7 Innovation Lessons From Superman

7 Innovation Lessons From Superman

By Dinesh Ganesarajah

Behind the glamor of Man of Steel is the story of a movie franchise that had been troubled for over two decades. The story bears a resemblance to many corporate innovation projects, which may take several iterations before they start moving down the innovation pipeline to a successful launch. In the case of Man of Steel, a new mix of talent, luck and urgency came into place to revive the pop-icon. Here are seven lessons from that story.

1. Don’t give up on your problem projects

Work on reviving the Superman franchise had been ongoing since the commercial failure of 1987’s Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. Creative talent ranging from comic book aficionado Kevin Smith (Clerks, Silent Bob) to JJ Abrahams (Lost, Star Trek Into Darkness) had developed treatments for a new film. However, it was Bryan Singer (X-Men) who in 2006 finally managed to push Superman Returns from development through to theatre release. The movie performed below Warner Bros’ expectations. It also confirmed the studio’s fears about the difficulties of developing a version of Superman that both resonates with modern audiences and lives up to its blockbuster potential. Following Superman Returns, plans for further movies returned to “development hell”.

2. Turn obstacles into opportunities

In 2009, a court ruling forced Warner Bros’ hand. The ruling stated that if Warner Bros did not begin production on a Superman film by 2011, the estates of Superman creators Shuster and Siegel would be able to sue for lost revenue on an unproduced film. The ruling had come about as part of the estates reclaiming copyright on Superman. With a deadline in place, and a new sense of urgency across the Warner Bros creative community, minds were suddenly focused on getting a new movie out of development and into production.

3. Don’t be afraid to start from scratch

Superman Returns had been a continuation of the previous Superman films. The storyline moved Lois Lane to motherhood. The style maintained its comic book heritage. The music incorporated the famous Superman march soundtrack by John Williams. Yet, all this was lost on an audience that had not seen a Superman movie in almost two decades. The baggage of the previous films weighed heavily on the film and constrained what could be done with the pop-icon. In a move similar to Apple scrapping its ROKR phone, developed jointly with Motorola, and throwing out existing smart phone technologies to use PC computing to build a more capable phone from scratch, Warner Bros opted to “reboot” the Superman franchise and start over.

4. Leverage your strengths

By 2009, it had become clear that Christoper Nolan’s team had developed expertise in producing blockbuster movies based on the Batman character. While the Dark Knight Rises wrapped up this iteration of the Batman franchise, screenwriter David Goyer had an idea for a fresh take on Superman that followed the principles that worked well in the Batman franchise, such as creating a sense of realism and grit. When Nolan called Warner Bros president Jeff Robinov to pitch the idea, it was met with open ears. Existing development for the next Superman movie was scuttled in favor of the Goyer/Nolan project.

5. Build new hit-making teams

Simply replanting the hit-making team behind the Dark Knight trilogy into the Superman franchise would not have been sustainable way of growing Warner Bros’ line-up of hit movies. Instead Goyer/Nolan laid the foundation and mentored a new team, led by Zach Snyder, to implement the best practices from the Dark Knight trilogy. The new team also included members who had previously been “unsuccessful” – Henry Cavill (playing Superman) and Amy Adams (playing Lois Lane). Cavill had previously been set to play the lead role in a Superman movie to be helmed by McG (The OC, Terminator Salvation), but which was later cancelled. Similarly, Amy Adams had previously auditioned for the aborted JJ Abrahams Superman project and Superman Returns, but was unsuccessful on both counts.

6. Make sure your big bets are big bets

Production on Man of Steel finished early enough for the film makers to step back and assess the product well before the scheduled release date. Thomas Tull, the CEO for the movie’s financier, Legendary Pictures, said, “It’s the Superman movie I’ve always wanted to see.” Dan Fellman, Warner Bros’ president of domestic distribution, commented, “We know the movie delivers.” With widespread internal approval for the film, Warner Bros’ marketing machine went into overdrive, releasing 13 TV spots and 5 theater trailers. Warner Bros also partnered with Walmart to provide early screenings to limited numbers of Walmart customers; this was one part of a viral marketing and social media campaign to build word of mouth buzz. While the movie cost $225 million to produce, another $150 million has since been spent to market and release the movie globally, to ensure the movie provides maximal returns on the investment the studio has made.

7. Lay the groundwork for the next hit

Ten days ahead of the its release date, Man of Steel had become the top selling movie on Fandango, the theatre ticket site. In the meanwhile, Warner Bros announced that Henry Cavill would be replacing Tom Cruise in a movie adaption of The Man From UNCLE, after Cruise dropped out due to scheduling conflicts. In the movie business, actors are brand assets whose value can appreciate with casting to the right movies. Warner Bros is positioning Henry Cavill to become an actor who can fill theater seats. Christian Bale rose to fame in a similar fashion through the Dark Knight sequence of movies. By the time a Man of Steel sequel is released, Cavill could be household name, and thus any sequel may be a bigger hit.

At PreScouter, we help companies find the most innovative solutions to any challenge. Contact us today and challenge us with yours!

Never miss an insight

Get insights delivered right to your inbox

More of Our Insights & Work

Never miss an insight

Get insights delivered right to your inbox

You have successfully subscribed to our newsletter.

Too many subscribe attempts for this email address.