Destroy All Monsters: Hollywood And Ben Affleck Don't Owe You A Damn Thing

Matt Brown, Columnist

Look, I was as surprised as anyone else when the Batffleck (note proper spelling, please) casting came down last week . This wasn't because of any presumption on my part about whether Ben Affleck was "right for the role" of Batman (whatever that means) in the Superman vs. Batman project. My surprise was simply because Affleck had spent so much of the last five years credibly demonstrating that he was well past this sort of thing. To analogize him to his closest Hollywood comparison, it was like seeing George Clooney (former Batman, and Affleck's Argo producer), five years after Out of Sight and with Batman & Robin finally low enough in his filmography to stop drawing attention to itself, announcing that he was going to play Wolverine in X-Men 3. It's not that I think Affleck can't do it - but heavens, why would he want to?

Affleck's a smart guy, and has become a smart filmmaker and a relatively big wheel at the cracker factory. The Guardian is reporting that his Batman deal comes with (of course) sequel commitments and a further shot at directing the Justice League movie, which he was rumoured to be circling a while back. Maybe Affleck's just getting into the mega-franchise business like everybody else, because let's face it: that's the center of what Hollywood does now. At least there's an honesty to it.

Ben Affleck's Achilles' Heel remains, not unlike Quentin Tarantino, his interest in himself as an actor. Affleck's best (directed) film to date remains his first, Gone Baby Gone, where he absented himself from the picture entirely and just made the damn thing. But there's a whiff of the old, Paycheck-era Affleck vanity in the director casting himself in the lead roles of both The Town and Argo, both of which (I'd argue) would be manifestly better movies if he'd found someone else to star.

I'm not engaging in more of the proverbial Affleck-bashing here; this is just my honest critical response to those two films, and you're welcome to disagree. I like Affleck fine in a lot of his roles, and not just those directed by Kevin Smith. But independent of the Batman decision, I think it's long past time for Affleck to give up on his dream of becoming the next... well, George Clooney. Who, on an unrelated note, is the only actor ever cast as Batman where I don't remember a massive fan uproar following the announcement.

Naturally, the response to the Batffleck decision was far more interesting than the decision itself. (About forty jokes on Twitter along the lines of: "NSA bugging, meh; Affleck Batman, THE WORLD IS ENDING!" sum it up. You've always got my back, Twitter.) What was even more amazing was the mob mentality that quickly set in. It was like watching the self-feeding fire from Backdraft build itself up: at some point, the Affleck hate-on ran out of oxygen, but just kept getting meaner, waiting for someone to open the door.

All of which leads me to remind the outraged masses of the lesson that apparently needs to be reiterated at least once a year: Hollywood (as an industry), and Ben Affleck (as a person), do not give a fuck about you or your opinion. At all. And here's why:

Thing #1. The first and most important reason you and your opinion don't matter is that you're going to buy their product anyway. Yes, you are. If less than 94% of all the people who have whined about Batffleck online in the last 6 days go to see Superman vs. Batman in 22 months, I will hand every person who reads this column a shiny dollar.

This is because the "fanboy" sector of the overall movie fanbase is, in general, astonishingly hypocritical pre-sold on the property Hollywood is selling you.

I call this pre-selling effect the Quantum of Solace factor, because one of my particular fandoms is the James Bond franchise. I did not like Quantum of Solace, much like most people don't like Quantum of Solace. Quantum of Solace was the 22nd (proper) James Bond movie, and I owned the first 21 on DVD when Quantum of Solace came out. Now, from a Sony marketing perspective: what is the likelihood that I, Matt Brown, am not going to a) pay $14 to see Quantum of Solace on opening day, and b) pay another $24 to buy the DVD (well, blu-ray) when it comes out six months later? Check your math, carry your ones, but if you got anything other than zero as your result, you're wrong. Sony rests easy this night.

