Netflix has grand ambitions for Millarworld, the Scottish comic book company it acquired this week. The aim is to repeat Disney’s success with Marvel, where the creator of the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy has become a launchpad for multibillion-dollar film franchises.
Here are four ways in which Netflix can make a global success of Millarworld properties, a job made tougher as the deal does not include founder Mark Millar’s best-known properties: Kick-Ass and Kingsman.
1. Create a superhero universe
The latest trend in Hollywood is to create a “universe” from a group of characters. Disney has the Avengers ensemble, which includes characters such as Captain America, Thor and Iron Man – who also have their own standalone films. This is not about flogging a concept through a series of sequels but building up a series of characters that can flit across multiple films (and probably TV series in the case of Netflix). Warner Brothers is tapping into this approach by expanding its DC Comics heroes – Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman – into a universe under the Justice League banner. Universal is developing its so-called “dark universe” of monster films ranging from The Mummy, the Invisible Man, and Dracula to vampire hunter Van Helsing.
Millarworld has so far developed 18 character franchises. Three of these – Wanted, Kick-Ass and Kingsman – have so far made the successful jump to the big screen grossing about $1bn (£770m) at the box office. However, Kingsman and Kick-Ass are licensed to other producers. Netflix releases films in cinemas but its main business is streaming content to subscribers so it referred to TV series and kids’ shows as well as films.
Netflix is banking on Millarworld introducing viewers to a new universe of hitherto unknown worlds – with franchises including Jupiter’s Legacy about a dysfunctional superhero family, a gifted petrol station worker called Huck and Duke McQueen, “a space age hero who may be a little past his prime” – that will become household names.
Like Disney’s Avengers, Millar says the “vast tapestry of characters and superteams” all tie together, which Netflix will convert into a range of TV and film projects for its more than 100m global subscribers.
2. Ensure Millarworld’s output has international appeal
Disney had the luxury of building the Marvel hit factory selectively from a world of 5,000 characters, many of whom were not seen worthy of development when the company was acquired for $4bn in 2009. Millarworld is a smaller canvas.
Millarworld’s creations are not well known cinematically on the global stage and it is superbrands such as Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and the Avengers that have driven more than $12bn in box office takings alone for Disney.
Well-established brand characters are still no guarantee of success. Ryan Reynold’s Green Lantern, made by Warner Bros, and The Fantastic Four, made by 20th Century Fox, both flopped.
Even Millar’s biggest hit has struggled to make it to maintain its momentum.Matthew Vaughan, director of the hit adaptation of Kick-Ass, said that the sequel “lost a few fans”.
3. Talent retention and character development
Mark Millar operates Millarworld as something of a collective of creators but the name above the door is his – he and his wife, Lucy, jointly own the Glasgow-based company. Netflix chiefs have heaped praise on Millar calling him “as close as you can get to a modern-day Stan Lee”, the Marvel executive and legendary creator of some of the biggest superheroes in print and film including Spiderman, Iron Man, X-Men, Hulk and Thor.
Millar has proven he has the Marvel midas touch, after an eight-year stint at the business. While there, he developed the comic books and story arcs that inspired the Avengers film, Captain America: Civil War and the recent Wolverine movie, Logan.