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Who the hell is Hellboy, and why is he getting a movie reboot?

Updated: Apr 29, 2019

On April 12th, a fresh hell is coming to theaters in more ways than one: Hellboy is returning with a new director, a new cast, and a new vision. The first two movies, Hellboy (2004) and Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008), were both written and directed by Guillermo Del Toro, loved by fans, both were box office successes ($99 and $160 million respectively), and a third movie was teased for years, but never materialized. So a frequent question is: Why the hell was a reboot necessary?

Mignola's first concept drawing depicted a very different Hellboy, with wings and two sets of horns

Created by popular DC and Marvel comics artist Mike Mignola (pronounced min-YO-la), the first Hellboy story appeared in black-and-white in San Diego Comic-Con Comics #2, and his first full-color story in John Byrne’s Next Men #21, both in 1993. Hellboy’s first comic book of his own was the 1994 Dark Horse Comics’ 4-issue mini-series, Seed of Destruction, featuring a Byrne script and Mignola art.

Hellboy was a demon-child raised by humans to become an agent for the BPRD, the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, covertly investigating supernatural crimes and protecting humanity from otherworldly dangers. At the time, horror was not a popular genre among the major comic book companies, and sales expectations for Hellboy were low. However, Mignola’s trenchcoated, cloven-hooved agent with the Right Hand of Doom proved very popular with comics fans. With tales now written and illustrated by Mignola, the creator’s fascination with Lovecraftian monsters and the paranormal folklore of cultures around the world would provide a seemingly endless supply of storylines for decades to follow.

Guillermo del Toro is now widely known as an Oscar winner for The Shape of Water, but in the early 2000s, he was still a director of small genre films like Cronos, Mimic, and The Devil’s Backbone. The box office success and fan support of his directing of Blade II in 2002 gave him the studio clout to command a big budget special effects movie featuring his favorite comics character…Hellboy.

Starring a fan-favorite actor with a genre background in Ron Perlman (Alien: Resurrection, TV’s Beauty and the Beast) as Hellboy, and Sir John Hurt (Alien, Harry Potter), as Prof. Broom, Hellboy’s adoptive father and director of the BPRD, 2004’s Hellboy also introduced other paranormal agents that also weren’t normal themselves: fishman Abe Sapien, and pyrokinetic Liz Sherman. The plot was pulled from several Mignola stories, revolving around supernatural villain Rasputin manipulating Hellboy into fulfilling his role as an apocalyptic world-destroyer. But it was the love story created by Del Toro between Hellboy and Liz that became the heart of the film.

Abe Sapien, Hellboy, and Liz lead the BPRD team

Hellboy proved to enough of a critical and box office success for a sequel in 2008, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, which made half again as much box office money as the first film. This time, Hellboy and the BPRD defended humanity against an underworld prince and his army of mystical creatures. The bigger budget showed on the screen with more special effects and a CGI-created army.

For the next decade, the fate of a third Hellboy movie stayed in limbo, despite fan demand and the interest of all the actors. Del Toro himself posted a Twitter poll asking fans if they wanted another Hellboy film; over 130,000 responded YES. In 2017, Del Toro tweeted an official declaration that a third Hellboy movie would “100% not happen.” So what DID happen to prevent another sequel?

As is usual in the movie business, the answer isn’t so simple. A combination of events contributed to the death of Hellboy III; one was the suddenly busy schedule of now-hot director Del Toro. Del Toro’s success became one of his biggest stumbling blocks, with multiple projects competing for his attention. The flashiest was a collaboration with Peter Jackson, who asked Del Toro to serve as director/producer on The Hobbit, a project Del Toro would work on for two years before leaving when financing issues arose.

Another factor was the changing DVD industry, with sales dwindling by the mid 2010s. Nearly half of the overall grosses of the first two Hellboy movies was earned through DVD sales. A third installment would not benefit as richly from that vanishing trend. Studios became hesitant to finance a sequel that had a Del Toro vision demanding an even larger budget than the previous two films.

But the public’s thirst for supernatural and horror has grown since the last Hellboy movie. The Supernatural tv series is in its 14th season and still going strong, The Walking Dead became a major phenomenon, and horror movies once again crowd the multiplexes and earn great box office.

A few months after Del Toro’s Tweet of Doom, a new version of Hellboy was announced, one that would reboot the entire Hellboy universe, presumably one that would require a much smaller budget and less studio risk. Once again, a relatively unknown genre filmmaker, Neil Marshall, has been chosen to direct, but unlike the other Hellboy films, Marshall’s movie will carry an R-rating, no doubt accompanied by a greater level of violence and salty language.

David Harbour (Stranger Things) has been cast to wear the heavy prosthetics this time, Ian McShane (Deadwood, American Gods) portrays Prof. Broom, and Milla Jovovich (Resident Evil) will play Baba Yaga, an evil witch from Hellboy’s past. Teaser trailer and poster images reveal Hellboy in his full demon horns, flaming sword and crown as apocalyptic world-destroyer, so it should be a helluva ride!

The new Hellboy opens Friday, April 12th.


First Comic Story: San Diego Comic-Con Comics #2 (1993)

Seed of Destruction (1994)

Hellboy: Wake The Devil TPB (1997)

Hellboy: Conqueror Worm (2001)

Most Recent Comic Appearance: Hellboy In Hell (2016)

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