*Mild spoilers scattered about, I don't really understand the whole spoiler box works.
The sun is out, the kiddies are fresh out of school, endless amounts of energy just ready to burst. Beaches host miles of packed shorelines of families, teens, and the like, getting their summer tan on, reading books, relaxing, just enjoying the nice, sunny day. Oh yes, it's summer.
Summer means a lot of things to many people, but it only means one thing to the dog-eat-dog world of Hollywood: Money. Summer is the biggest time of the year for mainstream, blockbuster Hollywood to showcase some of their biggest tentpole films audiences are practically dying to shove their freshly earned green at. It's that time of year where some of the highest grossing films are released (with the exception of Frozen because like, just wow, and Avatar because like, just no). Take the Top Ten Highest Grossing Films of All Time (not adjusted for inflation).
Of the Top Ten, at least five titles were released in the deemed "Summer" months (that is, the first Friday in May to Labor Day weekend). The only other seemingly popular time for release is November/December when the other five films were released. Do I need to say much more?
It's no surprise why the summer months look so appealing and why the box office might be a draw to moviegoers. Before getting down to the nitty-gritty of it all, we are going to need to be frank: 2014 was hugely disappointing at the Box Office, even if we think it might have been a success.
Let's start with the numbers.. According to Variety.com, by the end of July, box office numbers were down more than 20% of that of last year. However, thanks to the release of Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy and the 1990s reboot Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, that 20%+ dropped to about 16%. Still not good, but better.
Unfortunately, according to The Hollywood Reporter, the summer is still expected to be down anywhere from 16-20% from last year, calling it "the worst year-over-year decline in three decades." Yikes. With the summer not so slowly drawing to a close and the usually dead Labor Day weekend, GotG and TMNT continues to outperform all other new releases as Expendables 3 and Frank Miller's Sin City: A Dame to Kill For flopped in major ways. The YA adaptation If I Stay debuted well, but has earned only so-so reviews from critics and won't even come anywhere near that of the earlier YA adaptation surprise, but not really that much of a surprise hit, The Fault in Our Stars.
THE TOP TEN SUMMER MOVIES
It's clear what summer tentpoles are comprised of: Franchises and Sequels. Six of the Top Ten from 2013 and 2014 were sequels or prequels or have had films previously made. Sure, the others might not have been following a great film before it, but they had well known source material and very big budgets, such as Godzilla, Maleficent, and Man of Steel. This year's Neighbors and yes, I guess The Fault in Our Stars (even though it was based on a book, and NOT an original idea) were lower budget wins.
But let's take a look at the big franchise films that racked the theaters and blew us away.
Superheroes to Save Our Asses
It was the summer of superheroes or so it seemed.
To me the summer box office really started in April with Marvel's Captain America: The Winter Solider even though the summer box office doesn't technically start until the first weekend in May. The film has a strong 89% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes and was well received by audiences and critics alike. It did far better than its predecessor, opening with nearly $30M more and holding more than $400M in the worldwide box office. And well deserved it was; Winter Solider proved to be much more entertaining than the first with many more twists and the return of many characters from the mega hit The Avengers, such as Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Agent Maria Hill (Colbie Smulders). It tugged at our heart strings with the Cap's former best friend having no recollection of his life and the Cap's former love, Peggy Carter, bed ridden suffering from Alzheimer's Disease.
The summer box office technically kicked off with The Amazing Spiderman 2, yet another sequel to a too-soon rebooted franchise. It had a slightly better opening weekend than the first, but was very quickly called one of the biggest spidey disappointments (monetarily) of the franchise, both Garfield and McGuire's (even above the horrendous Spider Man 3, which frankly we all pretend never happened). While not actually seeing TASM2, given the trailers and press, we obviously didn't learn what happens to Spider Man movies when you try and put too much back story and too many villains in one movie. Sony must have really taken the whole "Spider Man 3 never happened" thing to heart. It currently holds a 53% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. But lucky us, Sony already has two more Spider Man movies ready for us, set to be released in the next five years or so.
