How Dark Horse is building its own movie and TV empire out of comic books, from Netflix to a ‘Hellboy’ reboot

caption
“The Umbrella Academy” comes to Netflix February 15.
source
Netflix

  • 2019 will be a major year for Dark Horse Entertainment as it releases the Netflix series “The Umbrella Academy,” a “Hellboy” movie reboot, and more.
  • Dark Horse partnered with Chinese entertainment company Vanguard Visionaries last year, which will co-finance Dark Horse projects and allow it to develop its own screenplays.
  • Dark Horse founder Mike Richardson told Business Insider that the company has 13 projects in development, and is considering a B.P.R.D. project, based on the comic-book team that originated in “Hellboy.”
  • Richardson talked about why now was the perfect time to bring “Hellboy” back to the big screen.

From Marvel’s “Black Panther” to DC’s “Aquaman,” superheroes dominated Hollywood in 2018. But as Dark Horse – the home of comic books like “Hellboy” and “The Umbrella Academy” – looks to escalate its movie and TV output, it doesn’t think of itself as a “superhero” company.

“We always thought of ourselves in the publishing world as the company you went to when you were tired of superheroes,” Dark Horse founder Mike Richardson told Business Insider.

Founded in 1986 by Richardson, Dark Horse Comics has built an impressive comics library that also includes “The Goon,” “Black Hammer,” and more. Its film and TV division, Dark Horse Entertainment, quickly jumped into Hollywood in 1992 with “Dr. Giggles” and then in 1994 with two movies: “The Mask” starring Jim Carrey and Cameron Diaz, and “Timecop” starring Jean-Claude Van Damme. “The Mask” grossed $351 million worldwide – not bad for a movie that had a $23 million production budget.

In the 25 years since, though, Dark Horse has sometimes struggled on the big screen.

2004’s “Sin City,” based on Frank Miller’s comic of the same name, grossed $158 million off of a $40 million budget. But its sequel a decade later was torn apart by critics, and made only $39 million. The 2005 sequel to “The Mask,” “Son of the Mask,” failed to earn back its $84 million budget and has a 6% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Guillermo del Toro’s two “Hellboy” movies, based on Mike Mignola’s Dark Horse comic books, were critical darlings and have become cult favorites, but weren’t huge box-office hits.

READ MORE: Netflix and HBO are fighting over the original TV crown, but the number of hours Netflix is putting out is overwhelming

But after partnering with Chinese-based entertainment company Vanguard Visionaries last year, Dark Horse will steer its properties in a new direction. Vanguard will co-finance Dark Horse projects, giving it more freedom and funding to develop its own screenplays, rather than relying on another studio like it has in the past. And it’s eyeing streaming platforms like Netflix to boost its audience.

“We’re looking to grow our entertainment products just as much as our publishing,” Richardson said. “We want to be in control of our content and we’ve laid out a blueprint for that. There’s a lot that makes us different from Marvel, which is primarily focused on superheroes. While Dark Horse has its superheroes, we have a much wider variety of content.”

Richardson said that Dark Horse Entertainment has 13 film and TV projects currently in development, and is considering a B.P.R.D. project based on the comic-book team that originated in the “Hellboy” comics (no further details were available).

caption
“Polar” came to Netflix January 25.
source
Netflix

‘I’m unfettered from the bulls—‘

Netflix released Dark Horse movie “Polar” last month, based on the graphic novels by Victor Santos and starring Mads Mikkelsen as a hitman. On Friday, Netflix will release “The Umbrella Academy,” a TV series based on a Dark Horse comic created by “My Chemical Romance” lead singer Gerard Way and artist Gabriel Bá.

“Polar” wasn’t a hit with critics, and has an 22% Rotten Tomatoes score. But the beauty of Netflix is that it’s available for anyone to watch at any time.

“Netflix was the right home for ‘Polar’ because it really gives total freedom to the creators,” Santos told Business Insider. “When shooting started in Canada almost a year ago, Netflix had just signed on to the project. We had a final script after Netflix made some revisions, but Netflix didn’t say, ‘Change this, or let’s make it softer.’ It was more like, ‘We are on board, now do your job.'”

