bomb threats. The Washington Post typically does not name juveniles in criminal proceedings.

“Of course the FBI should investigate bomb threats to schools, but the ends do not justify the means,” Soghoian said. “It’s a dangerous road impersonating the media. If people do not trust the news media, then our democracy cannot function properly.”

Deception has long been used in law enforcement, but the DEA and FBI cases raise the question of what are the limits of undercover operations in cyberspace.

FBI officials on Tuesday said they were researching the policy on whether an agent could impersonate a news organization. Privately, one law enforcement official said such a tactic “is very risky” because “there really should be no question about the truthfulness of your identity as a reporter.”

The FBI field office in Seattle in a statement defended the practice as one used infrequently and to prevent tragedy.

“Every effort we made in this investigation had the goal of preventing a tragic event like what happened at Marysville and Seattle Pacific University,” said Frank Montoya Jr., the special agent in charge of the FBI in Seattle, referring to recent fatal school shootings. “We identified a specific subject of an investigation and used a technique that we deemed would be effective in preventing a possible act of violence in a school setting.”

Marcus Thomas, who was assistant director of the division at the time, said that he was not aware of the Seattle field office’s ruse, though the e-mails obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation show that at least three individuals at the FBI’s Operational Technology Division, which created the software tool, were sent an e-mail from the field office with the proposed news article.

“I don’t have a problem with [the tactic] personally if it was approved at a proper level,” he said. “I wouldn’t want any sensitive technique like that used without seeking Justice Department or high-level FBI approval.”

OTD created the tool, which allowed the agents to obtain the suspect’s IP address through software surreptitiously installed on the suspect’s computer. Agents have used the “network investigative technique” in other cases, including one involving a Colorado bomb suspect. They obtain warrants to search a suspect’s computer but generally do not inform the judge of an intent to hack the computer to install the malware. In the Seattle case, they also did not alert the judge of their plan to mimic the media.

Elizabeth Joh, a law professor at the University of California at Davis, said the FBI’s undercover operations fall under attorney general guidelines published in 2002. They include a general standard that the bureau must weigh the risks and benefits of any particular operation, including harm to third parties.

“Here, this isn’t a fictional individual” which was mimicked, she said. “This is the press and that, in some ways, is really alarming.”

Additional Headlines from October 29th