What this means is: like Man of Steel, you may not like Superman vs. Batman when it comes out, but you're going to go see it. You might not see it a second time or recommend it to your friends - which might result in a box office dropoff not unlike the cliff off which MOS nosedived in its second week - but you're going to go see it. Some of you will hate-watch it, some of you will give it an honest try, but I reassert that 94% of the people who are currently insisting loudly that Ben Affleck is some sort of dealbreaker from them are simply lying.

There are no dealbreakers in this game, not really. And even if there were...

Thing #2: Even if the entire fanboy fanbase stood up and successfully boycotted Superman vs. Batman, the overall dent on Warner Brothers' recoup on the project would be a rounding error in an otherwise gargantuan ocean of profitability. What is an ocean but a multitude of drops, you ask? Well, it's still an ocean, and one which does not much feel the absence of a handful of drops.

And that's what the fanboy fanbase amounts to, regardless of how loudly they like to yell on the internet: a teensy, tiny, largely insignificant component of an overall moviegoing public who are a) Hollywood's main consumer base, and b) not like you, in that they don't have an opinion on who should be playing Batman. They just like Batman.

Remember that: they just like Batman. When there is a poster and a trailer in early 2015 that says "Blank Blank Batman," they're in. The "Superman vs." won't matter, the "Ben Affleck starring in" won't play, the "from the director of Sucker Punch" will not stop anyone at the door. "Blank Blank Batman" - the perfect Hollywood marketing strategy, for the overwhelming majority of the summer moviegoing public.

(No, it's not infallible. If you noticeably dim the brand for a film or two, eventually you get Batman & Robin. But coming off a four hundred and fifty million dollar domestic gross on The Dark Knight Rises, that time is not coming soon.)

If the fanbase is useful for anything from a Hollywood perspective - and that's debatable - it's simply to serve as a free arsenal of marketing Borg, a drone army of social media connectors who will generously assimilate the online world with chatter about the property in the months and weeks leading up to release. Since all press is good press, whether or not the chatter is pro- or anti- Superman vs. Batman is largely academic, just like the tone of the chatter about Sharknado did nothing besides propel a good candidate for the worst film of all time to some kind of 2013 cultural relevance.

So by all means, keep yelling about Ben. When my dad emailed me last week to ask what all the fuss was about, you officially put Superman vs. Batman on his radar for the first time, along with a whole lot of other people's. The marketing campaign has begun.


Destroy All Monsters is a weekly column on Hollywood and pop culture.

Around the Internet:
  • tman418

    At this point, I honestly don't think it matters who's going to be in the lead role of Batman. Batmans vs. Superman/Man of Steel 2 is going to mostly be a "beat the crap out of each other" movie, so anyone's acting ability is almost irrelevant.

  • Bryan Nguyen

    He should just cast his brother Casey as the lead actor in all the movies he directs down the line. Boom, instantly a better movie.

  • King_Leer

    "People were wrong about that one thing that other time, which means they're going to be wrong about everything in the future!"
    -All these pro-Affleck columns should just print that sentence over and over again. That's what the argument in favor of him always comes down to.

  • Forthas

    ALSO...Look how many times the STUDIO has been wrong...Batman Forever, Batman and Robin, Superman 3, Superman 4, Catwoman, Green Lantern, Jonah Hex etc...and that is just Warner Brothers. Don't get me started on Jessica Alba and the 2 Fantastic Four movies.

  • Flower & Monster

    Jessica alba was the only problem with the F4 movies?
    These movies suck because on a cluster of things.

  • KOF

    The headline says it all. Thank you. It's about Affleck and WB and whatever they want to do. He's getting paid A LOT, whether it flops or not. If we didn't care so much about this stuff. we'd realize what this is in the whole scheme of things: a product bent on making lots of dough. Audiences have shown again and again that they will buy up even mediocrities. SO, WB will be slap happy even if it meets that bar. For PROFIT, folks. Not for our enlightenment.

    Oh, and Ben wants the money so flip us the bird.

  • moneenerd

    Superhero movies... pfft.

