Why Hollywood Needs Another Spawn Movie

By  · Published on September 21st, 2016

And Why That Spawn Movie Will Not Happen Anytime Soon

How long has it been since we last saw Todd McFarlane’s Spawn in theaters? The last Spawn movie was released three unique Spider-Men ago. Three Punishers. Two Daredevils. One Wolverine. The point is, it’s been a long time, especially when you consider how much money superhero movies have made in the interim. Audiences no longer want to watch their heroes to throw down in bloodless PG-13 fight sequences or focus exclusively on the exploits of twenty-something white men. Fans want their comic book films to feature more complex characters and more diverse casts; they want superhero movies that exist at the intersection between genres, moving fluidly from science-fiction to blockbuster to political thriller in the blink of an eye. In other words, they want another Spawn; they just don’t know it yet.

A few days ago, ran a video special courtesy of AMC that featured Spawn creator Todd McFarlane discussing his idea for a brand new movie. This isn’t the first time that McFarlane has spoken confidently about getting a new Spawn movie made; if we dig back even through just our own archives, we can find a 2009 piece by Scott Beggs reporting McFarlane’s claims that he was juggling five separate offers for a brand new Spawn movie. This clearly was not entirely true – otherwise we would have bullied the studio into casting Idris Elba as Al Simmons ages ago – but it does speak to how long a new Spawn movie has been making the rounds. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find a few very good reasons for Hollywood to consider a Spawn sequel… and one key reason why it will likely never happen.

In many ways, the approach that New Line Cinemas took with Spawn was a bit ahead of its time. Much like we’ve seen with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, New Line Cinemas chose to eschew established directors in favor of someone cheaper and more open to feedback. Director Mark Dippé cut his teeth as a visual effects artist at Industrial Light and Magic – working on films such as Jurassic Park and Terminator 2: Judgment Day – before New Line and Todd McFarlane chose him to tackle a blockbuster summer movie on an independent studio’s budget. Despite never having directed his own film before, Dippé took inspiration from some very lofty places, including the works of Alejandro Jodorowsky. “His movies are very bold visually,” Dippé told American Cinematographer in 1997. “When I first became serious about film, Jodorowsky’s work really tweaked me.” These days, we like to think of our superhero directors as being serious artists in their own right, and name-dropping Alejandro Jodorowsky in 1997 would have certainly fit the bill.

It seems crazy now to think that in the span of a single year – from 1997 to 1998 – Hollywood produced two big-budget superhero movies starring black actors, but with Michael Jai White in Spawn and Wesley Snipes in Blade, the modern era of blockbuster superhero movies seemed off to a pretty auspicious start. At the same time, the original cut of Spawn included so much violence that New Line Cinema actively had to edit it down to avoid an R-rating. These days, movie studios are frantically adjusting their movies in post-production to include more black characters and nudge up against an R-rating. New Line Cinema had a combination of Deadpool and Black Panther before either of those properties were considered potential trendsetters at the box office. When it comes to violence and diversity, Hollywood has never been more ready to make a Spawn sequel.

So why won’t it happen? Two words: Todd McFarlane. In January of 1997 – months before Spawn opened in theaters – the Los Angeles Times visited with McFarlane on the set of the movie and discussed the process of bringing the character from page to screen. McFarlane spoke openly about his impressive creative control, noting that he was first approached about a Spawn movie in 1992 and quickly turned it down. “I could have sold the rights to Spawn early in the game,” McFarlane told the Times, “with an A-list director and star, and maybe there would be a lot more hype around it.” Instead, McFarlane chose to hold off, waiting until New Line offered him both an executive director credit and final say on the cast and crew. McFarlane also sold New Line the rights to Spawn for a whopping one dollar – that’s one-zero and zero-zero cents – allowing him to retain the exclusive merchandising rights to a Spawn movie despite handling the negotiations without the aid of an attorney or agent.

Creative control has always been one of the most important elements of McFarlane’s career. It’s why he left a lucrative position with Marvel comics to start his own publisher; it’s also why he waited five years between 1992 and 1997 to find the right studio to make his film. There is no doubt in my mind that McFarlane does have a Spawn script in-hand; if his assertion that this is more of a horror movie with a superhero flare are correct, it might even be one of the all-time great comic movies. None of that will matter if McFarlane does not find a deal exactly to his liking. And with the supply of superheroes at an all-time high, if some studio does not want to give McFarlane the exclusive merchandising rights to his next movie – and why on earth would they? – there will always be some independent artist willing to license his Spawn knockoff for a fraction of the price.

Spawn should be the great while whale for all those hungry executives out there. McFarlane’s world combines the profane and irreverent humor of Deadpool, the diversity of Marvel, and the gritty violence of Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad all in one easily marketable package. The fact that a movie does not currently exist is something of a testament to the stubbornness of McFarlane as a creator. In Al Simmons, McFarlane created the perfect superhero for the modern Hollywood landscape. It just so happens that Hollywood will not offer the one thing that McFarlane wants most of all: creative control. Unless McFarlane’s approach to the business changes drastically in the near future – or some young filmmaker turns Spawn into his passion project and nurtures it through to completion – don’t expect anything but concept art and empty promises for years to come.

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Matthew Monagle is an Austin-based film and culture critic. His work has appeared in a true hodgepodge of regional and national film publications. He is also the editor and co-founder of Certified Forgotten, an independent horror publication. Follow him on Twitter at @labsplice. (He/Him)