Hello! Welcome to Rental Floss, a semi-regular column in which Mike Clark trawls through the dregs of the Netflix catalogue to probe the miserably rated, examine why cultural consensus favours some films over others, and perhaps find the good in films generally considered the opposite. The films included in this column have to meet a certain criteria: they must be a) available on Netflix UK, so they're easily accessible to you lovely people as you are all welcome to join in; and b) either rated 3.0 or lower on Netflix and/or rotten on Rotten Tomatoes with 50% or less. Enjoy!

"It's weird what risks [Hollywood studios] are willing to take." - Seth Rogen (star/co-writer of The Green Hornet)

'The Green Hornet' (2011) had a reported production budget of $120 million. Yeah, that's right; Columbia Pictures seriously spent that much money on a Green Hornet film. That really happened. Even though the character was once moderately successful between the 30s and 60s and spawned a radio series, comic books, pulp novels, movie serials and a television show, the Green Hornet as a brand had slipped through the cracks of popular culture by the time Michel Gondry's film came out in 2011. In other words: nobody gave a shit about it. Yet Columbia wanted to resurrect the character and were willing to spend well over $100m on the endeavour. Forgive me for dwelling on it, but that's fucking ludicrous. In fact, Columbia spent significantly more than that reported $120 million because production budgets don't include other absurdly expensive overheads such as printing, distribution and advertising.

When it comes to Hollywood you'll seldom find an exact total budget, studios are understandably vague about their expenses for a number of reasons. To name just a few: transparency could make studios and/or certain people look awful; or the figures were surreptitiously manipulated to benefit the studio; or just the simple fact that financing a film is a staggeringly difficult and complex process. In lieu any real specificity, the general rule of thumb for working out an estimated cost of a film is to double its production budget. It's not a super-accurate calculation by any means, but as a broad system it works.

So, going by that, 'The Green Hornet' would have had to earn roughly $240 million worldwide to make anything resembling a profit. $240 million! That's insane, right? I mean, irrespective of the film's quality, did anybody legitimately expect it to do that well? Was there any audience demand for it? Was brand nostalgia really expected to attract consumers blindly in the way that Spider-Man or Superman do? This film's existence fires up so many questions that I could go on forever. Its chances of success were so incredibly slim when one considers the budget in relation to the weakness of the brand. And to make things worse, Columbia released it in January of all months, often considered the dumping ground for god-awful Hollywood fodder like 'I, Frankenstein' (2014), which hardly breeds consumer confidence. Anybody vaguely knowledgeable about the market could tell that 'The Green Hornet' was a really, really dumb investment. Yet the budget implies that producer Neil H. Moritz (whose Original Film production company acquired the film's rights) and Columbia Pictures (who optioned them) thought that a Green Hornet film -- based on a character that I must stress had been irrelevant for over forty fucking years - could somehow make serious money. It didn't, unsurprisingly.

According to Box Office Mojo, 'The Green Hornet' grossed approximately $228 million worldwide, which is, to be fair, probably better than anybody could have expected. But it's still not particularly great and doesn't represent a profit. It may have eventually farted itself over the profit line with DVD sales and merchandising, but the profit at that point was negligible at best - probably less than $5 million, certainly not enough to justify making a film. Ultimately, this is a film ill-befitting of its purpose, because it was hardly made for the love of the character or the thrill of artistic endeavour. Like all Hollywood films, 'The Green Hornet' was a capitalist venture. That's why Seth Rogen starred and co-wrote it with Evan Goldberg, that's why Cameron Diaz and Christoph Waltz were in it, that's why Michel Gondry helmed it. They're all big names in different spheres and can each attract different types of audiences. And beyond that, the film was supposed to appeal to nostalgia and fit snugly into the current zeitgeist of superhero films. But it was obvious that the film couldn't do its job properly when so much was spent on it and the brand was so weak. I don't write this with the revisionist bent of someone who hated the film, by the way, I honestly don't think it was that bad. It had a lot of problems, don't get me wrong, but it wasn't awful; I tend to like Rogen and Goldberg's writing sensibilities, it was mildly entertaining and had interesting thematic through-lines about creating mythologies and manipulating the media to propagate images that have real world consequences. But that doesn't guard the fact that spending hundreds of millions on a Green Hornet film and expecting it to be a successful commercial venture is akin to making a kettle out of chocolate and expecting it to work flawlessly. It's fucking absurd.

