Ed Driscoll

Superman Versus The Heartland Brokeback Breakout Meme

What makes a hit movie a hit? I guess it isn’t box office, according to this piece by the L.A. Times’ Joe Horn on promoting the latest version of Superman to gay audiences:

But four of the movie marketing executives, all of whom declined to speak on the record, said gay “Superman Returns” interest presented two potential box-office problems. First, teenage moviegoers, especially those in conservative states, might be put off by a movie carrying a gay vibe; among some teens, these executives agreed, saying something “is gay” is still the ultimate put-down. Second, the attention threatens to undermine the film’s status as a hard-edged action movie, making it feel softer, more romantic, and thus less interesting to young ticket buyers who crave pyrotechnics.

Though “Brokeback Mountain’s” gay love story proved to be a Hollywood breakthrough, unequivocally selling a ton of tickets and winning three Oscars, it was essentially an adult drama, which courts a very different audience than the high-octane action crowd that “Superman” needs to attract.

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In addition to drawing poor reviews and generating weak word-of-mouth, the studio’s 1997 summer release “Batman & Robin” was criticized for having too much homoerotic appeal, including nipples on Batman’s suit. George Clooney, the film’s star, has joked, “I could have played him straight but I didn’t. I made him gay.”

The film barely grossed $100 million in domestic theaters, and Warners has said privately that “Batman & Robin” turned out so poorly that it nearly killed off the Caped Crusader franchise (the series was resuscitated with last year’s “Batman Begins,” a global blockbuster).

It’s understandable that Hollywood considers 1997’s Batman & Robin a bust–it was a truly horrendous movie that didn’t make back its enormous $125 million budget. But while Brokeback was far cheaper to produce at $14 million, domestically, it’s grossed $24 million less than Batman & Robin’s $107 million–despite ticket prices being a third higher than they were nine years ago. But that doesn’t stop the L.A. Times’ Horn from cooing about Brokeback “selling a ton of tickets”–and thus running smack dab into what Mickey Kaus (who was virtually alone in pointing out Brokeback’s middling-level success) dubbed the imaginary Heartland Breakout Meme.

Just out of curiosity: Given Bruce Wayne’s lengthy affiliation with his “youthful ward Dick Grayson” (not to mention the camp 1966 TV series), I know Batman has long had a gay undercurrent. But when did Superman, last seen shagging Lois Lane, become a gay icon?