This is the twenty-ninth installment in a series of articles tracing the complete history of superheroes in film and television, from the first superhero serial all the way to the current Marvel and DC cinematic universes. For the previous installment click here, for the first installment click here.
Based on the comic book series by James O’Barr and originally published by Caliber Comics, “The Crow” was the last film produced in the vein of Tim Burton’s “Batman,” and it was probably the only film to really come close to recapturing what Burton had done with the superhero genre.
“The Crow” starred Brandon Lee, son of Bruce Lee, as tragic hero Eric Draven. Even more tragically, the star-making role would be Lee’s last, as he was accidentally killed during filming. The film also starred Ernie Hudson and Michael Wincott. Wincott had made a name for himself playing villains in the early 90s. In 1991 he starred as Guy of Gisbourne in “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” and in 1993 he played the similar Comte de Rochefort in the Walt Disney Pictures adaptation of “The Three Musketeers.”
Several changes were made for the film, mostly to transform the story into a cohesive narrative. One of the elements of the story that was dropped, although it was filmed and was originally planned to be included, was the character of the Skull Cowboy. In the comics, the Skull Cowboy was Eric’s guide on Earth. In the film, Eric has a sort of telepathic link with the crow that brought him back from the dead and it’s the bird that fills the role of guide.
Originally “The Crow” was planned as a direct-to-video release, but was picked up by Paramount Pictures for a theatrical release. After the death of star Brandon Lee and the controversy that followed over the film’s violence, Paramount pulled out and the film was picked up by Miramax – a subsidiary of the Walt Disney Company – for theatrical distribution. While the film barely made back twice its production budget, it was critically praised and developed a very strong cult following on home video.
“The Crow” was followed by three sequels and a short-lived television series, but none of them were able to capture the magic of the original. The second film, “The Crow: City of Angels,” attempted to appeal to the gothic audience that took so well to the original, but ended up being so stylized that it lost the general audience. “The Crow: Stairway to Heaven” television series was watered down for television, and it also took liberties with the Eric Draven story, which turned off a lot of fans. “The Crow: Salvation” was a decent film, and definitely a step up from “City of Angels,” but it failed to really bring anything new to the franchise and wasn’t much more than a rehash of the original with different characters. The final film in the franchise, “The Crow: Wicked Prayer,” just wasn’t good and is often considered the worst in the series.
There are currently plans to remake the original Eric Draven story, which many fans on the Internet have been adamantly opposed to. Producers claim that they want to bring new elements from the original graphic novel that weren’t used in the original to the table, and have assured fans that the story will be treated with respect and with a great reverence for the original film while still bringing something fresh and new to the franchise.
The Death of Brandon Lee
The accidental shooting of Brandon Lee on the set was the result of a remarkable sequence of events.
While set dressers were dressing the pawn shop set, one prop hand purchased a bulk lot of items, including a box of live ammunition. The prop master, upon seeing the live ammunition, didn’t want them anywhere near the set for safety concerns. The bullets were removed from the set, but not from the production entirely.
When the time came that the production needed dummy rounds, the decision was made to convert the live ammunition into dummy rounds. This was done by removing the bullet, dumping the powder, setting off the primer and then replacing the bullet. This renders the ammunition incapable of being fired, and therefore harmless. During the process, one primer was overlooked and wasn’t set off. During the filming of the scene with the dummy rounds, the primer was discharged inside the chamber and that had just enough force to lodge the bullet in the barrel.
During filming of another scene with the same prop gun, blank ammunition was used. Blank ammunition is basically a live round with no bullet. Due to negligence, the weapon wasn’t checked and the barrel wasn’t cleared. The bullet from the dummy round was still lodged in the barrel of the .44 Magnum revolver.
When the blank round was discharged, the force of the blank round firing expelled the bullet that had been lodged in the barrel previously out of the gun. The bullet struck Brandon Lee in the abdomen and he died at the hospital. The decision was made to continue the production, since Brandon Lee only had a few scenes left to shoot. The scenes were completed with a double.
McCarthy, Todd (April 28, 1994), “The Crow”, Variety
Ebert, Roger (May 13, 1994), “The Crow”, Chicago Sun-Times
Welkos, Robert W. (April 1, 1993). “Bruce Lee’s Son, Brandon, Killed in Movie Accident”. The Los Angeles Times.
Brown, Dave, “Filming with Firearms”, Film Courage
Harris, Mark (April 16, 1993). “The brief life and unnecessary death of Brandon Lee”. Entertainment Weekly.
Ascher-Walsh, Rebecca (May 13, 1994). “The Crowcast deals with Brandon’s Lee death”. Entertainment Weekly.
Fleming Jr., Mike (January 24, 2012). “UPDATE: F. Javier Gutierrez To Helm Jesse Wigutow-Scripted ‘The Crow’ Remake”