"When you start doing well, you inherently gravitate towards the notion -- we did anyway -- of doing the biggest thing that you can, basically. Like, you think 'what are we working towards', in a way, you know? And then you start to think, 'well, these superhero movies that are popular, they make all sorts of different ones - this is kind of like the holy grail of what movies are right now'. This is like the biggest game in town." - Seth Rogen

Still, even if it's redundant as a product, 'The Green Hornet' still serves as an interesting case study of modern Hollywood. It's emblematic of the precarious indulgences of the two dominant strands of the current mainstream zeitgeist: the uber-expensive blockbuster (as outlined in the previous column) and the superhero/comic-book film. I mean, it isn't too much of a stretch to suggest that if the current blockbuster paradigm wasn't so emphatically becaped, 'The Green Hornet' in its existing form wouldn't exist. Actually, I highly doubt that a Green Hornet film would have been made at all. But because of the complete ubiquity and financial success of superheroes and comic-book concepts in the mainstream, as well as the contemporary blockbuster form which covets such lavish and expensive spectacle, Hollywood studios seriously believe they can get away with spending well over $100 million on something as culturally insignificant as 'The Green Hornet'. Or $200 million on 'Green Lantern' (2011). Or $163 million on 'Cowboys & Aliens' (2011). Or $130 million on bloody 'R.I.P.D' (2013).

When a paradigm is firmly established and audiences react well to it, the natural reaction from studios is to churn out more, the expectation being that they'll soon be swimming in cash Scrooge McDuck style. It's reasonable to some extent: even though they're incredibly expensive to make, comic-book films seem like justifiable risks because they can be so lucrative. But when studios see a bandwagon, they go overboard in trying to cram on as much crap as possible with little regard for the reasons why the popular films are popular in the first place. That's essentially how films like 'The Green Hornet' happen.

That doesn't really explain why it didn't capture the imagination of cinemagoers, though, because audiences buy into phoned-in shit all the time; just look at Liam Neeson's burgeoning career as an action star. To do that, we have to look at the common characteristics of popular comic-book films and see how 'The Green Hornet' fits into them. Or, more appropriately, how it doesn't. To begin with, the most popular superhero films are adapted from firmly established mega-brands that have been entrenched in our cultural milieu since their conception. Spider-Man, for example, has managed to stay relevant in the mainstream since the '60s because of the continued creation of Spider-Man texts, merchandising, and corporate synergy; it always stays on the periphery of our collective consciousness because Marvel wouldn't let it fade away.

Consequently, Spider-Man has generations of fans spanning the globe and the political spectrum, they're emotionally invested in him and will flock to see a new film. I mean, when I was young I hadn't read a single Spider-Man comic, but I loved the brand because of the cartoon on Fox Kids and the Playstation games made by Activision. So when the film came out in 2002 it was guaran-damn-fucking-teed that I was going to see it. The Green Hornet as a brand never had that power. When the TV show was cancelled in the 60s people just stopped caring and interest was limited to niche comic-book audiences. There was no multi-generational mass audience for the film, nothing keeping the brand in the public eye and ascribing value to it. So that's one strike against it, and perhaps the most significant.

Strike two: superhero films have benefited enormously from the technological advances that allow them to revel in the complex action and overwhelming spectacle that could once only be conjured up with a pencil and a vivid imagination. Indeed, one of the fundamental dualisms of contemporary blockbuster form is that it offers something extremely familiar in terms of narrative, yet tries to stay relatively fresh in terms of aesthetics and scale. So, even if, say, the Marvel Universe films share an aesthetic language and similar narrative conventions, they're sold on escalation and the promise that they'll have the best city-devastation sequence, or that they're giving audiences something they truly haven't seen before. 'The Green Hornet' couldn't compete with that, even with its huge budget. While Michel Gondry tried his best to work in some nice visual flourishes -- the make-out scene at the beginning that references 'A Clockwork Orange' (1971) and the surreal Kato-vision during the action scenes, for example -- the film's narrative constrained the action and it remained relatively small-scale.

