If you find yourself doubting the power of irony, look at the upcoming showtimes for your local movie theaters. Notice anything strange? That’s right: Sony’s superhero-vampire flick Morbius — already available on-demand after a disappointing run on the big screen — is back.
The Jared Leto vehicle, delayed for nearly two years and then critically panned, was the kind of Hollywood dud that traditionally gets memory-holed a week after it premieres. Yet the sustained mockery of its protagonist’s name (Dr. Michael Morbius), its weirdest scenes (check out this dance sequence) and its doomed struggle to realize a coherent Marvel story without the backing or IP of Marvel Studios — that proved irresistible. Of particular influence were a tweet that claimed Leto utters the line “It’s Morbin’ time,” which opened up the usage of the title as a verb, and a dedicated Discord server where Morb-heads can morb it up with each other 24/7.
The resurgence of Morbius (the Morbissaince?) is certainly without precedent in the entertainment industry. That Sony believes they can squeeze more profit from the misfire based on the slew of memes and shitposts tells us they’ve never been more culturally important. In this case, they represent that most elusive advantage sought by film producers: word of mouth. It doesn’t matter, apparently, if that word is tongue-in-cheek — or so the company is betting. Either way, fan service must be rendered, and a sequel pandering to this demographic is not out of the question. Picture it: A franchise that takes off not because anyone likes it, but because they’re pretending to.
First HBO spends $70 million to meet demands for the “Snyder Cut” of Justice League, now this. The comic-book crowd has realized, perhaps, that their leverage lies not in boycotts of “woke” movies, but collectivist, grassroots support for botched and maligned projects. Any failure is a potential threat to the entire genre — witness how Disney pumped the brakes on Star Wars feature films after disappointing receptions for Solo and The Rise of Skywalker. Resuscitating the dead-on-arrival Morbius months later, jokingly or not, signals to Sony that audiences support the effort to expand this universe even while disparaging the results. Decent ticket sales from this second round might be the difference between execs taking a gamble on the next adaptation or not.
What we have here is a game of chicken. “Oh, you love Morbius? Prove it with your wallets,” the studio is saying. And while it’s anyone’s guess whether all the riffing can translate to asses in seats, you can’t deny that it’s a fascinating new market force at work. Fandom is a full-time job these days, not just dressing up and applauding a lot on opening night. Here and there, it takes a little elbow grease. Roll up your sleeves and get to morbin’.