2014 Summer Movie Season Superlatives

2014 Summer Movie Season Superlatives

Well, folks, that's a wrap.  Oh sure, this weekend marks the official end of the summer movie season, but when the only new releases are a stale Pierce Brosnan spy caper (The November Man) and a cheapie horror flick (As Above So Below), you know we've reached the end of the line.  Now seems like as good a time as any to look back on the movies of the summer and reflect on the winners, the losers, and everything in between.

The big story this summer was the lackluster box office.  Week after week, analysts spun tales of doom and gloom, backing it up with year-to-year box office comparisons.  Movies opened huge with weekends of $90+ million, only to stumble badly the next week, and then have to fight tooth and nail to clear $200 million.  The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Godzilla are the two most notable examples, but even X-Men: Days of Future Past and Transformers: Age of Extinction had trouble sustaining momentum.  With one big movie coming out every week, and the home video release window rapidly decreasing, we really are living in the age of the quick-kill blockbuster.

That's what made movies like Boyhood, Chef, and Snowpiercer such a welcome respite.  Boyhood, the 12 years-in-the-making, 3-hour opus from Richard Linklater, has a legitimate chance to nab a Best Picture nomination this year, and indie audiences have been eating it up.  Made for a mere $4 million, Boyhood has already quadrupled its budget.  The Weinstein Company took a gamble on Snowpiercer, releasing it in limited engagement in a few hundred theaters, and then unleashing it on Video-On-Demand (VOD) only two weeks later.  It was a game-changing strategy, and the Chris Evans-led sci-fi flick has done gangbusters business across all of its VOD platforms.  Snowpiercer is smart, big-budget entertainment made for a specific audience so a wide theatrical release never made sense, and I hope we see the likes of it again.

One of the big winners this summer were the ladies.  Despite not being very good, both Maleficent and Lucy were huge hits.  The summer season is usually dominated by men, but audiences have spoken and they want more ladies leading films.  Angelina Jolie and Scarlett Johansson are two of the biggest female stars in the world right now, and they found two projects perfectly suited to them.  Melissa McCarthy's Tammy made upwards of $80 million even though it looked like utter shit in the trailers (and the final product wasn't much better).  Then there's The Fault in Our Stars.  The film adaptation of the best-selling book was a phenomenon - grossing about $125 million off a $12 million budget.  Teen girls powered the film to those numbers.  If there's any justice in the world, Shailene Woodley would be in contention for a Best Actress Oscar.  Meanwhile, testosterone-fueled flicks like The Expendables 3 stumbled.  That movie had all the male starpower in the world, and it still won't clear $40 million.

But, the biggest winner of Summer 2014 was Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy.  As of this writing, the movie is the highest-grossing movie of the summer, and is just one week away from passing Marvel's own Captain America: The Winter Soldier to be the highest-grossing movie of the year.  Not only that, but it's really freaking good!  Credit must go to James Gunn for writing such an original, funny, and entertaining superhero flick, Disney for marketing an unknown property to utter perfection, and a winning cast that has rightly made stars of Chris Pratt and a dancing baby Groot.  There's no stopping Marvel at this point.  The studio can do whatever it wants.  Based on the trends, may I suggest putting a female-led superhero film into production?

Now, at the start of the summer (as I do every summer), I took it upon myself to guess which films would be the biggest hits and misses.  On the hits side, here's what I predicted back in April:

  1. Transformers: Age of Extinction (projected gross: $315 million)
  2. How to Train Your Dragon 2 (projected gross: $300 million)
  3. Godzilla (projected gross: $250 million)
  4. X-Men: Days of Future Past (projected gross: $240 million)
  5. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (projected gross: $225 million)
  6. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (projected gross: $210 million)
  7. Guardians of the Galaxy (projected gross: $200 million)
  8. 22 Jump Street (projected gross: $165 million)
  9. The Fault in Our Stars (projected gross: $150 million)
  10. Neighbors (projected gross: $140 million)

And, here are the actual Top 10 of Summer 2014 (as of 8/25/14):

  1. Guardians of the Galaxy ($252 million)
  2. Transformers: Age of Extinction ($244 million)
  3. Maleficent ($237 million)
  4. X-Men: Days of Future Past ($233 million)
  5. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes ($204 million)
  6. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 ($203 million)
  7. Godzilla ($200 million)
  8. 22 Jump Street ($190 million)
  9. How to Train Your Dragon 2 ($172 million)
  10. Neighbors ($150 million)

I must say I think I fared pretty well.  Only one wrong (Maleficent instead of TFIOS).  I flat-out nailed Neighbors, Apes, and X-Men.  I'm actually surprised by how disappointing How to Train Your Dragon 2 performed.  It was really the only kids flick this summer so it had no competition. People loved the first film.  And, the sequel was one of the rare ones to actually improve upon the original.  I thought for sure it would break out of the box in a big way, but I guess family audiences were too busy wasting their money on Maleficent.  There's something to be said for Disney's marketing muscle.  Transformers and Spider-Man both under-performed in a significant way, a clear sign of audience fatigue.  Godzilla should have been higher, but given how much negativity it had to overcome from Roland Emmerich's 1998 debacle, it actually did well, and there's certainly room for more monsters in the sequel.  I knew Guardians would connect, but it's a joy to see how much it has connected with people.

I included Maleficent in my "Could Go Either Way" category along with the Michael Bay-produced reboot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  Both films are hits (critics be damned!), and by next week, TMNT will overtake Neighbors to finish in the Top 10.