Following TASM2 came everyone's favorite Marvel mutants, the X-Men, another sequel (to First Class) and another film to add to an already growing franchise. While the movie was great (I'm a total sucker for the X-Men) both monetary wise and story wise, it seemed as though it was quickly forgotten. When it came out, it was all the rage but even after the first week or two, we weren't buzzing about it as much. That obviously can be attributed to major blockbusters being released in the weeks prior and after it (see Maleficent). Up to this point, Days of Future's Past has the highest critic and audience score with a solid 89% on Rotten Tomatoes. The film included mutant favorites from the first trilogy released so many years ago such as Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and Kitty Pride (Ellen Page), and also those to the so-so "origins" film (YES, First Class was an origins film, I don't care what you have to say about it), such as young Beast (Nicholas Hoult) and young Mystique (the always lovable, quirky, pizza loving JLaw). The film, teased by posters months before the movie was released also united the original Professor X and Magneto (Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellan, America's favorite bromance) with their younger selves, played by James MacAvoy and Michael Fassbender. Watching the team work together and being whisked away back to the 1970s was nothing but fun, making us forget about any possible messed up timelines or age gaps that make absolutely no sense from the previous five movies. Hidden gems such as a young General William Stryker made us remember that X-Men Origins: Wolverine indeed existed, followed by, you guessed it, another Wolverine movie.
And just as we thought we were done with superheroes for the season, the first weekend in August rolled around and boy were we wrong. Guardians of the Galaxy the wild card of the Marvel franchise opened and within three weeks became the summer's biggest hit, surpassing Transformer's 4: Age of Extinction (thank, GOD). The film of kind-of-bad-but-kind-of-good ragtag group of misfits follows exactly what you'd think of the unlikely group of heroes story. A perfect blend of sci-fi, comedy, action, and music of the 70s in the form of Awesome Mix Vol. 1, GotG not only surpassed Marky-Mark and Optimus Prime, but also audience expectations. The film wasn't projected to do as well as it did, not that Disney and/or Marvel would really lose any money if it had flopped. It holds the highest RT rating with 92% and will only continue to add to its box office numbers. GotG doesn't take itself as seriously as some other Marvel flicks, not that Marvel is known for being that incredibly dark. Huge round of applause to the makeup and VFX department, creating some incredible worlds and species, including a completely unrecognizable Lee Pace (Ronan) and Karen Gillan (Nebula).
Apes, and Reptiles, and Robots, Oh My!
First came the misleading Bryan Cranston as a major character, Japanese monster movie, but very much anticipated Godzilla. The film left us wanting more epic monster battles between the actually quite lovable Godzilla and the ridiculously terrifying MUTOs. While the story and characters arcs weren't the film's strongest points, the CGI and the monstrosity of it all took the cake. If we felt anything at all for these very 2D characters, it lasted for about the first five minutes as Walter White watches his wife die in front of his eyes. Fast forward so many years and we think the Cranston/ATJ father/son duo will finally have their moment, only to have daddy die within the first fifteen minutes of the movie. The movie has a 73% on Rotten Tomatoes and received above average reviews from critics and audiences. Personally having seen this movie in IMAX 3D, yeah it was pretty awesome.
The only really relevant summer animated movie, the sequel to the hugely and surprisingly successful How to Train Your Dragon, opened in the middle of June. It opened a little better than its predecessor and gave the kids something to drag their parents to. However, no matter what age, HTTYD2, really performs across many different age groups and gave us something light hearted and entertaining with great reviews (92% on RT).
Then came everyone's favorite explosion obsessed Michael Bay at the end of June with Transformers 4: Age of Extinction. The first Transformers film to do without Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox (don't worry, we get our Fox fix later this summer), how well could Bubblebee and Optimus Prime and an exploding Chicago hold up? Opening with a solid $100M (the second highest Transformers opening), we were sure T4 was going to be the biggest movie of the summer (it's currently second to GotG). I personally have zero taste for these films and it's no surprise that it holds an 18% on Rotten Tomatoes but I'm sure the execs at Paramount, Hasbro, and Michael Bay don't care as they laugh their way to the bank.
