Hellboy: The Crooked Man Sounds Like A Lower Budget Comic Book Movie — Is That The Right Call?

It doesn't feel like all that long ago we were getting ready for a "Hellboy" reboot from director Neil Marshall ("The Descent") with David Harbour, of "Stranger Things" fame, in the title role. Harbour looked great, the cast had a lot of promise, and yet, the film flopped spectacularly when it debuted in 2019 both critically and commercially. Be that as it may, Millennium Media is going to give it another try with an R-rated, horror-skewing take on the Dark Horse Comics character in the form of "Hellboy: The Crooked Man." And, for better or worse, it seems very much like it's going to be a lower budget affair, particularly as comic-book movies go.

Even 2019's "Hellboy" only carried a reported $50 million budget, which is modest compared to say a Marvel movie, which can easily cost close to $200 million these days. But we have some evidence that suggests Millennium is going to be even more thrifty this time around. To that end, we recently learned that actor Jack Kesy, whose credits include films such as "Dark Web: Cicada 3301" and "The Outpost," is set to play our new Hellboy. Millennium did not go for a big name, with all due respect to Mr. Kesy, and instead is relying on the popularity of the character and the new take on the material to draw interest.

Kesy, at this point, is arguably best known for a very minor role in "Deadpool 2" as Black Tom, even though his role was greatly reduced in the final cut. The studio is probably going to save a lot of money on actor salaries by not going for bigger names. The question now becomes, is this the right strategy and will it pay off?

The Hellboy movies have never been very successful

Again, all due respect to Kesy, but he is not going to fetch the same salary as Harbour likely did when he played the part. Nor is he likely going to be paid as much as Ron Perlman was for his casting in Guillermo del Toro's "Hellboy" films. Kesy has never, ever been the focal point of any movie that has ever broken through in the grand scheme of things. Sure, he's been in movies people have seen such as "12 Strong" or "Baywatch," but he's not a big star. Therefore, he's far more affordable. This is telling and, quite frankly, might be the smartest way for Millennium and the film's financers to hedge their bets.

"Hellboy," as a cinematic franchise, has never been particularly successful. The original 2004 take on creator Mike Mignola's beloved character was directed by del Toro and made $99.8 million worldwide against a $60 million budget. The home video and secondary market was far more robust back then, which is certainly why "Hellboy II: The Golden Army" got made, because the first movie did not turn a profit in theaters. Unfortunately, del Toro's sequel cost more to make ($82.5 million), though it did generate $160.3 million at the box office. Even so, returns like that are not what a studio hopes for from a big comic book movie.

That's undoubtedly why del Toro never got to make "Hellboy 3," even though he and Perlman tried very hard. To put the nail in the coffin, 2019's "Hellboy" made just $53.9 million worldwide against a $50 million budget, all against downright scathing reviews. A disaster by any measure. That being the case, investing in yet another reboot is risky, and the studio has got to mitigate that risk somehow.

Taking a lesson from the horror genre

Worth pointing out is that Brian Taylor, of "Crank" and "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance" fame, will direct "The Crooked Man." Once more, with respect, this is not an A-list director. He's a guy who is probably affordable, though certainly capable of making a movie of this size. More to the point, he's highlighted the fact that they are leaning into the folk horror of Mignola's comics. Also of importance, Mignola personally co-wrote the screenplay this time around, giving the character's creator a firm hand in the direction of the story.

But a horror movie, generally speaking, is going to cost a lot less to make than a big superhero movie. Even a "big" horror movie such as "It" carried a budget of around $35 million and looks incredibly cinematic. There's lots of money to be saved when you're not destroying a city in the third act. That horror angle is, on the one hand, true to much of what Mignola has done in the comics over the years, while also serving as a way to deliver a lower-budget story. It could very well be a win-win too, given the current theatrical marketplace.

Aside from superheroes, horror is the hottest thing right now. "Smile" ($217 million box office/$17 million budget), "The Black Phone" ($161 million box office/$16 million budget), "Barbarian" ($45 million box office/$4.5 million budget), and "M3GAN" ($172 million box office/$12 million budget) are all recent examples of horror movies doing blockbuster numbers. If we assume that they manage to make a good movie this time, it could benefit more from the horror market, with a side of superhero stuff, rather than as a full-blown superhero franchise. The key here though is making a good movie, and that is always easier said than done.

"Hellboy: The Crooked Man" does not yet have a release date.