With Labor Day right around the corner, and nothing save for a 40th anniversary re-issue of Close Encounters of the Third Kind worth seeing in theaters, I think it's safe to say that the summer movie season is officially over. What to make of this summer? Well, it was one dominated by one good-to-great superhero movie in May (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2), June (Wonder Woman), and July (Spider-Man: Homecoming), and a ton of disappointments in between. Then July hit, and saw one quality release after another, almost single-handedly saving summer in the process. But, with nothing in the tank for August, the summer movies just petered out, resulting in the lowest weekend box office take in 15 years last weekend.
Let's have some fun and take stock of everything we saw this summer. Okay, I'll start. Here are my 10 favorites:
- Spider-Man: Homecoming
- Baby Driver
- Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
- The Big Sick
- War for the Planet of the Apes
- Wonder Woman
- Logan Lucky
- Atomic Blonde
And, here are the 5 I hated most:
- King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
- Rough Night
- The Book of Henry
- Transformers: The Last Knight
Now, what did we learn this summer? A few things:
ROTTEN TOMATOES RULES
The big controversy all summer, fanned by statements from The Rock and others that their critically reviled movies were made "for the fans, not the critics", was the ever-growing popularity of review aggregation sites like Rotten Tomatoes, and their effect on box office. Studios and stars pointed to lower-than-expected grosses for low-scoring flicks like Baywatch, Transformers, and The Mummy, and blamed it all on Rotten Tomatoes. Could audiences be listening more to critics and saving their precious $$ for movies that are actually worth the price of admission? Possibly. I think that certainly plays a role, and this summer proved it. Just look at the runaway success of critically-praised movies like Wonder Woman, Baby Driver, Dunkirk, and Girls Trip. On the other hand, all the critical praises couldn't help War of the Planet of the Apes gross more than its predecessors.
EDGAR WRIGHT FINALLY HAS A HIT!
Audiences seem to love him. Or, at the very least, Film Twitter sure does. Critics adore his movies. But, until Baby Driver, Edgar Wright never really had a full-fledged hit on his hands. Now, he does, baby! With nearly $200M in the tank worldwide on a $30M budget, we may even have a Baby Driver 2 on our hands in a few years. And, just like that, what was once original is now another franchise.
THE DARK UNIVERSE IS ON THIN ICE
What's that? Don't know what the "Dark Universe" is? You're probably not alone. Universal bet big on a new expanded universe for all of its monsters, like Frankenstein, Wolfman, Dracula, and, yes, The Mummy. The real surprise here is Tom Cruise's involvement and the fact that even he couldn't save this new version of The Mummy. Cruise usually makes great films and is a reliable barometer of quality. So, what went wrong? A bad take on the material, a miscast Cruise, and a cart-before-the-horse approach to this universe. Russell Crowe is laughably bad as Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde. Okay, so The Mummy made over $400M worldwide, but only $80M came from the U.S. That's not exactly starting off on the right foot. Hopefully, the "Dark Universe" can correct itself when Bill Condon's Bride of Frankenstein comes out in another year or two.
DON'T MESS WITH THE LADIES
Women and men everywhere have been dying to see a big-screen take on Wonder Woman, and they finally got it. Good thing it did not disappoint. Patty Jenkins' Wonder Woman was THE movie of the summer. It made the most money (domestically at least), had the most buzz, and it seemed like it had everyone talking. I didn't really care for the third act and the reveal of villain Ares, but no matter. This was a runaway success, and conclusively proved that yes, audiences will go see female superheroes, female-directed blockbusters, and movies with a largely female cast. Maybe one day this lesson will actually stick in studio executives' heads. As if to hammer home the point, Girls Trip arrived in late July and absolutely dominated the marketplace, serving a largely undernourished target audience. In a summer where nearly every comedy tanked, Girls Trip thankfully showed that the right concept + right cast could still work. At the start of summer, I thought Rough Night would be a big hit, I picked the wrong raunchy female comedy. Oh, and I should also mention how incredibly kick-ass Charlize Theron was in Atomic Blonde, giving Keanu's John Wick a real run for his money.
SUPERHEROES ARE HERE TO STAY
The only sure thing these days at the box office are comic book and superhero flicks. It is incredibly important for studios to get these right. Spend the time and money to make them good, put them in the hands of talented filmmakers, and watch the money roll in. Marvel really has the formula down (Guardians 2 and Spidey were both fantastic; especially Spidey, which quickly became both my favorite flick of the summer and the best Spider-Man movie yet in one deft, funny swoop), and DC finally proved its chops with Wonder Woman. Whether or not November's Justice League undoes all that is yet to be decided, but I'll never bet against Marvel. Thor Ragnarok, out later this year, looks like a real blast.
NETFLIX IS STILL WORKING OUT THE KINKS
Netflix swung for the big leagues this summer with the releases of Brad Pitt's War Machine, Bong Joon-ho's Okja, and Adam Wingard's Death Note. All three were mid-budget, fairly expensive films designed to make a huge splash for the streaming provider. Okja was a real delight, even though it couldn't quite live up to the director's last film, Snowpiercer. But, War Machine and Death Note were duds - the kinds of movies that other studios were wise to avoid greenlighting. They would have tanked in theaters. At least Netflix gave them home, But, if it wants to be respected for movies as much as it is for TV shows, Netflix is going to need to do a lot better. That being said, I loved its 3-part documentary series, Five Came Back.
