by Gabriel Storment (@SeaStorm24)
The leaves are changing, kids are going back to school, the west coast is on fire… it must be the end of summer. Unfortunately, that also means the Summer Movie season is drawing to a close. In what has become the norm, the home stretch of the most exciting movie season of the year was again the most lackluster. The only movies that made any real waves at the box office were released at the beginning of August. I’ll cover those briefly, but for the final installment of the Summer Movie Scoreboard, we’re also going to recap the season as a whole and name some overall winners and losers.
Right about now, somewhere between Kirk Douglas Drive and James Stewart Avenue, some rich old white guys are sitting around in plush leather chairs, smoking Cuban cigars, and swirling 50 year old cognac in self-congratulatory splendor.
As of August 17th, Universal had brought in $5.77 billion at the box office, thanks in no small part to blockbusters Jurassic World, Furious 7 and Straight Outta Compton. This is by no means a long standing record. The previous mark was set by Fox in 2014 at $5.52 billion. Prior to that, Warner Bros. held the title when they took in $5.04 in 2013. Business is indeed booming, but as we’ve discussed, that isn’t necessarily good news for movies in general. It doesn’t actually mean more people are going to the movies. A combination of big-budget tentpoles created from existing properties and rising prices for both standard screen tickets and IMAX and 3D tickets have contributed to the windfall.
STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON
The biopic has become the surprise hit of the summer, earning an impressive $60 million in its opening weekend. That’s more than the debuts of Fury Road or MI5, respectively. The decision to omit some of the darker chapters of NWA’s story from the film (Dr. Dre’s assault on Dee Barnes was included in the original script) have taken some of the luster off what is probably the summer’s biggest surprise, but there’s no denying Compton gets top marks for nostalgia. I married a Valley Girl who grew up during the period and the giddiness was palpable during the Skateland scene. She said she misses everything but the bangs.
Cruise has a franchise all to himself in Mission Impossible. They seem to have found the right tone with the last two sequels, adding just the right combination of humor and supporting personalities to punctuate the is-he-really-doing-that action scenes and offset Cruise’s impervious earnestness.
There were three moments this summer when I found myself giggling with glee like a kid in a movie theater because of how much fun I was having. The first was The Rock flexing through his cast in Furious 7. The second was Tom Hardy swinging back and forth from the end of a 30-foot pole while speeding across the desert. The third was the motorcycle chase in MI5. There’s a moment when Cruise speeds around a tight corner and his knee scrapes the pavement. It was as if he did it just for the audience; his way of winking at the camera and saying, “Pretty cool, right?”
Yes, Tom. Very cool.
These days I make an effort to avoid any spoiler-y information that makes its way onto the internet. It’s an almost impossible task when trailers, set pics, casting news, plot details, etc. are hunted down and exposed like a reality star’s extra-marital online profile. For some reason people love getting information on movies before they come out. Fanboys are kind of like Edward Snowden, blasting information about movies across the internet as it becomes available. But where Snowden believes his actions are to serve the greater good (and I’m not here to say whether you should agree with him or not), the fanboys are only out to get the scoop. It’s lazy junkyard dog journalism. Not as sleazy as paparazzi photos, but just as annoying for a curmudgeon like me who still likes an element of surprise when I go to the movies.
Please forgive the tangent, but with Fantastic 4, it was impossible to avoid the collective “WTF is this?” coming from fans and critics alike, even before production wrapped. There have been a few duds this summer, and F4 won’t end up a complete financial disaster thanks to overseas markets, but no other movie released this season was as confusing and insulting to audiences.
WE ARE YOUR FRIENDS
Did anyone even know this movie about EDM DJs (or are they MCs? I’m admittedly a square and not hip to that rave scene) existed? All evidence would point to the negative, as the movie had one of the worst openings for a wide release in history ($1.7 million in 2,333 theaters.) That is not a title you want to hold.
SUMMER SEASON WINNERS
I still can’t believe the doughy doofus from Parks and Rec is now one of the biggest movie stars in the world. He currently resides in the Channing Tatum Sweet Spot (CTSS): in demand for all the movies, guys want to hang out with him, and girls want to do naughty things to him.
He’s currently in production on a reboot of The Magnificent Seven with Denzel Washington, a previous CTSS resident, and after that he’s scheduled to shoot sequels for Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World. Not too shabby for a guy who used to live out of a van in Hawaii, waiting tables at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.