'The Green Hornet' chose to be small when superhero films are so big, and this was problematic for two reasons: 1) if the brand alone isn't enough to get people interested, you'd at least want some impressive spectacle to grab people's attention; 2) it drew attention to the narrative's faults because they couldn't be easily forgotten amongst a torrent of explosions and the film's post-modern and self-reflexive nature was even more prominent. Even though it charted a typical hero's journey and the Obligatory Superhero Origin StoryTM, the way in which it went about doing that was knowing and snarky in a way that may have distanced people. It's partly for that reason that the film suffered a vital identity crisis, as it tried to be a conventional superhero-type action film, a knowing pastiche of superhero-type action films, a Michel Gondry film and your typical Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg joint at the same time. I don't think anybody involved had a clear idea about what they were doing. And that, I think you'll find, is strike three. You're out.

There are of course other reasons why the film didn't succeed: that January release date; Seth Rogen's divisiveness as a leading man, because star power really can be everything as the success of the Will Smith superhero film 'Hancock' (2008) demonstrated; and the lack of any appealing gimmick like the foul-mouthed, ultra-violent child of 'Kick-Ass' (2010), or the talking raccoon in the upcoming 'Guardians of the Galaxy' (2014). But the three points outlined in the previous paragraphs -- which can be summarised as brand awareness, new ways of evoking old stories and clarity of vision -- get to the heart of why the popular superhero films are actually popular and why audiences didn't buy into 'The Green Hornet'. Although, those points only refer to the texts as texts, and not as wider cultural products that reflect the Western society in which they were made, that would require an entire dissertation in and of itself. Still, it's interesting to note, at the very least, that the superhero film has flourished in a post-9/11, (sort of) post-War on Terror society that's paranoid, sceptical of authority and more questioning of American power. In this respect, the appeal of superheroes is universal and arguably subconscious: they're safe beacons of aspiration and hope in times that are trying; individuals of extraordinary power who do right by the people when there are forces beyond the people's control. But they're not just happy escapist fantasies, not all of them. Some directly indulge that post-9/11 societal disorder [http://hopelies.com/2011/07/23/the-subversive-ability-of-popular-culture-superhero-movies-post-911]: just look at 'The Dark Knight' (2008), 'The Avengers' (2012) and 'Iron Man 3' (2013), which, coincidentally, all grossed over $1 billion each. All three feature the whole 'great power' malarkey, but their main concern is with 'great responsibility' and how such power isn't enough to defeat evil. Even though getting into the specifics would require another 2,000 words, that power struggle is something that clearly resonates with people. It was also largely absent from 'The Green Hornet'.

So, for reasons that are both tangible and intangible, ''The Green Hornet' failed to connect with people in a massive way. And really, the film is just another indulgent stepping-stone on the way to the inevitable bust of the superhero fad. It happened to Gangster films that were popular in the 30s, it happened to the Western after the 60s and it happened with New Hollywood in the early 80s. There will either be one huge, overblown 'Heaven's Gate' (1980) type flop that makes studios jump off the bandwagon as fast as they can, or it may just be the case that audiences will eventually become jaded as studios increasingly demand more control of their product and produce films that are somehow even more insipid. Regardless of exactly what delivers the final blow, the goose that laid the golden egg is surely on its last legs. This current paradigm of churning out expensive films with the assumption that they'll all automatically have an audience is simply unsustainable. 'The Green Hornet' is a warning: a warning away from the thoughtless indulgence of the comic-book movie. But if it isa warning, it has been emphatically ignored, which is unfortunate for both creators and consumers of content. Then again, to have a bust there needs to be enough people who believe that a boom will last forever. There seems to be plenty around, and, you know what, that might not be such a bad thing.