What about my predicted flops?  Let's see how I did:

  1. Jupiter Ascending - Ha!  Warner Bros. was scared of the negative press so they pushed the film to Feb. 2015.  I'm giving myself credit.
  2. Edge of Tomorrow ($100 mil) - I loved it, but it cost way too much ($178 million).  If you count international grosses, it will end up in the green, but just barely.
  3. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For ($6 mil on opening weekend) - Nailed it.  Biggest flop of the summer.  They waited too long to make it.
  4. Hercules ($69 mil) - Not a total miss, but nothing to write home about.
  5. Blended ($46 mil) - Yup.
  6. Tammy ($83 mil) - Okay, I got this one wrong.  That's pretty good on a budget of $20 mil.

Moving on:

BEST MOVIE OF THE SUMMER: Guardians of the Galaxy.  Highest grossing doesn't always mean the best, but Guardians is the exception.

BEST SEQUEL: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.  Darker, bolder, more confidently realized.  It's the Dark Knight of Apes movies.

WORST SEQUEL: The Expendables 3. So much talent on screen, yet so little worth your time.

BEST INDIE: Snowpiercer.  The only thing better than its game-changing release strategy was the movie itself.

WORST TIMING: Let's Be Cops, released at the height of the protests in Ferguson.  Oops.

TV STAR TURNED MOVIE STAR: Chris Pratt.  Welcome to the big leagues, Star-Lord.

NOT QUITE A MOVIE STAR YET: Jon Hamm in Million Dollar Arm.  Don't quit your day job, Don Draper.

DUMBEST PLOT: Lucy. Just try to take that movie seriously.  I triple dog dare you.

BEST SONG: Adam Levine's version of "Lost Stars" from Begin Again.

BEST SOUNDTRACK: Guardians of the Galaxy.  Not just an awesome mix of classic '70s pop hits, but music that's integral to the actual movie.

MOVIE THAT DESERVED TO BE 3 HOURS: Boyhood

MOVIE THAT HAD NO BUSINESS BEING 3 HOURS: Transformers: Age of Extinction

BEST CREDITS: 22 Jump Street's end credits montage of future sequels is the funniest thing I've seen all year.

STOP TRYING TO BE MARVEL BECAUSE YOU SUCK AT IT: Sony's attempt to build its own cinematic universe out of The Amazing Spider-Man 2

CUTEST MUG: Baby Groot dancing at the end of Guardians

UGLIEST MUGS: The hideous character design of the Turtles in TMNT.  Man, I hate those nostrils.

BEST PERFORMANCE: Shailene Woodley, The Fault in Our Stars

RUNNER-UP: Chadwick Boseman, Get On Up

BEST REVIEWED (studio): Guardians of the Galaxy (92% on Rotten Tomatoes)

BEST REVIEWED (indie): Boyhood (99% on Rotten Tomatoes)

WORST REVIEWED: Blended (14% on Rotten Tomatoes)

TOTAL BAD-ASS: Emily Blunt in Edge of Tomorrow. Can Emily Blunt be in every movie, please?

MOVIES I REGRET MISSING: Cavalry, A Most Wanted Man

MOVIES I REGRET SEEING: Hercules, Blended, Tammy, Sex Tape

WHY IS CLINT EASTWOOD DIRECTING A MUSICAL?: Jersey Boys

BIGGEST GEEKGASM: Godzilla breathing atomic fire into the mouth of a MUTO at the end of Godzilla

BAD TITLE, GOOD MOVIE: Edge of Tomorrow.  I wonder if it would have done better with it's original title, All You Need Is Kill.  Interestingly, for home video release, it appears Warner Bros. is referring to it by its tagline: Live Die Repeat.  That's better too.

PASS THE KLEENEX: The Fault in Our Stars.  Stupid fucking cancer.

And, finally, here's the ranking of all the movies I saw this summer (with star rating included):

  1. Guardians of the Galaxy (****1/2)
  2. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (****1/2)
  3. How to Train Your Dragon 2 (****1/2)
  4. Edge of Tomorrow (****)
  5. Snowpiercer (****)
  6. The Fault in Our Stars (****)
  7. Godzilla (****)
  8. 22 Jump Street (****)
  9. Boyhood (****)
  10. Life Itself (****)
  11. Chef (***1/2)
  12. What If (***1/2)
  13. X-Men: Days of Future Past (***1/2)
  14. Begin Again (***)
  15. Obvious Child (***)
  16. Neighbors (***)
  17. The Purge: Anarchy (***)
  18. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (***)
  19. Lucy (***)
  20. Million Dollar Arm (***)
  21. Transformers: Age of Extinction (**1/2)
  22. A Million Ways to Die in the West (**1/2)
  23. They Came Together (**1/2)
  24. Earth to Echo (**1/2)
  25. Let's Be Cops (**1/2)
  26. Deliver Us from Evil (**1/2)
  27. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (**1/2)
  28. Into the Storm (**1/2)
  29. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (**1/2)
  30. Wish I Was Here (**)
  31. The Signal (**)
  32. Get on Up (**)
  33. Maleficent (**)
  34. Planes: Fire and Rescue (**)
  35. The Expendables 3 (**)
  36. Think Like a Man Too (**)
  37. If I Stay (**)
  38. Jersey Boys (**)
  39. Tammy (**)
  40. Hercules (*1/2)
  41. Blended (*1/2)
  42. Sex Tape (*)

What are your thoughts on the 2014 Summer Movie Season?  Favorites?  Disappointments?  Let me know!

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