As you've already seen, Kick-Ass didn't exactly set fire to the box office the way many of its superhero predecessors have. It barely opened at #1 with $19.8 million, which isn't too shabby, but it's hardly the epic, groundbreaking blockbuster some may have expected.So what can we take away from this? Lets ask one question first: Was this a truly independent film? Vaughn financed it himself, not a studio, so I would say that yes, it was; albeit a high budget one with Nicolas Cage. However, it wasn't self distributed, so some would argue that its not truly independent in that sense, but you know what? A studio didn't finance it, so the production was independent indeed.
But was it truly a failure? Kick-Ass was financed out of Matthew Vaughn's own pockets (studios refused to touch it due to content), and was made for a budget of approximately $30 million. It's now made $37 million worldwide. It will make its marketing budget back, and then some. For an indie film based on a creator-owned comic (and one without a major fanbase or instant character recognition), that may be considered a major success.
Yet Kick-Ass didn't take the world by storm, as expected by the online buzz and hype. (Remember, Kick-Ass was supposed to kill superhero movies as of a couple of weeks ago.) It scored a 77% on Rotten Tomatoes, it's been at the center of controversy, and it's been the subject of countless articles, but it couldn't scare up a more enthusiastic response at the box office. Remember, audiences will supposedly eat up anything to do with superheroes and comic books, yet Kick-Ass can't make it past the $20 million mark. It's not unlike the lukewarm response to Watchmen, which suggests audiences will only eat up the superheroes they recognize and love.
This brings me to my bigger question- THE question: Can you call something a success or failure from just its opening weekend? Isn't something a success if it makes its money back and more over time; especially if the film is actually good? (I have yet to see Kick Ass)
Success and Failure are two ends of a spectrum that changes from person to person; eye of the beholder, etc. In this instance it seems that Hollywood is doing the beholding. To Hollywood, opening weekend is still the be all, end all, of success (how easily they forget DVD still has yet to come until its time for them to put it on DVD, then the debate starts all over again).
What about films that have weak starts and gain more and more success through word of mouth; films like Once, Juno, Bubba Ho-Tep, etc? Ah, because those were considered to be "more independent" by the mainstream media (though Juno is again debatable in some circles). If a film like Once (made for a "tiny" budget of 175k) made 20 million its opening weekend, it would become a real success story and would be used as a vantage point for indie success like Paranormal Activity or Little Miss Sunshine (which seem to be the only two "independent films" in mainstream America's vernacular).
I'm just going to be honest here and give a piece of advice to my fellow indie filmmakers; frak this system. This is a horrible grading system when it comes to our work. MY idea of successful filmmaking is that of being a successful artist; not millions, but being able to continue working and supporting myself as an artist. If you're really in it for the money- please, just get out. Yes, I know there is the potential for a lot of money to be made in this industry, and maybe you might even get to have some of it (and all the more power to you), but if you successfully make an indie film from start to finish; as in you hired a cast and crew, fed them, PAID them, shot the film, edited the film and its good, consider yourself a success. I know this may be preaching to the choir, but... DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW HARD IT IS TO MAKE A FILM? Even just one with a budget of 5k? If you're able to make your money back and profit from that same film, consider yourself an even greater success.
Listen, I understand that this model is pretty much all that people pay attention to, but please, don't burden yourself with trying to form a project to conform to it; if you do you'll only drive yourself crazy. Admit to yourself that there's a chance your film may only have a niche audience and be OKAY with that. There are so many wonderful and beautiful films out there that you haven't even heard of that are some top quality, amazing things; or even just plain, good fun- a film that doesn't SUCK. I come across films like this all the time, and a lot of the time not only are they made for little money, but they've already made it back or are on their way to. The right media outlets are covering them.
So ask yourself this question: how much money do you really need to be satisfied?
No, seriously, ask yourself THIS question(s); if YOU made Kick-Ass and you made your money back, wouldn't you be happy? Wouldn't you consider that to be a success? Would you care what anyone thought about your box office (as opposed to your ART) if you considered it be successful; if it had fans; a following?