Andy Serkis returned to the big screen a few weeks later doing what he does best. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes seemed to be just another blockbuster ready to rake in the mula that hoped to do as well as Rise. However, the CGI ape ridden world surprised everyone and was met with wide critical acclaim, currently holding a strong 90% on Rotten Tomatoes. It's rated better, opened better, and has a domestic total better than that of Rise. Another apes movie is scheduled for two years from now, if the trend continues, these movies getting better as we go, that film should blow us all away. (Disclaimer: I did not see Dawn and I'm massively disappointed that I have not).
Even though T4 lacked Megan Fox this time around, audiences were still able to see her in another bad action movie, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a reboot of the 90s cartoon. An origins story at heart and another "gem" from the same studio and production company that brought us Transformers, TMNT really lacked any story and character development, but tried to feature lovable turtles even though they really looked terrifying. But it brought in hella money helping boost the waning summer box office with ticket sales and of course, merchandising galore. The CGI was nothing I hadn't seen before and God help me if I ever sit through it again. I guess Will Arnett was okay.
Those Damn Kids
Hollywood is for the young; it's known to always be looking for the next, big, young star. Three of the movies in the Top 10 (as of August 1st, because we all know GotG and TMNT pushed two of the following movies out of the number 9 and number 10 spot), featured young leads (can we count Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill as "young" and/or "fresh" anymore though???).
Neighbors was a surprise hit for Universal. The R-rated comedy was well received by critics (73% on RT), mainly praising the Zac Efron/Seth Rogen performance battle royale. What pleases me is that this one was a fresh idea, not based on any prior piece of work or a sequel of any kind (although, we could consider it 'When Troy Bolton Goes to College.'). Original content/scripts are insanely rare in mainstream Hollywood; they're almost always through independent companies that get hardly any attention.
And we're back to the sequel saga. 22 Jump Street, the sequel to, yeah, you guessed it, 21 Jump Street opened significantly better and has a better total than the first as the first was really a surprise it did so well. Again, Tatum and Hill have great on screen chemistry and are able to land the material well. Both 22 and 21 have very close RT scores and have been reviewed well. I personally enjoyed the first better than the second; I remember laughing and remembering a lot more of the gags and jokes from the first than the second. There was just something about walking out of 21 Jump Street more than pleasantly surprised at what I had just seen. With 22 Jump Street, I went in knowing what I was expecting. Met expectations, did not exceed.
What's a summer season without a popular YA novel adaptation? It isn't really. While it was no Hunger Games or Harry Potter, the quiet little John Green adaptation, The Fault in Our Stars performed very well at the box office for what it was made for. It's not much of a surprise as Green has a pretty big online fan base, and this is his first novel to be adapted to the big screen (it's also one of his most popular and critically acclaimed novel to date). The movie was an exact adaptation from the book, so you know those book lovers were satisfied with their Augustus Waters. A lot of this could do with how heavily involved Green was in the making of TFIOS, and how this film really couldn't afford to disappoint. The biggest critics here were in fact Green's army of nerdfighters who would have raised hell had this movie missed the mark. That aside, the performances were pretty solid, as Shailene Woodley continues to impress us with her chops (see The Spectacular Now). I just wish Gus wouldn't sound so douchey saying those lines. Teenagers (people, really), don't talk like that. Okay? Okay.
Once Upon A Dream
We need our daily dose of some sort of classic Disney fairy tale with a modern twist. We've seen a countless number of them, Alice in Wonderland, Snow White and the Huntsman, etc. Other than the endless amounts of green Disney raked in with their Marvel moneymakers, we didn't really see much from them, at least nothing worth noting (Million Dollar Arm? Okay Jon Hamm. Planes: Fire and Rescue? Cars rip off).
