Written by: Kristen Lopez, Editor in Chief
There’s debate on when exactly the summer season officially ends. Some say it’s when school starts in the middle of August, others go so far as Labor Day weekend in September. I’m not going to quibble on when the summer ends but it explains a few films that will be included in this analysis of the summer films of 2012. To sum it all up, this summer was lackluster. The big event movies were filled with divisive reviews and a slew of films that didn’t live up financially at the box office. Within this State of the Summer 2012 we’ll look at some themes found in this summer’s slate of movies before I give my Top 5 Favorite Movies of the Summer. Sad to see 2012’s summer close with a whimper but we can officially start anticipating the summer of 2013.
The summer actually opened with a boom in early May with Joss Whedon’s Avengers, a film that is cited as the highlight of the summer. It definitely set the bar high for all future tentpoles over the last three months and sadly, whilst being compared to Whedon’s film, no subsequent film managed to have the acclaim of Avengers. For a film opening at the beginning of May, proof that the summer starts earlier every year, Avengers managed to gross over $617 million dollars as of this writing. Sadly, in discussing the Avengers this leads to our first theme of the summer.
Divisive Tent Poles
One could say you see this every summer but considering the huge movies that opened this summer, including the highly anticipated conclusion to the Christopher Nolan/Batman franchise and the return of the Alien series, there was widespread animosity and indecision on whether those two films were revelatory or utter garbage. I hadn’t seen such back and forth since Avatar came out. Prometheus and The Dark Knight Rises were two of the major films that saw reviewers taking sides with headlines proclaiming each film as the best or the worst ever made and depending on one’s stance the comments in these reviews ranged from cries of “Thank you” to the occasional death threat. While Ridley Scott and Christopher Nolan were at the forefront other films deemed the highlights of various studios also met resistance including Sony’s reboot of the Spider-Man franchise, The Amazing Spiderman, and PIXAR’s princess story Brave. It could say something about the strength of hype and audience’s increasing awareness and refusal to be taken in or it could show that these films simply couldn’t overcome their flaws but the brutal indecisiveness mars this summer and its films.
There are flops every year but these three movies were big flops and could signal audiences increasing ambivalence to tired movie musicals, board games turned movies and the dreaded remake. The film with the most resounding flop is Battleship, the Peter Berg directed film based on a toy involving pegs! Battleship could be the worst film of the year but I’m sure no one’s kicking themselves worse than the studio that put it out, Universal, who only got $65 million back on their $209 million dollar budget as rumored by Box Office Mojo. Battleship was already an extremely silly premise for a movie and audiences knew it had zip to do with the board game but add on an alien premise and the star of Disney’s maligned John Carter and you had a recipe for disaster. Another flop albeit on a lesser monetary scale was Warner Brothers and New Line’s adaptation of the Broadway musical Rock of Ages. It had a $75 million dollar budget and accrued $38 million of it back. Audiences had to be turned off by the C-list actors as the leads and Tom Cruise looking crazy (although he was the best part). It’ll be interesting to see where musicals go after this, especially considering Les Miserables in December, and what this signals for Tom Cruise’s continuing lack of appeal at the box office. We also continue to show proof of audience’s weariness of remake with the lackluster Total Recall which has so far managed to make back only $53 million on its $125 million budget. It’ll be interesting to see if any of these flops end up having an effect on Hollywood’s future because there’s no one to blame for these flops other than Hollywood’s lack of creativity.
The Marginalization of the Indie
Again, doesn’t this happen every year? Sadly it felt that the independent movies were harder to come by this year with every theater showing one movie in three different formats whether it be digital, Ultimate XD, or 3D. While there were several independent films that got mass marketing from Moonrise Kingdom to Beasts of the Southern Wild, you’d be hard pressed to find those playing in a theater this summer for less than a week with the huge slate of event pictures that came out. With the increase in various ways to see a film, the aforementioned HD and 3D, independent films are moving back to the arthouse theaters to audiences’ detriment. Hopefully, come awards time these films will see re-releases to bigger theaters without the competition from the summer films.
Where Were the Laughs?
With all this talk of event films the comedy genre really seemed to suffer this summer. There were several comedies out but several of them got horrid reviews and never broke-out as “hits” except for Seth McFarland’s teddy bear comedy Ted which made $214 million as of this writing on a $50 million budget! Other anticipated comedies like The Dictator, Dark Shadows, and The Watch failed to garner much outside a good opening weekend and a quiet retreat from theaters. Oh and you know the slate of comedies is weak when Adam Sandler has a movie out, in this case it was his attempt to time-travel back to his career in the 90s with That’s My Boy which thankfully died a quick death.
And for the Ladies…
Last summer saw the breakout smash that was Bridesmaids, a film that has already generated a string of failed imitators (see my review of Bachelorette from last week). This summer the ladies got a mix of movies to see but none that had the “girl-power” or change of last year’s films. In fact the films marketed to women were formulaic in all the wrong ways from the “pregnancy is funny” comedy What to Expect When Your Expecting to the tired, conventional princess stories Brave and Snow White and the Huntsmen. The biggest surprise was Magic Mike, a film that had writers proclaiming “Women Go to the Movies” like that was a surprise! Magic Mike has to be a feather in the cap for Warner Brother as its made $112 million dollars on an investment of $7 million. Yes, Magic Mike was made for only $7 million dollars. And yet women came out in droves to see a gang of men without a shirt grinding on things for two hours. I’m not condemning them but in a summer where there wasn’t a huge female led film that wasn’t animated or starred a Twilight actress, it’s kind of sad.
My Top 5 Of the Summer
ParaNorman skirts the line on being a summer film but I had to include it as it is one of the best animated films of the year and saved the summer for me. The story of a kid who can see the dead an saves his town from a witch’s curse has heart, humor, and a love of 70s horror. Go see it!
2. Safety Not Guaranteed
This was the only independent film I could see which makes me sad but it’s such a quirky, charming film. It follows a group of journalists trying to find a man seeking a partner to time travel. The story is original, the laughs are genuine, and the ending will either leave you cheering or saying “Really, how?”
I expected to hate this movie because I hate Family Guy; and yet I laughed my ass off! Ted (voiced by McFarland) is hysterical as a character and mixes crass humor with heart. The relationships feel fleshed out and there are still one-liners I use from this film (“thanks for creeping out my night”).
4. The Avengers
I put this so low on the list because I only saw it once back in May. I’m sure once I buy the DVD and rewatch it’ll rank higher. The story was fantastic and the various characters all pulled off their roles with aplomb, even Scarlett Johansson who I was VERY skeptical about.
5. The Dark Knight Rises
Sadly I put this at five as it was the only movie from this summer I thought was good. Not great, good. There’s some heavy flaws with this film including the entire final five minutes but the film was grand and epic in scope in a summer that seemed to lack both.
Author: Kristen Lopez, Editor in Chief
Kristen Lopez is the editor-in-chief of CC2K and a freelance pop culture essayist. Her work has appeared on Roger Ebert, The Hollywood Reporter, and The Daily Beast. When she’s not burning down Film Twitter she runs two podcasts, the female-centric film show Citizen Dame, and the classic film-themed Ticklish Business.