(As is the Thursday policy, this is an extended preview of the Sunday’s PopRox column in the Pocono Record. The paper usually can’t hold what I wanna get out, and I’m allowed to be a little more free here. Just a little.)
Going into a summer movie season, you always think you know what’s going to happen.
And by Labor Day, you realize that in April, you don’t know squat about how the summer box office will shake out. Let’s review:
WHAT WE LIKED
A-list comic book heroes
The top-three highest-grossing movies this summer: Avengers, Dark Knight Rises and the rebooted Amazing Spiderman. All three movies are strictly high-rent in the comic book world. Last summer? Thor and Captain America, who are decently popular comic book characters, were decently popular hits. Green Lantern, a somewhat cult-ish character, returned cult-ish box office figures even though the budget was sky-high. The lesson? Stick with the top shelf if you’re going to spend huge on comic book movies. Iron Man has been the lone exception of a surprise comic book mega-hit.
Again. Pixar has to be the most unstoppable box office force in today’s Hollywood. After churning out bank-on-it sequels for the last two summers, the studio went back to the drawing board and gave the world Brave. It couldn’t muster Pixar-expected reviews, but currently sits as the eighth-biggest Pixar movie and has grossed $470 million worldwide. If the studio just put out a movie that was a kid reading a newspaper for 90 minutes, would it make $200 million? I say yes.
Of all the movies in the top 10 of the summer box office, Ted is the only one with a budget that was less than $95 million (it was made for a reported $50 million and made $216 million domestically). What Ted had more than any other movie was a perfect sense of self. It knew it was a hard-R-rated comedy, so it released a hysterical, uncensored red-band trailer so people could actually see that. It played to the super-loyal Family Guy crowd by plastering Seth MacFarlane’s name all over the thing. Then it took advantage of the G.I. Joe sequel moving to next spring and moved its release date up to weeks to June 29. That way, it avoided the box-office wake of The Dark Knight Rises, which released on July 19 and helped sink the similar R-rated comedy The Watch when it released July 27. Magic Mike was the summer’s other big, profitable hit ($113 million domestically against a $7 million budget), and someone needs to be promoted for coming up with the idea of tagging it as a girls night out movie.
WHAT WE DIDN’T LIKE
Adam Sandler retreads
Even when a big movie bombs, it still manages to stay in theaters for about two months before a movie studio cries uncle and pulls it. One of the summer’s biggest disappointments, Rock of Ages, lasted two months. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is technically still in theaters somewhere after 10 weeks after only making back about half of its budget. The completely ignored People Like Us even stuck around for two months. That’s My Boy, the latest Sandler can’t-or-won’t-grow-up movie? It made it all of five weeks, the shortest run for any big-name movie of the summer. So not only did people not want to see it ($37 million, the lowest-grossing, live-action, Sandler-starrer since 1996’s Bulletproof) but they also were so repulsed by its mere presence they wanted it pulled from theaters so they weren’t reminded of it.
Whatever they are. But last weekend’s Oogieloves In The BIG Balloon Adventure likely will be one of the biggest bombs in Hollywood history, opening with $443,901 despite a $55 million budget. It was the lowest opening weekend ever for a movie released on more than 2,000 screens. From Ray Suber, in the weekly analysis at the awesome website boxofficemojo.com, where I got all these box office figures: If each location played ‘Oogieloves’ five times a day on one screen at an average ticket price of $7, that would translate to fewer than two people per showing. Note to self: Start throwing this movie into the punchline rotation.
When The Bourne Legacy becomes the 12th and likely final movie of the summer to cross the $100 million mark, the summer of 2012 will have the smallest number of $100 million movies since 2006. Even though overall revenues will be around the same as they were last summer, that’s a big summer of big-name flops. Battleship caused Comcast to be in the red for the quarter, everything released in May (not named Avengers) and August miserably underperformed, and usually reliable stars Tom Cruise, Sandler, Johnny Depp, Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn turned in clunkers. Don’t expect the formula to change much next summer with known-commodity sequels and reboots (Iron Man 3, Man of Steel, The Hangover III, a Star Trek sequel, Despicable Me 2, The Wolverine, the Monsters Inc. sequel Monsters University and Fast and the Furious 6) all hitting theaters.