So in strode the always magnificent Angelina Jolie as the Disney villain, Maleficent from the beloved tale, Sleeping Beauty. It's now the third highest grossing film of the summer box office and holds a 48% on Rotten Tomatoes. While it under performed review wise, audiences still found it entertaining, even though the hype around it before its release has died down to practically nothing. Again, the trailer, much like Godzilla, proved to be very unhelpful in telling us what the story was actually about. To me, it actually turned out to be heartwarming and refreshing. Disney seems to be taking that "true love doesn't have to be from a man" motto to heart, ever since it cashed out with Frozen (the success of that single movie still has be baffled). What perhaps killed the movie, was the trailer which made it look extremely more epic than it actually was. But for me, one who is all about that character development and story arc, that was okay.
And well Angelina's cheekbones could really slay anyone and/or anything.
Not So and So-So Honorable Meh-ntions
Of course the Top Ten movies aren't the only movies to open during the summer. All studios are competing for that number one spot. But with success stories also come the flops and the so-so's, and the ones that are quickly forgotten the weekend after they're released.
Comedies are hard. Comedies suffer. Aside from 22 Jump Street and Neighbors, comedies flopped again this summer. Adam Sandler's Blended which reunited him with 50 First Dates costar, Drew Barrymore did horrendously (no surprise really), with a 14% on RT. Seth MacFarlane's A Million Ways to Die in The West bombed (33% RT) especially coming off of the well received, Ted. Tammy, the love child of Melissa McCarthy and her husband, also bombed (24% RT), as did the bro film Let's Be Cops (18%), the trying to hard Sex Tape (18%), and Think Like A Man Too (25%), the sequel to the much better Think Like A Man. Some the lack of success could be attributed to it opening on weekends with some of the elite Top 10, and/or could be attributed to just really bad movies getting green lit in Hollywood.
Action isn't hard. Throw in a male protagonist, some explosions, guns, you've got a movie. More times than not though, they're usually pretty shitty. Tom Cruise's Edge of Tomorrow which is being rebranded as Live. Die. Repeat. for its DVD release, actually received decent reviews (90%), praising both Cruise and his costar Emily Blunt (one kick ass female character), but didn't do so well monetary wise. ScarJo's Lucy has been in everyone's favor, having a solid opening and a 65% on RT, even though I really did not like the female version of Limitless on even more drugs than both movies combined. Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson's Hercules didn't flop as most would have expected it to, but quickly fell to the wayside, not staying in theaters that long. The real two action flops have to go to the testosterone heavy Expendables 3 and the film noir, almost too sexy for audiences, Frank Miller's Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, respectively. The first opened with a weak $15M, way under the first two and the latter opened with a very measly $6M. Ouch. Both have under a 50% rating on RT.
YA adaptations are not hard. They're a fast sell that usually can be made for pretty cheap, depending on the dedication and material. In fact, that's where most of Hollywood is getting its source material from. Die hard tweens and teens alike will flock to the movies to see their favorite couples and young hotties. However, most YA adaptations don't usually perform well at the box office and are quickly forgotten (see The Host, Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, and Beautiful Creatures). August was host to the tear jerking If I Stay and the beloved children's classic, The Giver. If I Stay performed as well as other YA adaptations, but The Giver unfortunately seemed to under perform, especially due to the amount of buzz around Lois Lowry's children's chapter book.
So Long Summer
And as the dog days of summer wind down and another summer blockbuster season comes to an end, we will see a huge drop of big number opening weekends and anticipated titles that will last until The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 hits theaters in November, kicking off the Holiday season. Many of the summer titles will be long forgotten, be released on DVD/BluRay and will quickly be in the $7.50 movie section at Target. Some will have big BluRay releases with six different discs and a ridiculous amount of special packaging so you can literally watch it everywhere you go and give even more of your money to the already money hungry industry. Either which way, we will sit and wait. Sit and wait for next May to do it all over again.