I'm sure there are other lessons learned, but let's move on. How 'bout some superlatives?
BEST SOUNDTRACK: Baby Driver. I had to buy the Vinyl.
BEST GAME OF THRONES GAG: Logan Lucky
GIVE THIS MAN AN OSCAR: Andy Serkis, War for the Planet of the Apes
AUDIENCES ARE HUNGRY FOR ORIGINALITY: Baby Driver, The Big Sick, Girls Trip, Dunkirk
BUT DON'T GET TOO CRAZY WITH ORIGINALITY: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
MOST OVERRATED: It Comes at Night; The Beguiled
SHOULD HAVE BEEN A BIGGER HIT: Logan Lucky
SWING AND AN OSCAR MISS: Detroit
FRANCHISE OUT OF GAS: Cars 3
BEST PICTURE FRONT-RUNNER: Dunkirk
BEST ANIMATED MOVIE: Captain Underpants
WHAT THE EVER-LIVING FUCK??!: The Book of Henry - seriously, just read the plot synopsis.
TOO SHORT: The Dark Tower
TOO LONG: Transformers: The Last Knight
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Ray Romano, The Big Sick
WHAT YEAR IS IT - 1996?: The Hitman's Bodyguard
Next up: Box Office Game! Back in April, I looked into my crystal ball and tried to predict the Top 10 grossing movies of the summer, as well as the flops. How did I do? Let's examine. As of today, these are the 10 highest grossing movies (in domestic box office) this summer:
- Wonder Woman ($406M)
- Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 ($389M)
- Spider-Man: Homecoming ($319M)
- Despicable Me 3 ($255M)
- Dunkirk ($173M)
- Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales ($172M)
- Cars 3 ($149M)
- War for the Planet of the Apes ($143M)
- Transformers: The Last Knight ($130M)
- Girls Trip ($109M)
And, here were my predictions back in April:
- Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 ($400M). Pretty spot-on in terms of dollar amount. I may have underestimated Wonder Woman a bit (then again, who didn't?), but this was a solid choice. If anything Wonder Woman over-performed.
- Despicable Me 3 ($330M). I knew it would be a hit, but I think I gave it too much credit and didn't account for sequelitis. Not much distinguished Part 3 from any of the other movies. Still, it did really well worldwide, so don't feel too bad for the Minions or Universal. Despicable Me 4 and Minions 2 will be here before you know it.
- Spider-Man: Homecoming ($275M). I nailed the ranking, if not the gross. Even with Marvel's track record, I wasn't prepared for how much I would love this movie. I think the final box office tally reflects that it was so well-received and liked, it was able to overcome any Spider-Man fatigue given that this was the third take on the character in the last 10 years.
- Wonder Woman ($250M). I knew it would be a hit, but the variables escaped me. This was the freshest superhero flick out there because audiences had been dying to see this character on the big screen for years. It came out at the right time, and delivered on every front. It rode a wave of good buzz and became the movie that everyone you know went to see. Happy to see it do so well.
- War for the Planet of the Apes ($240M). I overshot this one by about $100M. It had the reviews. It had the quality. I thought it would at least outgross the last installment, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Maybe it was just too dark and depressing. Or maybe the time for this Apes franchise has passed. It certainly went out on a high note though and the series established itself as one of the great sci-fi trilogies of our time. Maybe it might even sneak its way into the Best Picture circle. Maybe, but probably not.
- Transformers: The Last Knight ($220M). This one really tanked. I think it surprised a lot of folks. True, the Transformers movies are despised by critics. And yes, Age of Extinction marked a big step down from what Dark of the Moon made. Maybe the time has passed. Doesn't bode well for Paramount or its planned spin-off films. Glad to see that audiences are growing smarter and starting to avoid these. I should have given the American public more credit.
- Cars 3 ($200M). Another ranking nailed, but Pixar has to be disappointed with only making $149M. That's just not very good. Should have at least made what I predicted. It ended the Cars series on an okay note though, and brought a modicum of respectability back, but hopefully, Pixar can finally move on from Cars and focus on more original films.
- Dunkirk ($180M). Bullseye.
- The Mummy ($160M). Hoo-boy. Oops. It barely cleared half of that. Maybe audiences just prefer Brendan Fraser?
- Baywatch ($140M). When I predicted this, I expected Baywatch to reach 21 Jump Street levels of greatness. The Rock scored the last two summers with San Andreas and Central Intelligence. This seemed so much more fun than Johnny Depp going back to the Pirates well, which came out the same weekend. Then I saw the movie and hated it, and knew right away that it would never make the Top 10. I was right to think that a comedy would take this last spot though. And while I wasn't shocked that Girls Trip connected, I certainly didn't think it would clear $100M and end up where it did on the list.
Okay, folks. That's all I've got for now. See everybody at the theaters this Fall!
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