Some years ago an acquaintance showed me a script by a friend of his--who was, by the way, no stranger to Hollywood--that he told me was nearly made into a superhero film. (He even named a couple of stars, at the time solidly A-list, who would have been in the lead roles if the project found the sought-after backing.) My impression was that the film was always a longshot. It combined the dramatic material of a small-scale independent movie (an insecure loser loafing about a small town in anticipation of a confrontation with an old enemy) with superhero battles (the loser and his enemy happening to have special abilities), so that I had a hard time seeing anyone willing to put up adequate financing.
Naturally, I was surprised to see 2012's Chronicle. Certainly the story is different. It is less devoted to superhero conventions if in some ways more trite (in its use of the "found footage" gimmick that ultimately becomes quite illogical, and its treatment of the theme of the misuse of power), the hero seethes rather than whines, and the tone is--if you will forgive the overused word--darker (while also being more pretentious and less funny). Still, it offers that same combination of indie-style drama with effects-heavy displays of superhero abilities I wrote off as unlikely.
Naturally I wondered how they closed the gap between even the $12 million they raised (rather more than I pictured the producers of such a film putting up), and the realization of such a concept. The solution was shooting much of the mere 83 minute film in Cape Town, South Africa with a cast of virtual unknowns (no A-listers here), and the conservation of the bulk of the resources for the big finale.
The result, of course, was one of the more noteworthy low-budget successes of recent years, the film grossing ten times what it cost (a rare achievement these days), while also winning a good deal of critical acclaim. Now a sequel is reportedly in the works.
I suppose I underestimated Hollywood's flexibility--but perhaps not by much. What I guess I really underestimated was the continued appeal of the superhero genre for the studios, which gave the production just enough wriggle room not only to get made, but to get the wide distribution that made it a possible franchise.
My Posts on Superheroes