One of the few Marvel characters who has not had a blockbuster-sized run on the big screen is Ghost Rider, the subject of two movies that starred Nicolas Cage as Johnny Blaze, the man who sells his soul to the Devil and turns into a biker with a flaming skull for a head.
Both of Cage's outings in the role, 2007's Ghost Rider and 2011's Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, were modest successes at the box office (the first grossed $228 million worldwide against a budget of $110 million; the sequel earned $132 million but cost only $57 million to make). But they were mostly slammed by critics and fans alike, and since neither was part of the official Marvel Cinematic Universe (the films were produced by Sony), the second in particular got left in the dust as the MCU began turning into a massive pop culture phenomenon.
Looking back at the films now, Cage — who's out promoting his surreal new thriller Mandy — offered Yahoo! Entertainment his thoughts on why Ghost Rider never became the same kind of massive success as fellow Marvel icons like Iron Man or the X-Men:
"The problem is, it’s very hard to take a family of children to a movie — and they made it a PG-13 movie — about a superhero who, oh, by the way, also happens to have sold his soul to Satan. So it’s not going to be the most commercial concept or vehicle. But it certainly is the most interesting, and the most thought-provoking. I think if you look back on the movies today, they age well."
We're not sure if we agree with that latter assessment, but Cage does offer up an intriguing explanation of how the Ghost Rider concept could work as a movie today:
"Had Ghost Rider been made in R-rated format, the way they had the guts to do with Deadpool, and they did it again today, I’m fairly certain it would be enormously successful. Having said that, I still think the movies were a hit. People don’t look at the subsidiary outlets, like DVD and streaming and whatnot. When you look at what (directors) Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor did (on Spirit of Vengeance) for $50 million, and they got a $250 million return, you begin to see the genius of the sequel."
That's a fair enough statement: if Ghost Rider could be reconceived as a darker, more violent piece of material — which was apparently what an early script for Spirit of Vengeance was aiming for — it might just find a bigger audience now in the post-Deadpool and post-Logan era. A more recent incarnation of the character — the Robbie Reyes version seen on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. a couple of seasons ago — was quite well received, indicating that there is still a market for antiheroes on wheels with fiery skulls atop their shoulders.
While it's hard to say whether the Ghost Rider films will stand up to re-evaluation at some point, we respect Cage for not trashing them retroactively as artists sometimes seem to do with projects that are perceived as having failed in some fashion. His reasons for being attracted to the role in the first place certainly hold up:
"I always liked the monsters; I liked the complexity of the monsters. I grew up reading The Incredible Hulk and Ghost Rider, because I could understand how these horrifying characters were also meant to be good. Ghost Rider took it to even another level, in that he was a superhero who had sold his soul to the devil. So it was philosophical; it was complex."
Do you think the Ghost Rider movies have gotten a bad rap over the years? Would you like to see Marvel reboot the character in a movie, perhaps with an R-rating this time?