Women aren’t dominating the box office, which shouldn’t come as a surprise, but five of the twelve highest grossing movies this summer were led by strong female characters. This is absolutely a good thing. Inside Out, Pitch Perfect 2, Mad Max: Fury Road (which I still think should’ve been called The Fast and The Furiosa,) Spy, and Trainwreck all brought in huge numbers.
The only person to star in two movies (Furious 7 and San Andreas) that ranked in the top ten in box office receipts for the summer is, of course, The People’s Champion. Furious 7 was released on April 1st, so technically it may not have been a summer movie. But if you really want to get technical, summer doesn’t officially begin until June 21st, and if we went by that starting point, six out of the top ten movies this summer would be disqualified. So it counts.
The Rock is already slated to star in four movies in 2016, including a remake of Big Trouble in Little China as Jack Burton, which I’m still uneasy about. There’s a subtlety that Kirk Russell brought to Burton’s oblivious hero. We’ll see what Mr. Rock brings to the table for a role like that. If he keeps saving puppies from drowning, I’ll come around.
SUMMER SEASON LOSERS
I want to give America a high five for refusing to embrace this lazy cash grab. The filmmakers were trying to push all the right nostalgia buttons while delivering a gross-out, shock value, road trip comedy. None of it worked. There was more nostalgia in the Infinity ad with Christie Brinkley and Ethan Embry (once I realized, “holy crap that’s Ethan Embry!”).
Perfectly sane Randy Quaid has released a couple straight-to-dvd Vacation spinoffs as Cousin Eddie, but this was the first attempt at a major theatrical reboot (Vegas Vacation was even pushing it). We all know Hollywood is lazy and loves “reimagining” existing properties, but lately they seem to be moving ahead with remakes of movies I loved as a child. I’m leery of Ghostbusters, despite the fantastic casting and Paul Feig’s track record. And I’m still on the fence about the aforementioned Big Trouble in Little China.
This guy may have had the worst summer of all. There have been troubled productions before. Sometimes, the finished product is a success and something people like and want to see. For example, World War Z was delayed six months, required reshoots and an entirely rewritten third act before ultimately earning over $500 million worldwide. Fantastic 4 was not so fortunate. You could say it was “Dr. Doomed from the start!” (Sorry, please keep reading. I’m almost done.)
How much of the failure lies at Trank’s feet is arguable, but the grumblings that came from the set during shooting were enough to get his name pulled from the director’s chair of the second Star Wars anthology film. Dropping the ball on a Marvel superhero franchise and then getting the hook from Lucasfilm in the span of a couple months is rough. But the guy is only 30 years old and his first movie, Chronicle, was widely praised. He’ll make a comeback. Hollywood loves a good comeback story.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Say Anything, Singles, Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous – Crowe owns a pretty stellar list of screenwriting credits. There’s a combination of elements that come together just right when Crowe’s movies work that makes you get that fuzzy, warm feeling inside. That’s why they’re so rewatchable. The music, the dialogue, the performances all come together to make something more than just the genre flick it seems to be at first watch. Fast Times and Say Anything are more than just high school comedies. Jerry Maguire is more than just a romantic comedy. Almost Famous is more than just a coming of age tale.
His last few films though, haven’t quite hit the mark. I don’t think anyone can say they want to watch Vanilla Sky again. Elizabethtown and We Bought a Zoo were also forgettable. Aloha is his most stupefying effort to date. A story that jumps confusingly between genres and an at times incoherent storyline resulted in a sixth place debut at the box office and terrible reviews. If you were a studio head and pitched a Cameron Crowe script set in Hawaii starring Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, and Bill Murray, you’d have to think it was a sure thing, right? Unfortunately, even with his resume, Crowe needs to start makin’ ‘em like he used to.
. . .
That’ll do it for the summer movie season and the Summer Movie Scoreboard. Overall, it was an entertaining season. The top earners were obviously the reboots and sequels, but like always, some smaller, quality releases got sprinkled in and overlooked by general audiences. Movies like Love and Mercy, Cop Car, and Mr. Holmes among others are definitely worth checking out. The fall movie season is just about to kick off so there are still plenty of flicks to look forward to seeing at the theater.