  • Jason Thomas

    There's a few good points in this article, but you're way off with your 94% prediction. I don't care for sports, therefor i have no business writing articles about them. But I'm not gonna tell a bunch of jocks and meatheads that even though some idiot they can't stand is gonna be a VIP for they're favorite team, that they're gonna watch it and that there's nothing they can do about it. These two characters are very important to "fanboys" (as you so arrogantly put it. I'll now refer to sports fans as meatheads. Hope you're a sports fan, Matt Brown) and don't want the gamble that WB is taking with Affleck. This is an epic battle between two epic characters. One will be portrayed by a fresh face who who did just okay as the man of steel and the other by a sub par actor/good director that no "fanboy" wants.

  • Pa Kent Says Maybe

    Oh, please. Thing #2, jackass.

    "Fanboys don't want the gamble, blah-blah-blah-blah." What are you even talking about?

    Ben Affleck cannot possibly be the one thing that will ruin BATMAN VS SUPERMAN. The writer. The director. The producer. Your fresh face, what's-his-name-again. Ben Affleck will likely be the BEST thing in the movie.

  • Corrigan

    I would wager and successfully retain all of the shiny silver dollars that you or anyone on this planet would care to bet that this particular individual will not, 'likely' or otherwise, under any circumstances whatsoever, be anything remotely close to 'the best thing in this movie'.

  • Unless the Cranston rumblings turn out to be true. Then Brian Cranston will be the best thing in the movie.

  • davebaxter

    "Fanboys" isn't Matt's terminology. It's a widely used, accepted term to refer to hardcore/passionate fans vs. general/average aka more ambivalent fans. "Fanboys" is a term used both positively and derogatorily - they're called "fanboys" when they do radical wonderful things, and also when they do stupid lemming-like things. It in itself is neither arrogant nor demeaning, it's simply an accepted modern term that does not replace any other more appropriate term. "Meatheads" is a purely derogatory stand in for "jock" or "athlete". "Fanboy" does not stand in for anything, that IS the term.

  • arturo

    I predict that Batman vs Superman will make between $800 mil to $1 billion worldwide, i remember when people frowned apon Heath Ledger casting as the joker in The Dark Knight (the haters were wrong big time on that one). So i have no problem with Ben Affleck as batman, Warner Brothers will get my money on opening weekend..

  • Totally agree: Argo = much better flick without Affleck. I wasn't gonna see Bats vs. Supes either way.

  • Kurt

    The first faux-fleck trailer: http://io9.com/this-fake-batma...

  • AdrianoGeek

    True, besides, this doesn't count as bad publicity. I mean it's not like you're casting Paul Giamatti as Batman. The percentage of people actually seeing the movie will depend on the quality of the final result, bad publicity only affects major Hollywood tentpoles when word-of-mouth tells over 80% of moviegoers that "It sucked." These people will see Bats vs Supes just to judge Batfleck, and that's not really a bad thing.

  • Forthas

    But I think that movie studios want people to see movies multiple times and on IMAX. They have to build excitement for the film especially since they are potentially dealing with a very competitive film market. The way the film is trending now it does not seem as though there is any excitement for it. If they can't turn that around and I don't believe they can, then they will lose big time come opening night.

  • Couldn't disagree more, for two reasons. First, is simple history. People HATED the idea of Michael Keaton as Batman way worse than this and he worked out just fine. Second, audiences are fickle and easily led. Right now all they need is a strong reaction in any direction. All the chatter now means that the moment they release a first image or teaser all the people slamming Affleck will rush to see it to see if their hate was correct. And if said images or teaser look in any way not horrible at all the huge majority of those people will turn around and say, "Oh, I was the guy who always thought Affleck would be pretty good." I've watched this happen over and over and over and over again.

    We're what, two years away from this film being in theaters? People LIKING it now means nothing, people REACTING to it now is the only thing that matters in terms of PR. The reaction leads to engagement and with people engaged the marketers have got a virtual eternity (not to mention a MASSIVE bank roll) to swing them around to thinking what the studios want them to.

  • King_Leer

    Go ask the makers of After Earth how much they appreciated the HUGE reaction towards the film, if size is the only thing that matters here. Sometimes bad publicity is just bad publicity.

