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‘03 may be year of Superhero Superflops

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Despite "X2" (a k a "X-Men 2" and "X2: X-Men United") having made more than $200 million at the North American box office, 2003 may be remembered as the year of Superhero Superflops.

Judging by current box-office broadcasts, neither "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" nor "Hulk" will be hits.

Current projections put "Hulk" on track to make between $130 million-$140 million. Unfortunately, the film cost at least $150 million to make. When you add in promotional costs (roughly a dollar-for-dollar match), that means "Hulk" is a misfire.

Meanwhile, "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" ("LXG" for short) opened with $23 million in its first weekend. But reviews and word of mouth have not been encouraging. At best, the $70 million-plus film is on track to break even. But it definitely won't go into profit with its U.S. theatrical earnings.

Add to that the fact that "Daredevil" — despite its huge Valentine's Day weekend opening — barely hit the $100 million mark, and it becomes apparent there's a message here: Not all comics are worthy of movie adaptations.

Even those that appear to be sure-fire can go awry. While I appreciated Ang Lee's attempts to make portions of "Hulk" look like actual comic-book panels (thanks to split-screen sequences and other gimmicks), the film is just too talk-heavy and badly paced.

And "LXG" is just plain dumb.

NOT THAT IT WILL STOP THEM: Things don't look to get any better anytime soon. Leading off next year's busy slate of comics-based films is "The Punisher." The blonde-haired, not-very-intense Thomas Jane is playing the dark-haired, revenge-minded vigilante. And John Travolta will be the villain. In the words of legendary comics creator Stan Lee: " 'Nuff said!"

And my optimism — and love for the character — aside, "Spider-Man 2" has been rumored to be a troubled production from the start, what with Tobey Maguire's much-publicized health problems . . . and alleged near-firing and near-replacement. (To be fair, those are just rumors, and last weekend Maguire told reporters interviewing him for "Seabiscuit" that he believes the "Spider-Man" sequel will be better than the first one.)

Meanwhile, it sounds like actress Jennifer Garner is balking about doing an "Elektra" movie (a spin-off of "Daredevil"), saying she only wants to do it if she likes the script.

As for "Ghost Rider," a skull-headed Spirit of Vengeance would probably get laughed off the screen.

Also, there are even rumors that Brad Pitt has signed to play ultra-patriotic Marvel Comics hero Captain America. We can only hope they're rumors. . . .

However, there is definitely one that looks really promising: "Hellboy," which will be released next Memorial Day. Although there are few name actors in the cast — Ron Perlman is starring as the title character, with Selma Blair as his pyrokinetic companion Liz Sherman. And director Guillermo Del Toro can be hit or miss ("The Devil's Backbone" vs. "Mimic," for example).

"Hellboy" could be a difficult sell, especially considering that it's based on a comics property that is relatively unknown outside of conventions.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "The film has got nothing to do with my work; it has a coincidental title to a book I've done and they've given me a huge wedge of money. No problem with that." — Comic-book writer Alan Moore, when asked about the movie adaptation of his miniseries "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen."

E-mail: jeff@desnews.com