Thor has put down his hammer, and Captain America his shield. Lightning McQueen and Mater have finished the race. Green Lantern’s power ring has lost its charge. The pirates have sheathed their cutlasses. The cowboys have holstered their pistols. Hogwarts School of Wizardry & Witchcraft has closed its doors forever. The Transformers have returned to Cybertron. The Apes have risen. Summer movie season 2011 is at an end.
It was an overcrowded Summer blockbuster season, jammed with sequels, prequels, and four -count ’em FOUR, big-budget superhero movies. All of that competition ensured there would be no $500 million+ grossing juggernaut like Avatar or The Dark Knight. Instead, dozens of huge-budget spectacles battled eachother to eek out a $200 or $300 million take. There were many surprises, and a few films with lofty expectations crashed to Earth in a fiery wreck (I’m lookin’ at you, Green Lantern). So, without further ado, here’s LaserCola’s list of Hits & Misses for Summer 2011 Blockbuster season.
Hit: Marvel Superheroes
Marvel had the very daunting task of introducing audiences to a couple of superheroes that didn’t register very high in the public consciousness, as well as lay more groundwork for the epic superhero team up film, The Avengers. They succeeded brillianty with Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger. The former was a bright, fun Summer spectacle with Shakespearean overtones handled superbly by the very Shakespearean director Kennth Branagh. The latter was an earnest, un-ironic, rousing WWII-meets-superheroes adventure with beautiful period photography by Rocketeer director Joe Johnston. Even X-Men: First Class, following the dismal X-Men 3: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, was a surprisingly well-made and entertaining film; combining an Inglorious Basterds-like Nazi revenge film with a 60’s James Bond-like visual aesthetic and familiar superhero action.
Miss: Green Lantern, DC Comics films, and Ryan Reynolds
It was not a good year to be Ryan Reynolds. The actor tried desperately to transition away from smirky, comedic supporting roles to leading man status in big-budget pictures, only to see one attempt after another crash and burn. Buried, while garnering great reviews from critics, never got a wide release and made an anemic $1.5 million. Lame 80’s body-switching callback Change-Up with Jason Bateman was a complete bomb at the box-office. Most disappointing however, was Green Lantern, an effects-laden superhero spectacle that was meant to launch a successful slew of Iron Man-level blockbusters for DC characters, but was doomed by poor marketing and even worse word-of -mouth. It also didn’t help that the film itself was a poorly paced, laughably edited mess with gaping plot holes and weak villains. Green Lantern grossed only $53 million on its prime mid-June opening weekend, and has so far made only $115 million on a budget north of $200 million. Clueless Warner Bros. execs who don’t understand the character at all, have already greenlit a sequel, which they promise will be “darker.”
Hit: R-rated Comedies
Despite critics labelling it a lazy re-hash,The Hangover 2 still did huge business at $254 million, making it the third-highest grossing film of the year. This success seemed to carry over to most of the R-Rated comedies, as Bridesmaids was a huge surprise hit at $167 million and counting. Horrible Bosses didn’t have a huge marketing push, but still managed an impressive $112 million take, an even the execrable-looking Bad Teacher nearly managed to hit the magic $100 million mark.
Miss: Pixar’s Reputation & Animated Films
Though it was still a moderate financial hit at $186 million, Cars 2 was Pixar’s worst-reviewed film ever, and it put the studio’s impeccable reputation under scrutiny for the first time . Many media pundits and bloggers saw Cars 2 as a crass cash grab with none of the heart or deeper moral resonance that fueled previous Pixar masterpieces. Pixar chief John Lasseter admittedly stated Cars 2 was designed to be a fun, action/spy adventure film targeted at very young children. While there is certainly nothing wrong with Lassester wanting to branch out and do something different, critics felt the film was noisy, gaudy, and put too much emphasis on the character of Mater and his crude humor.
Meanwhile, Dreamworks Kung Fu Panda 2 underperformed at the box office domestically, barely surpassing its $160 million budget (it did do very good numbers overseas, though). Perhaps the biggest tragedy of the Summer of 2011 was the wholesale rejection of the beautifully hand-drawn, traditionally animated feature Winnie The Pooh, which was widely lauded for telling a heartwarming family-friendly story with beloved characters. It arrived with a thud, scraping out a disappointing $7.5 million opening weekend en route to a $26 million gross.