“Netflix is a great way to spread your work to people around the world,” he continued. “There is no limitation for a world release because it goes directly to the homes of millions of potential fans. Who wouldn’t want the opportunity to share your work?”

“The Umbrella Academy” showrunner Steve Blackman feels similarly about Netflix. He was also the executive producer of the streamer’s “Altered Carbon” series, and finds Netflix’s lack of limitations refreshing compared to broadcast networks. For “The Umbrella Academy,” a series about seven children born on the same day with unique powers, that was essential.

“I’ve worked at many places over the last 19 years in Hollywood, and a lot of the times creative vision gets smothered by answering to which advertisers are on that night, or which demographic you have to hit, but that’s not the case with Netflix,” Blackman told Business Insider.

After “Altered Carbon,” Blackman and Netflix were considering other projects, and Blackman was drawn to “The Umbrella Academy.” He pitched Netflix his vision, and he says it immediately went forward.

Blackman added, “They don’t look at other people on the outside and tell you what to do. They’re like, ‘We hired you for a reason, you have the vision, we want to support that vision.’ I think that’s why a lot of people are going to Netflix. I don’t remember ever enjoying doing something as much because I’m unfettered from the bulls—.”

caption
“Hellboy” (2019) comes to theaters in April.
source
Lionsgate

A brand-new Hellboy, 10 years later

On April 12, a “Hellboy” reboot hits theaters directed by Neill Marshall with “Stranger Things” star David Harbour taking over the title role from Ron Perlman.

While del Toro’s films weren’t box-office smashes, they have a loyal fanbase. But Richardson said it was the perfect time to bring the character back to the big screen.

“Guillermo had his own ideas on the third movie,” Richardson told Business Insider. “I think both he and Ron felt that they wanted to stay together, and Guillermo ultimately decided not to be involved. I personally talked to him several times trying to see if he was interested, and he decided to pass. Ron wanted to do it but if Guillermo was directing.”

Richardson continued, “10 years have passed since the last movie [“Hellboy II: The Golden Army” in 2008]. The franchise is a good franchise. Mike Mignola has created this great world that’s worth exploring in films and series … It was just time to do it. We just wanted to do it and get the character back in front of people beyond the published series.”

READ MORE: An ‘Aquaman’ horror spin-off movie is officially in the works about the Trench creatures

Richardson said the upcoming movie will be more committed to Mignola’s vision of the character in the comic books, and that Marshall was in talks for another project with Dark Horse when his name entered the ring to direct (when asked what the other project was, Richardson said, “Maybe you’ll hear about it soon”).

“Those early Guillermo movies are great, we love them,” he said. “But this is a new version of the character in film. David [Harbour] has done a great job.”

On the publishing side, Dark Horse has timed some comics to line up with its movies and TV shows. A second edition of Santos’ “Polar: Came From the Cold” was released on January 30. A third story arc of “The Umbrella Academy” is wrapping up after a decade-long hiatus. And a “Hellboy” collection of every graphic novel in chronological order will be available in May.

Beyond 2019, a pilot for the Syfy network has been filmed based on the Dark Horse comic “Resident Alien” that is waiting to be picked up to series. The series centers on an alien who solves crimes while he’s stranded on Earth.

“I’m currently writing the sixth volume of the comic, so there’s a lot of stories to tell and to adapt,” “Resident Alien” creator Peter Hogan told Business Insider, regarding why he felt TV was the best medium for an adaptation of his comic. “TV simply has more room to play with than a movie. Plus, I have to say that from the minute I started writing, something about it just felt like a TV show.”

Legendary is also adapting Dark Horse’s “Black Hammer” comics into a TV and movie universe. While Dark Horse Entertainment isn’t developing it, it’s one more project that could raise Dark Horse’s profile.

“It takes a long time to put these projects together, so when they all start coming together and you see the work was worth it, it’s great,” Richardson said. “We’re going to have a good year this year … we’re well positioned for the new world we’re seeing in entertainment.”

Have a tip about Dark Horse or anything else? Email the author at tclark@businessinsider.com.