Well folks, the Labor Day weekend has come and gone, offcially marking the end of the summer movie season. It was a very lucrative summer, with two movies grossing over $300 million, and one giant behemoth of a flick shattering all kinds of records to become the second highest-grossing movie of all time. Here’s my thoughts on the summer blockbusters, divided into monetary categories:
$400 million +
Only one movie cracked the $400 million barrier this year, blowing right by it to achieve a mind-blowing (for this theater-going era) $510 million and counting. I’m talking of course, about Beverly Hills Chihuahua, a funny and heartwarming masterpiece about a canine who—what? It was actually The Dark Knight? You mean that movie where Martin Lawrence travels back in time to Medieval England? I thought that came out years ago…
$300 million +: Iron Man, Indiana Jones & The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Iron Man was the commercial and critical darling of the summer until Batman showed up and absolutely annihilated ol’ shellhead. Still it was a massive hit for a third-tier comic book character that the “masses” were mostly unfamiliar with. Simply stamping the name “Indiana Jones” on a movie is good enough for a guaranteed $250 million, so there really isn’t much more I can say about how it performed. Considering that it was by far the worst entry in the beloved series, I think it’s actually quite surprising it took in over three bills.
$200 million +: Hancock, Wall-E, Kung Fu Panda
The $200 million mark is nothing to sneeze at in terms of a summer movie gross these days, especially when you factor in the downturn the industry has taken and the competition from Blu-Ray DVD and High Def home theaters. Just like the “Indiana Jones” brand is worth an instant box-office paypay, slapping the “Pixar” name in front of any title is also worth an easy $150 million at the least. No Pixar film has ever made less than $160 million, and even with the semi-hard sell concept of a lonely Robot on a devastated Earth, Wall-E still racked in a ton of cash. I was really surprised to see Dreamwork’s Kung Fu Panda hit this mark, however, but a fantastic marketing campaign that emphasized the colorful animal characters and Jack Black’s antics, really sold this movie to the kiddies (it was also a very good movie to boot).
Hancock is currently the fourth highest-grossing picture of the year, and it makes me absolutely sick to my stomach. I never bothered to see it because I, unlike the legions of gullible, ignorant mouth-breathers out there who flock to any Will Smith summer movie, actually saw this piece of crap for what it really was, a skillfully engineered and pre-packaged crapfest. You could almost see and hear the excutives planning this turd in some boardroom somewhere:
Head Exec: “Ok people, what can we make this summer, what’s been popular?”
Clueless Underling #1: “Superheroes!”
Clueless Underling #2: “Will Smith”
Clueless Underling #3: “Will Smith on the Fourth of July! He owns that date!”
Head Exec: “Okay, a Will Smith superhero flick on the Fourth of July. Get somebody to write a script. Now, what’s for lunch?”
$100 million +: Sex and the City, Mamma Mia!, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, Wanted, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, The Incredible Hulk, Get Smart, You Don’t Mess With the Zohan, Step Brothers
$100 million used to be the gold standard for a successful summer movie, but nowadays that rarely even recoups the marketing budgets for these huge action/sci-fi/superhero pictures. Comedies, dramas, and musicals however, are still considered huge smash hits if they are able to reach this goal, and that’s what a good percentage of the films in this range are.
Get Smart proved Steve Carell could carry a summer blockbuster on his shoulders, and washed the bad taste of Evan Almighty out of our mouths. Mamma Mia! and Sex and the City were surprisingly massive counter-programming hits, proving that lots of women and gay guys go to the cinema in the summer. I don’t understand how a giant piece of runny, corn-riddled shit like Zohan even cracked $25 million, and I never got around to seeing Step Brothers, but heard good things.
On the action front, Narnia, Hulk, and The Mummy all were huge under-performers, especially Prince Caspian, which was predicted to do even better than its predecessor and generate Lord of the Rings numbers. Sadly, audiences didn’t flock to see more shitty CGI beavers and a lead character who looked like a Jonas Brother. The Incredible Hulk wasn’t able to shake off the rancid odor of Ang Lee’s ponderous 2002 Hulk film, or the bad press it was getting right before release when Ed Norton complained that the director cut out too much of the film’s dialogue and story elements. Wanted came out of nowhere to do great numbers with some terrific action sequences and the allure of Angelina Jolie, and as for the Mummy, it looks like the absence of uber-hottie Rachel Weisz kept audiences away there. Learn your lesson, Mummy people! Rachel=box office gold!
$50-$100 million: Hellboy 2: The Golden Army, Tropic Thunder, Pineapple Express, What Happens in Vegas, The Happening, The Strangers
Well, here’s where the disappointments come in. When you spend hundreds of millions of dollars on marketing, special effects, etc. on what is perceived as a summer “blockbuster”, it’s devastating when audiences just don’t give a rat’s ass or the movie just gets lost in the crowded summer lineup. That’s what I’d like to believe happened to Hellboy 2, a great, imaginative, and gorgeous-looking movie that should be in the $200+ million category. It’s sickening to think this Guerillmo Del Toro sequel was out-grossed by the likes of Hancock, Sex and the City, and freakin’ Zohan! It’s yet another shining example of the brain-dead movie-going public who continue to slurp up the sugary, pre-packaged pap the studios churn out.
Tropic Thunder was also a disappointment. It had a massive budget of over $100 million (huge for a comedy), yet it failed to beat out more moderately budgeted comedies like Step Brothers or Christ, yet again, the Zohan. Simply incredible.
The Happening was a giant turd, and many people are calling it the nail in Manny Shyamalan’s coffin. We’ll see. I have nothing to add about the other flicks.
$0-$49million (A.K.A., The Shit List): Speed Racer, Meet Dave, The Love Guru, The X-Files: I Want to Believe, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Babylon A.D., The House Bunny, Space Chimps, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2, Disaster Movie, Death Race
Yikes, as wise old Ben Kenobi once said, “A wretched hive of scum and villainy”. Just looking at this list sends a tingling creeper up my spine. Awful, awful stuff here.
It seems like after the Wachowski brothers delivered those two reviled Matrix sequels, they just can’t buy a hit. Their attempt to make the old Speed Racer cartoon into a surreal, manic, strobing, colorful, seizure-inducing movie did not play well with audiences at all. It was a massive failure that many on the Internet say is destined to become a “cult classic” like Tron in the future.
George Lucas thought he could package up three episodes of his forthcoming CG Clone Wars animated series, toss it up on the screen, and it would make at least $100 million based on the Star Wars brand, but casual audiences ignored it and fans threw it right back in his bearded face. Similarly, FOX thought there were still people out there who cared about the X-Files, and they were probably right, but stamping the “X-Files” name on a utterly boring snooze-fest backfired right in their faces as well.
Everything else mentioned up there just really isn’t even worth discussing. Ciao!!
*All Box Office info was gathered from Box Office Mojo.