  • Forthas

    People did not hate the idea of Michael Keaton worse than this plus there is every reason to believe the only reason Keaton was successful in the first movie was because it was the FIRST Batman movie. His next outing Batman Returns made 35% LESS money than the first one despite being seen critically as better. That suggests audiences were right especially in light of the fact that the next film which was critically WORSE than Batman Returns also did better.

    There was a lot of anticipation for Man of Steel and it had fantastic trailers but still did not meet the expectations of Warner Brothers. You are telling me that this movie will do better with a lot more negative feelings already against it...in a competitive summer movie market. You have a lot of faith that an audience can be swung around. They did not do so to help Man of Steel to get past the fifth highest box office this year beaten this year by such titans as Monsters University AND Despicable Me 2..so I beg to differ.

  • The pre-tracking for Man of Steel was HUGE, as was the opening weekend. It dropped off after the movie wasn't very good. That's an entirely different issue than marketing. And you're saying having the fifth highest box office total of the year doesn't make you a success? What world do you live on?

    On the Batman thing, the Keaton Batman is NOT the first Batman movie, and yes, people HATED the idea in the press. Keaton was still purely a comedian up to that point and people absolutely ripped on the idea because it didn't mesh with his public image at all and he didn't (and doesn't) have the physique.

  • Mr. Cavin

    "Keaton was still purely a comedian up to that point"

    Clean and Sober, he mentioned idly.

  • Wasn't released yet when Keaton was cast. The films people would've actually seen from the five years before the announcement came out were Beetlejuice, The Squeeze (which I don't even remember), Touch and Go (likewise), Gung Ho, Johnny Dangerously (which I am suddenly inclined to watch again, I loved that film), and Mr Mom. None of which said 'Batman' to anyone.

  • Hiroaki Johnson

    "It shoots THROUGH schools."

    Yeah, I recall that one fondly too.

  • I still battle the occasional urge to refer to someone as a farging icehole.

  • Hiroaki Johnson

    I save that for my friends 10 year old. :)

  • Forthas

    Here is the link to Man of Steel Rotten Tomatoes site. As you will see it gives you TWO scores. The critics rating and the audience rating in prominent dark green numbers.

    http://www.rottentomatoes.com/...

  • Forthas

    How can you say the movie wasn't good...the people that mattered most did not agree rating it 76% on Rotten Tomatoes. That should NOT have prevented it from doing well given that the much maligned Twilight films (except one) out performed Man of Steel which has a higher critical rating than every one of the films.

    Keaton's Batman film is the first modern era Batman film. Anything prior to 1970 would not count since most people in this current generation would not even remember anything prior.

  • Corrigan

    How can you include text so sweeping as to include a statement like 'the people that mattered most'?

    How exactly are YOU defining this group?

  • Forthas

    The Audience! They are the ones who buy the tickets!

  • Rotten Tomato ratings have ZERO to do with the audience. They're a poll of pre-approved critics with anything at or above a 6 / 10 rating being ranked as 'Fresh'. Audience never factors in at all.

  • Guest

    The movie was atrocious.

  • The people who matter most are now, and always have been, the people who buy the tickets, not the critics. Expectations on Man Of Steel were enormous, general fan response was middling to okay (i.e. not up to expectations) so numbers dropped off. That's how it goes. And a 76% rating on RT doesn't mean it's 76% of the way to being awesome, it means 76% of participating critics felt it was at least mediocre. There's a big, big difference.

  • Forthas

    Let me clarify, the 76% is the audience rating so I agree with you!

  • Ah, gotcha.

  • Kurt

    Michael Keaton is a bad comparison in the first place, because, hey, there was no INTERNET back then, and it's all about internet (at least until a couple weeks prior to release) these days...

  • And you've never known the internet to be fickle? Pfft.

    If you want a recent example of something riding to massive numbers despite massive fanboy bashing, look no farther than World War Z. It's doing just fine.

