2016/11/08

Series Ruined by Breakout Characters

Even a writer's strongest, purest vision can be undone if his own characters have other ideas. Sometimes a secondary character can emerge from the background and steal the spotlight from the rest of the cast.

These breakout characters are often benign, but greedy network and studio involvement can create a recipe for disaster.

Here are just a few examples of characters who broke out of the back seat, took the wheel, and drove their franchises off a cliff.

Halloween - Michael Myers
Young Michael Myers
People forget that Michael Myers was a creepy clown killer.
The iconic boogieman who fueled the 80s slasher genre was originally conceived as a shadowy presence that John Carpenter specifically wrote to be impossible for anyone to identify with.
John Carpenter and Debra Hill had no interest in making a sequel as they believed the original Halloween (1978) was a standalone movie. When the studio offered him to write the script and pay them more money (Carpenter states that to this day he saw very little earnings from the success of the original movie) he took the job so he could earn back what he believes was his owed pay.
Carpenter was so sick of Myers that when Halloween III rolled around, it didn't feature the Shape at all (except for a brief TV ad for the original Halloween). In fact, Carpenter tried to re-imagine the franchise as a horror anthology series.

In his capacity as producer, Carpenter would bring in a novice director to tell a new Halloween-themed story each year. The series would stay fresh, and several young film makers would get a potentially career-making shot at the director's chair.

Sadly, Halloween III tanked. The money men blamed its failure on the lack of Michael Myers and demanded his return in the fourth film. Carpenter washed his hands of the franchise, leaving it in the hands of producer Moustapha Akkad. Thus began a downward slide culminating in the convoluted trainwreck that is Halloween VI: The Curse of Michael Myers.

Hellraiser - Pinhead
Pinhead
It is not hands that call us. It is greed.
Before anyone's feathers get too ruffled, let me point out that I like the characters of Pinhead and Michael Myers. But it's an indubitable fact that the Halloween and Hellraiser franchises both took turns for the worse at a point coinciding with their now iconic villains' usurpation of the limelight.

In Pinhead's case, the character's rise to from a roll described only as "Lead Cenobite" to series front man can be credited to actor Doug Bradley, who consistently portrayed the character with panache and absolute control.

There's a world of difference between silent masked slashers like Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, and Leatherface, who were played by stuntmen; and the Cenobites, who were portrayed by trained actors at Clive Barker's insistence.

Barker's quality control may have been Hellraiser's Achilles' heel, because Pinhead ended up stealing the show from Barker's original choice for the series' main villain.
This element was meant to underline the story of Frank (Oliver Smith) and Julia (Clare Higgins) and their corruption by lust, with the latter intended to become the ultimate villain of the series. Pinhead, however, proved much more popular with audiences, and thus became the center point in further sequels.
The decline set in with the very next film, wherein Pinhead was warped from a depraved yet rule-bound manipulator to a slasher-style chaos demon.

Hellraiser: Bloodline completed the series' downfall with the dreaded In Space episode that is the perennial kiss of death for every horror franchise that manages to limp that far.

Wolverine - Wolverine
Wolverine X3
A scene-stealing prima donna and Wolverine
Anyone who's been paying attention to the X-Men franchise--which includes pretty much everyone--will have noticed the series' rapid transformation from an ensemble cast into The Wolverine Show.

Now, Wolverine is a strong enough character, and Hugh Jackman a dedicated enough actor, that the X-franchise enjoyed two high quality installments before Hollywood politics turned X3 into a total cluster.

Between the departure of original director Bryan Singer, Halle Berry's heavy-handed attempt to recover from her Oscar curse, and a professional spat leading to Cyclops' continuity-destroying absence, we ended up with not one bad comic book movie but two.

None of this is Hugh Jackman's fault, but Fox executives have somehow gotten it into their heads that lazy writing, questionable casting, and weak directing weren't responsible for X3's woes. Instead they decided that the cure for what ails them is more Wolverine!

To be fair, they did take a gamble on an X-film with the least Wolverine to date--a gamble that paid off. But then Fox suffered a relapse, cranking out the most continuity-warped-to-shoehorn-in-Wolverine installment yet.

Again, Wolverine is great. But audiences can't subsist on an exclusive diet of cinematic ice cream. We need a little meat now and then, and the X-universe has proven sturdy enough to support non-Wolverine-centric stories. Let's hope Fox takes that lesson to heart going forward.

Or that Marvel reclaims the rights to X-Men.


I also hope you'll buy my category best selling SFF-horror books. Readers tell me I've got the ensemble cast thing down, so there's minimal danger of a breakout character Fonzing up the place.

@BrianNiemeier


The Fonz

9 comments:

  1. You didn't like "Days of Future Past"? I thought it was great, though "First Class" was better.

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    1. Days of Future Past was alright. But it seriously deviated from the original story where Kitty Pride was sent back in time. Giving her part to Wolverine was just a cynical cash-grab.

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    2. Really liked DOFP.

      Especially enjoyed the ending that retconned everything after X2. If only Alien and Terminator could get the same chance.

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  2. X2 and FIRST CLASS are the best X-Movies to date. DAYS OF FUTURE PAST was just okay. It suffered from the same thing Brian talks about: it turned the original story from a X-Men story into a Wolverine movie guest-starring The X-Men.

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    Replies
    1. "X2 and FIRST CLASS are the best X-Movies to date."

      Amen, brother!

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    2. First Class has some atrocious lines.

      "Mutant and proud!"
      "You didn't ask so I didn't tell."

      Hit me with the hammer more, Vaughn.

      Good movie otherwise, but YEESH.

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    3. "X-Men"'s agenda has never exactly been subtle.

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  3. This is more of a problem for television series (The Fonz, Urkel, Cousin Oliver, and so on) than movies, but it always sticks in my craw.

    When it's worse is when they add a new character specifically for the purpose of breaking out.

    Poochie anyone?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AySXu8x-RnA

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