If The Hunger Games recent, record-setting box office explosion has taught us anything, it’s that now we really know nothing at all. A moderately budgeted, early Spring release amassing the third-largest opening weekend numbers in history? It’s unheard of…or, is it? Obviously, none of us should be stunned by The Hunger Games phenomenon – Susanne Collins YA novels are on the kindles and bookshelves of millions of readers, and the concept has huge crossover appeal. Yet few predicted it would be the game-changer that it is, and now The Hunger Games is a contender for the #1 box-office grossing film of 2012, a title that critics figured would be decided in a bloody battle among two traditional Summer blockbusters. With that in mind, here’s a look at the Hunger Games’ two competitors, and how these three thoroughbreds are going to finish the race.
The Avengers (May 4, 2012)
An all-star superhero epic to end all superhero epics —The Avengers sees Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury bringing together all of Marvel Studios’ heavy-hitters from their prior blockbuster solo releases: Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), The Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo, replacing Ed Norton), The Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), and Captain America (Chris Evans) to defend Earth against cosmic Armageddon at the hands of Thor’s evil brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and his invading alien army. The movie promises massive, Earth-threatening superhero spectacle the likes of which has never been seen before, and — under the pen and lens of director/screenwriter/Geek God Joss Whedon — a great deal of snappy dialogue and ensemble chemistry.
Why It Could Fail
Despite having successful Summer films of their own, Marvel heroes like Thor and Captain America still don’t have the worldwide familiarity of DC’s pantheon of household names like Batman and Superman. I’d imagine the average Joe on the street these days would recognize a photo of Katniss Everdeen or even *shudder* Edward Cullen of Twilight infamy before stalwart Avengers like Black Widow or Hawkeye. Of the five movies that directly led into this mega team-up, only the two Iron Man adventures have broken the $300 million blockbuster barrier. When the first teaser trailer for The Avengers hit, the blogosphere wasn’t quite blown away by what was presented. A lot of people felt underwhelmed by the preview and criticized the marketing team for using what they perceived as a bland modern rock track, rather than soaring classical fanfare in the spot. The poster campaign for the film has also been utterly pathetic, as evidenced by the slapdash Photoshop job seen below.
The full-length trailer released at the end of February went a long way in restoring the grandeur and sense of scope that The Avengers needs to showcase, but product saturation has yet to occur in the supermarkets and Targets across the landscape, and only one TV spot has aired (during the Super Bowl). As we’ve seen with the recent debacle John Carter, poor marketing can destroy a movie. The Avengers needs one more epic, full-length trailer with pure “Wow” factor that blows minds, and a healthy presence on Happy Meal boxes and during commercial breaks on The Big Bang Theory or NCIS.
Along with the lackluster media presence, The Avengers has a lot of unanswered questions heading into its release: Will the ensemble cast mesh well together? Will a screenplay that shoehorns in six heroes, their leader, a villain, and an alien army be a muddled mess? Will the CGI effects deliver, or delve into Green Lantern territory? Will audiences accept a third actor playing Hulk? Does Joss Whedon have the directing chops to pull off a film of this size? And now, when you factor in The success of The Hunger Games to these variables, The Avengers could be looking up at not one, but two movies in the box office standings.
Why It Could Triumph:
The Avengers has a lot going for it — a beloved Geek culture icon in Joss Whedon behind the camera, a solid cast of colorful superheroes, a truly menacing villain with the power to reign destruction upon the Earth, a huge special effects budget that promises epic battle scenes on par with recent Transformers carnage, and the novelty of being the first all-star super team movie attempted by a major studio (Before you call me out for overlooking The X-Men or the Fantastic Four movies, understand that neither of those franchises are under control of Marvel Studios, and they simply can’t match the scale of what will be attempted here). The Avengers seems to have everything one could want in a dazzling, colorful, and entertaining Summer popcorn blockbuster. It will have a healthy child and teen audience to compliment the adults (and the hardcore geek quotient, of course), and ticket grosses will be inflated due to 3D and IMAX prices. That factor alone might push The Avengers over the top.
The bottom line here is The Avengers is going to be a massive blockbuster that will be helped out immensely by IMAX 3-D ticket upgrades, a prime early May release date, and a dearth of competition at the box office until the Alien prequel, Prometheus hits on June 8. The problem is, there are two other films that will finish just slightly ahead of it — the one I mentioned in the lead paragraph, and a tiny little film called…
The Dark Knight Rises (July 20, 2012)
It seems silly to even type this, because if you don’t know what this is all about, you probably don’t go to the movies that much, and you certainly don’t read movie blogs. But, in the interest of fairness, here’s the gist: It’s the sequel to the third-highest grossing film of all-time, The Dark Knight, and the final chapter in director Christopher Nolan’s Batman saga. Dark Knight Rises picks up eight years after Batman(Christian Bale) defeated the Joker and became a scapegoat for the murder of Gotham City D.A. Harvey Dent, and now he must face a new threat in the shape of the cunning super-terrorist Bane (Tom Hardy). Along for the ride this time around is Anne Hathaway as Catwoman, Michael Caine as Alfred, Gary Oldman as Commissioner Gordon, and Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cottillard, and Matthew Modine are also on board as new characters in Gotham City.
Why It Could Fail
There is absolutely no way The Dark Knight Rises is going to fail, the only questions are — can it A.) Duplicate or surpass the $533 million its 2008 predecessor grossed, and B.) Squeak by whatever final box office tally The Hunger Games pulls in. If you really want to dig deeper into the negative, I suppose you could say that Bane is a weaker and lesser-known antagonist than The Joker, and that Tom Hardy is going to have to knock his villainous performance out of the stratosphere to escape the shadow of Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning turn as the psychotic Clown Prince of Crime. Other than that, The Dark Knight is an easy home run.
Why It Could Triumph
Two words: Christopher Nolan. This should be fairly obvious to anyone who has seen Memento, Inception, and the previous two Batman films in his repetoire: Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. Nolan rescued Batman from the campy, rubber-nippled nightmares that were the Joel Schumacher 90’s outings, and restored order to Gotham City. He crafted a gritty, dark, and brutal world for Batman to inhabit — one that begs the question, “What if Batman really existed?” Christian Bale is simply best Bruce Wayne/Batman in cinema history (yes, even with the trademark growl), and the supporting cast –especially Gary Oldman as Gordon — is always stellar in these films. The marketing team behind The Dark Knight Rises continue to be creative with a mysterious viral campaign, and ominous trailers that feature Hans Zimmer’s trademark booming score and chilling lines from Bane like this one: “When Gotham is in ashes, you have my permission to die.” In short, audiences are desperately chomping at the bit to see if Batman rises over the evil plaguing Gotham, or falls at the hands of Bane.
The Dark Knight Rises will be (duh) gargantuan. Just how gargantuan? I’d say Burj Khalifa in Dubai size. The Hunger Games is going to have legs, but Katniss won’t have quite the stamina to keep up with Batman. I say The Hunger Games falls short with $400-$425 million, while Rises takes the 2012 prize with a healthy $450-475 million.
Just for fun, here’s my predictions for the top ten grossing movies of the
year “Summer Blockbuster” season:
1.) The Dark Knight Rises ($450-475 million)
2.) The Hunger Games ($400-$425 million)
3.) The Avengers ($350-$375 million)
4.) Brave ($250 million)
5.) The Amazing Spider-Man ($235 million)
6.) MIB 3 ($225 million)
7.) Prometheus ($220 million)
8.) G. I. Joe: Retaliation ($220 million)
9.) Bourne Legacy ($150 million)
10.) Madagascar 3 ($125-135 million)