Panel Detail:
Superheroes Save Hollywood: Translating Comics Into Blockbusters
Wednesday, April 28, 2010  /  09:30 AM - 10:45 AM

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Avi Arad, Chairman, Arad Productions Inc.
Bryan Singer, Film Director
Matt Tolmach, President, Columbia Pictures
Thomas Tull, Chairman and CEO, Legendary Pictures
Kevin Klowden, Managing Economist and Director, California Center, Milken Institute
Batman had the Joker. Leonidas had King Xerxes. And Spider-Man had the Green Goblin. Comic-book blockbusters are as much about the villains as the heroes, according to a panel of directors, producers and studio executives.

The villain introduces the conflict, said director Bryan Singer ("X-Men," "X-2" and "Superman Returns").

"The smarter the villain, the stronger the villain, the more ahead of everyone else the villain is, the more suspense you have," Singer said. The viewer knows rationally that the hero will survive, so the film has to create an "illusion of jeopardy," he said. "In a movie about heroes, where you know the hero is going to win, you need to be constantly thrown that maybe that's not going to happen."

Singer said what's important is how the villain affects the hero. Though these stories traditionally trade on a battle between good and evil, the best of them acknowledge that the characters are fighting the same battle internally, panelists said. As Matt Tolmach of Columbia Pictures (the Spider-Man franchise) put it, "You need an actor who can present the hero with a viable, albeit wrong choice."

Avi Arad of Arad Productions ("Spider-Man," "X-Men" and "Iron Man" movies) said Spider-Man could have been the biggest jewel thief in the world. Conversely, most villains could have been heroes, he said.

"They come from a different point of view. Sometimes it's philosophical, a chip on their shoulder, sometimes it's childhood," Arad said. "And that's what makes them more than a villain. It makes them damaged goods, and maybe they're going to turn around in the end."