Deadpool opened up the market for ultra-violent, profane superheroes, but the new Hellboy’s box-office nose dive shows they need more than shock value
In the week leading up to the release of the new Hellboy film, Lionsgate unleashed something called a “Super R-RATED Sizzle Reel!” to showcase what the studio hoped to be the chief appeal of their $50m (£38.1m) reimagining of Mike Mignola’s comic books: a grand parade of violence, blood, gore, mutilation and foul-mouthed mischief. The montage wasn’t coy about its intentions. Title cards proclaiming: “Hellboy is rated R / For strong bloody violence/ Gore throughout” are intercut with clips of a giant tearing a man in half, Hellboy ripping out a troll’s eye and similar imagery.
In an age where gleefully bloody and bad-mouthed superhero movies such as Deadpool and Logan lay waste to the box office, such an approach makes sense on paper. But the numbers are now in, and the third Hellboy movie has made $22.1m at the box office (just $12m of which was in the US), and has just a 15% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. That’s not simply a catastrophic result compared to the R-rated superhero films its marketing strategy clearly aped, but compared to other adult-targeted films in general. Just by way of comparison, even the lame 2010 reboot of A Nightmare on Elm Street managed to bring in $63m during its first weekend.