On September 7th, Deadline dropped an article that caught my eye and is the sole reason as to why we decided to write this piece. That article is about how Lionsgate, the studio best known for films such as SAW, John Wick, and Twilight, announced it made an “eight-figure” deal to reboot the 90s’ “classic” The Crow, with Bill Skarsgard and FKA Twigs to star. For those who are unfamiliar, The Crow is a 1994 film directed by Alex Proyas and stars Brandon Lee, the son of famous martial artist Bruce Lee. The reason for the quotes around “classic” is because this film is not a traditional franchise blockbuster, and yet, Hollywood has sprung up to reboot it. So what’s so special about this franchise and why would Lionsgate spend so much to revitalize it?
To start, let’s go back to where it all began, the 90s. After the success of Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman, there was a revival of sorts of the superhero film. However, this was not a return to tights and good ole American values, this was the time of edge and darkness. Where heroes worked in the shadows, were brooding, and most importantly wore all black, leather costumes. Enter the superhero films of the 90s, which included the likes of Michael J. White’s Spawn, Wesley Snipes’ Blade, and Brandon Lee’s The Crow. Based on the limited comic book series by James O’Barr, The Crow follows the story of Eric Craven, a young musician who, along with his fiancee, is murdered by a gang of thugs and is resurrected in order to get vengeance. What follows is an extremely stylish and violent superhero flick, filled with 90s’ gothic fashion, the grossest cityscape you’ve ever seen, and music that could only exist between the years of 1992 and 1999.
While not the most beloved superhero movie of the 90s, it’s impossible for anyone to top the no-holds-barred action and insanity that is The Crow; it is unique in its very distinct grungy visual style and aesthetic. I mean how many superhero movies feature their main character shredding an electric guitar on a rooftop at sunset? The film also features the worst names for villains in any film, such as “Tin Tin,” “Funboy,” and “Top Dollar”, who is played excellently by Michael Wincott, who chews the scenery with a perfectly rugged, gravelly voice. An unfortunate aspect of the film is that its star Brandon Lee tragically died in a prop gun accident during production. This lingers over the film, leaving the viewer with this strange sense of guilt and melancholy as they watch Lee perform for the last time.
The most memorable aspect of The Crow has to be its visual style found in the cinematography and editing. Dariusz Wolski is the cinematographer of the film, who has been a recent collaborator with Ridley Scott on his last 3 projects, and Wolski’s upcoming film Napoleon, infuses grimy, city setpieces with harsh shadows and low lighting to give the film a dark gothic style that really sets the tone for the film. This is accented by the costume design of Eric Kraven, who, after being resurrected as the Crow, paints his face white, which creates a strong contrast between him and the background, giving him the impression of a vengeful ghost that stands out in the darkness that surrounds him. The use of natural light that comes from street lights and trash fires again helps to paint this city as a dark and desolate place, where its savior is not a man in a bright costume, but a leather-clad rockstar in clown makeup.
The editing style is berserk, with every montage consisting of what feels like whole other films’ worth of footage mashed and cut together. Every fight scene has tons of coverage, with few scenes having moments that sit for longer than 5 seconds. This gives every scene this kinetic energy, making everything feel exciting. Add either techno or metal music and you’ve got a fight scene that might be a little hard to follow with all the cuts, but it feels like the coolest thing you’ve ever seen.
The Crow was the 24th highest-grossing movie of 1994 and was well-received by most critics at the time. The success of the original led to three sequels and a TV show, none of which came close to the heights of the original. That being said, the big studios still believe in the idea of this franchise being successful; thus, a new film was developed and filmed over the last year, starring Bill Skarsgard and FKA Twigs. But, what’s the appeal here in the eyes of studios?
The obvious reason is it’s easier to reboot and readapt a previous IP instead of creating a new one. Executives and studios know that audiences are usually more willing to take a chance on something that is remotely familiar than something they’ve never heard of before. Plus, reboots, sequels, and remakes are usually a safe bet box office-wise, see the recent success of the Creed Franchise or Evil Dead Rise, both of which are extensions of previous franchises with their own narratives but are close enough to the sources that audiences are willing to give them a shot. It’s also just inherently easier to make and sell from a production standpoint. There’s already a cult following of the previous films, so they don’t have to work too hard to convince people to see it. There’s easy reference material to draw from both in the previous films and in the comics, so crafting the narrative would not be too difficult. However, with all this in mind, The Crow does have some aspects that could allow for a new franchise to be both successful and potentially interesting.
One aspect of The Crow franchise that would be beneficial to the studios is the concept of how they handled the sequels. The lead character of each film was a new character with their own motivation for vengeance. This could be the perfect solution to the issue MCU is starting to have where A-list actors either become disinterested in returning for a sequel or in some situations refuse to shave their mustaches for reshoots. With a modern Crow franchise, the protagonist role can be a revolving door of actors who are interested in playing a superhero, without dealing with all the baggage that comes with being a part of a cinematic universe.
A modern Crow franchise can also fill a void that no other notable superhero film has, the intentionally edgy hero flick. With the popularity of shows like Invincible and The Boys and the annoyingly constant clamor for the return of the Snyderverse of DC films, audiences do seem to want darker, more serious, and grounded superhero endeavors. As shown with The Boys, people are willing to check out comic stories outside of the usual Marvel and DC libraries, and potentially The Crow might be the right character and narrative to be a successful alternative. That being said, in 2020, Sony did try to do this exact thing with Bloodshot starring Vin Diesel which as we remember was not memorable.
Even though The Crow is not a household name when it comes to comics you or your friends have heard of before, its films do have a cult following that Hollywood thinks is enough to warrant a reboot. As previously mentioned they have done this before with the “beloved” Bloodshot comics, but they’ve also seen mild success here before. Films like Kick-Ass, Kingsmen, and Judge Dredd were all niche comic books that only your local comic junky would know about before they made their appearance on the big screen, and each of them saw mild, if not outright, financial and critical success. It’s definitely possible for a new Crow film to join this club of lesser-known comic book character films…or it could be another Bloodshot. We just gotta wait and see.
As wild as a move this is, a reboot of The Crow could be interesting if handled correctly, and it’ll be exciting to see what Lionsgate does with this project. Skarsgard is on a pretty solid hot streak right now, with John Wick: Chapter 4, Barbarian, and both IT movies under his belt, and it’ll be interesting to see his attempt at being an action hero, especially one so edgy as Eric Draven. At the end of the day, Hollywood is doing another reboot, but this one has the potential at least to be a little interesting if the creatives are willing to lean into its uniquely dark 1990s punk aesthetic.