Hit: Super 8
Director JJ Abrams served up a slice of nostalgic movie magic with Super 8, a beautifully shot homage to late 70’s/early 80’s Spielbergian wonder. In a Summer teeming with bombastic robot carnage, colorful capes and masks, and fast-paced CGI wizardy – Super 8 returned audiences to a time when shots lingered longer, dialogue was delivered slower and with more impact, and every frame had a misty, dreamlike sheen to it. The gang of kid actors, led by Elle Fanning and Joel Courtney delivered captivating, innocent performances that brought back pleasant recollections of kid gangs like The Goonies or the Monster Squad. The spectacular destruction and fiery chaos of the train crash sequence is one of the most exhilarting set pieces I witnessed in the Summer of 2011. The film also did very well, earning $233 million worldwide on a modest $50 million budget.
Miss: The Pirates of the Caribbean Franchise
Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow shtick is getting old. The fourth Pirates of the Caribbean film shed much of the convolution and bloat of the previous installments, but it also felt cheaper and downright arbitrary altogether. Ian McShane was wasted as the infamous Blackbeard, as was the potential romance between Penelope Cruz’s character and Capt. Jack. Still, it’s the fourth-highest grossing film of the year, and has made well over a billion dollars when you factor in foreign grosses, so we will be subjected to many more of Captain Sparrow’s tired antics in the years to come.
Hit: The Re-Birth of the Apes
No one could have predicted the late-summer success of Rise of the Planet of the Apes. It had everything going against it: An over-exposed and unpopular (at the time) star in James Franco, an August dumping-ground release slot, the memory of a poorly-received installment of the franchise by Tim Burton in 2001, and a mostly unknown director. But the film was helped immensely by terrific word of mouth about Andy Serkis’ motion-capture performance for the main ape, Cesar. The movie itself was very well-paced and crafted, and it looks to be an exciting launching point for a new series of Apes films.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon was another loud, dumb, sexist, juvenile, and incoherent explosion-fest from Michael Bay. The 3D was visually stunning, and in some cases vertigo-inducing, but ultimately none of the dazzle meant anything due to the obnoxious, poorly-developed characters and outright silliness. Yet, audiences lapped up Bay’s frosting-covered dog slop to the tune of $1.1 billion worldwide. Thankfully, Bay’s reign of terror is over (at least where this franchise is concerned). Rumor has it Jason Statham could be facing off against Megatron in future installments.
Hit: Fast & The Furious
This series, which reached new lows in both execution and box office take with Tokyo Drift, gained new life this Summer by adding a Rock vs. Vin Diesel dynamic, and transitioning from street-racing thuggery to balls-to-the-wall action spectacle. The fifth installment of the Fast & Furious series pulled in an astonishing $87 million opening weekend on its way to a gargantuan $605 million worldwide gross.
Miss: The Horror Genre
Horror had a…well, horrific showing at the box office in Summer 2011. The tone for the genre was set in April with the dismal failure of the much-heralded Scream 4. Shortly thereafter, Priest was released to atrocious reviews and an even poorer showing at the gates, making a paltry $29 million on a $70 million budget. A completely unecessary fifth Final Destination film stunk up theaters in mid-August, and horror-comedy reboot Fright Night with Colin Farrel vamping it up was D.O.A. at the theaters with a terrible $7.9 million opening weekend. The year’s lone horror hit was Insidious, which grossed $54 million on an unbelievably meager $1.5 million budget.
Hit: Harry Potter
After ten years and eight films, the Harry Potter franchise racked up enough cash to feed several third-world nations for decades. What’s remarkable to me about these films is the fact that all of the principal cast members(with the exception of Richard Harris, who passed away after the second film) appeared in every single installment and developed their craft over a grueling ten-year period. The high point of the saga remains Alfonso Cuaron’s Prisoner of Azkaban, but The Deathly Hallows Part II delivered a very solid conclusion to a saga that I have heard referred to as “this generation’s Star Wars.”
Miss: The Smurfs & The Zookeeper
Two examples of everything that is wrong with Hollywood filmmaking in the 21st century. Lowest common denominator drivel that exists solely to pander to uneducated audiences and sell products. Everyone involved and everyone who fell for it, should be ashamed of themselves.
BONUS: My Top 5 Best and Worst Summer 2011 Films:
Best: Super 8, Captain America: The First Avenger, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, X-Men: First Class, and Thor.
Worst: Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Cowboys & Aliens, Green Lantern, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, TIE: The Zookeeper & The Smurfs.