    Reality is that the online fanboy world is a very vocal but VERY small minority that doesn't have nearly the power to impact real world dollars and cents as it likes to think it does. As a consumer base we are barely relevant at all.

  • Forthas

    However in this case there is reason to believe it is not limited to fanboy/fangirls. When the news broke regarding Affleck's casting variety conducted an online poll...here are the results

    Do You Think Ben Affleck Is the Right Choice to Play Batman?

    No 76.64% (82,639 votes)
    Yes 23.36% (25,188 votes)

    Total Votes: 107,827

    http://variety.com/2013/film/n...

    Variety is not a publication that caters only to fanboy/fangirls, it caters to people who watch films in general and clearly they do not think it is a good idea.

  • Variety very definitely does NOT cater to the general audience. It never has in the entire lengthy history of the publication. Variety is a trade publication with a very specific audience (and their own specialized language, even, which they impose on all of their writers) that is, frankly, even MORE specific and specialized than the fanboy crowd.

    Those results are skewed from the outset by the organization conducting the poll. As, frankly, are any results conducted by pretty much anyone unless they're being exceptionally proactive and conducting blind calls into a variety of different demographics to ensure a broad based result.

    If all your poll is is a form put out on a website for people to click on, your results are automatically going to be skewed towards the hardcore fans because those are the ONLY people who care enough to seek such things out and participate and, frankly, even within that subset the only people who really bother to seek stuff out are the people who are angry about things. the ones who read the news and go, "Yeah, that's alright," then go on and carry on their day to day business, they don't go seeking out a forum to express their opinion of alrightness.

  • Forthas

    Your first point confirms it is not the fanboy crowd so that means the same negative sentiment also exists external to the fanboy community and therefore not confined to a small minority.

    Your second point is correct but still even if skewed is likely not skewed enough as to suggest that a majority of people approve of Affleck as the choice.

    Finally I am not sure what data or information there is that would confirm that polls are filled out mostly by "people who are angry about things" In my own personal experience and the experience of looking at polls I have never heard of the notion that angry people have a greater tendency to fill out poll questions. People like to offer an opinion angry or not and there is no basis for suggesting it is more often made out of emotion. In the over 96,000 tweets sent in the first hour after the casting announcement was made, 71 percent of that talk was negative, according to social media analytics firm Fizziology. Only 15 percent of the quick takes were positive and 14 percent were deemed to be of mixed sentiment. If you add the positive numbers with the mixed sentiment and group it all as positive, the outcome is surprisingly not that dissimilar to the Variety Poll.

    So are Tweets only made by angry people? Is it a "specialized" group?

  • Read the whole sentence. The point is that Variety readership is even LESS general population than the fanboy crowd. It's even smaller, even more specialized, even less representative of anything that general population thinks. It's not normative. To say that Variety is not part of the fanboy population therefore everything it says does represent the opinion of the general population is laughably bad logic. Horrible. Horrible, horrible, horrible.

    And even if it were, see everything else said previously re: opinion doesn't matter one iota to the marketers at this very, very early stage, the only thing that matters right now is engagement, which they have in spades.

    And as to the nature of Twitter and online polls, you're kidding, right? When was the last time you ever heard ANYONE (particularly anyone famous in any field) say, "Wow, that conversation on Twitter was so life affirming. I feel so much better about myself and humanity right now"? Twitter skews OVERWHELMINGLY negative. It always has. It always will. That's the basic nature of the beast. And that is especially true when it comes to anyone in any position of fame / privilege / power. It is an absolute haven for people who want to gripe and run.

    And, yes, actually, the Twitter user base is not even remotely representative of the general population if you start breaking down the demographics by race, income, gender, age, country of origin, etc. It is massively skewed.

  • Kjseo

    I agree with Todd.

  • Knifey

    Oh My God. Paul Giamatti as Batman? I would pay to see that.

  • Kurt

    Please check out IRON CLAD, for that kind of crazy Giamatti-awesomeness

  • Knifey

    Will do, thanks for the tip. I have no idea how that flew under my radar!

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