Before Captain America, there was ‘Freddy vs. Jason’

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

It opened inauspiciously enough, the same weekend a massive power outage consumed Detroit and much of the northeastern United States. It made a solid, but unremarkable $82 million at the box office. It didn’t shift the conversation.

But now, looking at modern blockbuster culture, in many ways, the 2003 horror villain smackdown “Freddy vs. Jason” was the start of the super crossover genre.

“Captain America: Civil War” opens this weekend and finds a dozen superheroes, including Captain America, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Ant-Man and Black Panther, waging war with each other; it is expected to be one of the year’s highest-grossing films. In March, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” pitted the two comic book titans against one another and laid the foundation for an eventual “Justice League” franchise, which will throw another handful of DC superheroes into the super-mix.

Used to be you’d only get one franchise star per movie, but “Freddy vs. Jason” helped alter that. Now it’s a case of the more, the merrier, and current blockbusters are like VIP clubs where everyone has their own entourage.

The superhero crossovers make sense, since the characters exist in a shared storytelling universe (and 2000’s “X-Men” showed how stacking the deck with a team of superheroes could pay dividends). But superheroes aren’t the only ones getting in on the crossover game. Last month it was revealed Sony is planning a “21 Jump Street” meets “Men in Black” crossover film with director James Bobin (“Alice Through the Looking Glass”) on board.

How long before there’s a “Fast and Furious” vs “The Expendables” spinoff?

Much of this comes back to “Freddy vs. Jason,” which shoehorned the two horror icons together after they’d spent decades slashing teenagers on their own. For years the project was rumored, but rights issues — Freddy was the star of New Line Cinema’s “Nightmare on Elm Street” series, while Jason was the property of Paramount’s “Friday the 13th” franchise — kept them apart.

Then there were matters of both continuity (2002’s “Jason X” sent Jason 400 years into the future) and logic (Freddy only exists in people’s dreams, which makes a showdown with Jason ... complicated), but those concerns were ironed out and the two headliners were allowed to come together and share top billing in a joint project. “Freddy vs. Jason” opened Aug. 15, 2003, and was the top-grossing film in the country for two weeks, ultimately proving the power of combining two successful franchises. (“Freddy vs. Jason” became the highest-grossing entry in either film series.)

“Freddy vs. Jason” didn’t invent the crossover, it just resurrected it. Back in the 1940s and 50s, Abbott and Costello hung out with Frankenstein, the Invisible Man and the Mummy in a series of cross-pollinated films, which worked out well, since they all fell under the umbrella of Universal Studios. Godzilla went toe-to-toe with King Kong in the early ’60s. The Harlem Globetrotters dribbled over to hang with the “Scooby-Doo” gang in animated adventures in the 1970s, and TV shows frequently stage hybrid episodes for Sweeps month stunts, from “St. Elsewhere” drinking at “Cheers” to “The Simpsons” stumbling into “Family Guy.”

But “Freddy vs. Jason” was the most significant big-screen crossover in decades and opened the eyes of Hollywood. Following “Freddy vs. Jason’s” success, “Alien vs. Predator” opened a year later, grossing $80 million; an “AVP” sequel followed in 2007. Then the superhero landscape erupted in 2008 with the release of “Iron Man,” which blew open the doors for the Marvel Universe and laid the groundwork for where we’re at today.

So when you go see “Civil War” this weekend and choose sides between Captain America and Iron Man, know that a small debt of gratitude is owed to Freddy and Jason. Their bloody battle helped allow Cap and Iron Man to iron out their differences on-screen.

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