A year after "The Dark Knight," "Indiana Jones" and "Iron Man" drove the box office into record territory, Hollywood thinks it has another smash summer on its hands.
And why not? Along with major franchises opening week after week starting with "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" on Friday, the American public has been soothing its economic agita by going to the movies. (See accompanying story for the summer line-up.)
And boy, have they been going.
Usually, tentpole season bails out the dull post-Oscar lull, both creatively and financially. But this year has so far behaved quite differently, to say the least.
Powered by a 15 percent rise in attendance overall, "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" and "Taken" were simply huge, while Disney Channel alums Miley Cyrus and Zac Efron opened their movies to big numbers. There have already been bona fide blockbusters ("Fast & Furious," "Monsters vs. Aliens"), while even genre fare like "Last House on the Left" and "Knowing" had strong opening weekends.
So does all of this guarantee a great summer? It sure helps. And even if all of the upcoming biggies feel like slam-dunks, you can always count on some major surprise speedbumps.
Here’s TheWrap’s view of the summer just upon us:
Universal has major summer offerings, but not all are slam-dunks. Sacha Baron Cohen returns to outrageous form in "Bruno" (July 10), and the rabid fan reaction to the trailer so far suggests it will be big business in the wake of the $129 million take of "Borat". It also got its R. Curiouser is director Judd Apatow‘s dramedy "Funny People" (July 31), which stars Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen. The film is about a comedian who reexamines his life after being diagnosed with a fatal disease. Death is a hard enough sell, but there’s also the simple the fact that Sandler’s recent movies have declined at the box office, with "I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry" grossing $120 million in 2007, while last year’s "Don’t Mess With the Zohan" grossed "only" $100 million. "Public Enemies" (July 1) has the pedigree, with Michael Mann, Johnny Depp and Christian Bale macho-ing it up in the story of John Dillinger, but the majority of Mann’s movies just aren’t hits: "Miami Vice" ($63 million) and "Ali" ($59 million), performed just so-so. Finally, while "Land of the Lost" (June 5) has a built-in audience thanks to its series run and Will Ferrell‘s coming off a $100 million hit in "Step-Brothers," "Semi-Pro" grossed a weak $33 million. Tough call.
Truly a slate full of star power: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, John Travolta and Jack Black all show up, while even Peter Jackson, as a producer, makes an appearance with "District 9." The big question: Will "Angels & Demons" (May 15) match "The Da Vinci Code," which grossed $218 million? More of a genuine worry: Washington and Travolta’s "The Taking of Pelham 123" (June 12) is a remake of an awkwardly titled movie that, frankly, wasn’t much of a cultural benchmark. And while women have lately flocked to movies tailored to their taste, with "Sex and the City" and "The Devil Wears Prada," "Julie & Julia" (Aug. 7), which stars Streep as Julia Child, was directed by Nora Ephron, who manages to keep making movies despite proving her irrelevance at the box office with movies like "Bewitched" ($62 million) and "Hanging Up" ($36 million). If volume did the trick, Sony would be in fine shape, because it also has Harold Ramis‘ prehistoric comedy "Year One" (June 19) starring Black and Michael Cera. But having so many choices isn’t always the best strategy.
The main event for Disney this summer is Pixar’s tenth title, "Up" (May 29) but don’t all winning streaks eventually come to an end? Ummm, it is Pixar. In trailers and in spirit, guinea pig action movie "G-Force" (July 24) feels like the cousin of "Alvin and the Chipmunks," but facsimiles of blockbusters usually aren’t blockbusters. Yes, it’s produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, but even he isn’t bulletproof, as his "Confessions of a Shopaholic" was one of this year’s notable busts. The studio’s wild card is "The Proposal" (June 19) which marks the return of Sandra Bullock to the type of movie that made her a marquee name. A high-powered and bitchy Manhattan-ite who falls in her love with her assistant, this could bring box office along the lines of "Miss Congeniality," which grossed $107 million in 2000. If it doesn’t, it’s just yet another Bullock comeback attempt that missed along the lines of "Premonition" and "The Lake House."
Fox has three franchise movies on deck, but it already had it share of headache publicity when a rough copy of "Wolverine" footage made it onto the Web. More importantly, will it perform like 2003’s "X2," which grossed $215 million, or 2000’s original $157 million? The studio may also experience release date issues: the big-budget sequel "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian" (May 22) now has the pressure of a summer tentpole even after the first entry was a major Christmas hit in 2006, grossing $251 million. Date-change pressure could also hit "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs" (July 1); the previous two were spring hits.
Paramount gets things going early with what seems to be a reinvention for the ages: Early reviews for "Star Trek" (May 8) have been great, and it should power the sickly franchise back to relevancy. But the studio has some big shoes to fill since it last year boasted two movies above the $300 million mark in "Iron Man" and "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," while it also distributed DreamWorks Animation’s "Kung Fu Panda." Paramount is still partnered with DreamWorks for "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" (June 24), a title with some major box office aspirations, as its progenitor made $319 million in 2007. The other major titles on Paramount’s docket — "Dance Flick, "Imagine That" and "G.I. Joe" — already seem more like cole slaw at the picnic – a side dish.
Warner Bros. has its own tough act to follow, since nothing is likely to match the dominance of last year’s "Dark Knight.” The studio was smart to move "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" out of last November, thus placing the surest of all franchises in the middle of the summer on July 15. Like "Dark Knight," "Terminator: Salvation" (May 21) is, a reinvention of a phenomenally successful franchise, butthe Paramount/DreamWorks’ "Transformers" sequel, another male mayhem movie, comes merely a few weeks later. As a true date-night laugh riot, "The Hangover" (June 5) has a decent shot at becoming this year’s "Wedding Crashers," but Zach Galifianakis, Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms star, and they’re just not big names.