The official end of summer may be weeks away, but let's face it, Hollywood gave up on the season last weekend with the release of Rise of the Planet of the Apes. James Franco's surprisingly successful monkey movie sent the summer out with a screech and at an internet meme (Why cookie Rocket?) and that means it's time to take a look back at what happened during this year's heat wave.
We're not here to dissect which movie was the biggest box office winner of the summer (with $348 million earned and counting it was definitely Harry Potter) or which movie the critics loved most (oddly enough, also Harry Potter), we have loftier ambitions. The biggest blockbuster movie going season of the year often has implications beyond the numbers, so here we are to break down who came out of the summer smelling like a rose, and who came out Ryan Reynolds. These are the biggest winners and losers of Summer 2011, as we see them.
Winner: R-rated Comedy
It wasn't just The Hangover Part II that managed to piggyback on The Hangover's success this summer. A lot of very famous people were saying some very dirty, very funny things on camera this year, reviving the R-rated comedy in a way that even Judd Apatow might not have been able to predict. Sure, the dreadful The Hangover Part II is the most successful of these, but Bridesmaids was a massive hit at $166 million domestic, and Horrible Bosses-- which used the R-rating to give Charlie Day a chance to be even more funny and ridiculous than he can on TV's It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia-- isn't far behind with $106 million.
Even Bad Teacher, which opened to OK reviews and a middling first weekend, has made $186 million worldwide, making it Cameron Diaz's biggest hit in a lead role since Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle in 2003. In a time when most action movies turn themselves into pretzels trying to avoid R ratings, comedies are fully embracing them, becoming funnier and, somehow, more lucrative in the process. It's one of this summer's most promising trends.
Loser: Pixar's Reputation
For 15 years, the name "Pixar" was always a sure thing, a promise of movies that wouldn't just quiet restless kids for an hour and a half, that wouldn't just entertain grown-ups in the process, but would somehow advance storytelling and animation and bravura filmmaking in a way you'd never expect. Pixar was the magic factory, and every movie they turned out seem to break the mold all over again, whether turning the superhero genre on its ear or making a boxy robot into a romantic hero.
Then this summer came Cars 2, the worst reviewed of Pixar's films and, so far, the lowest grossing since A Bug's Life. The movie is still a hit, of course, and Disney/Pixar will make a mint off the popular toys, but the bloom is definitely off the Pixar rose, meaning that for the first time in years, the studio has something to prove. If their next film Brave is also not up to the usual standard, we'll have to start seriously worrying that the great Pixar era is actually over
Winner: The Legacy Of Freaks & Geeks
You wanna know what the worst thing in the world for a sports fan is? When your favorite team trades away a promising rookie, and he turns into a complete stud. Every drained three pointer is like a little needle prick and every behind the back pass a slow motion fuck you. I actually feel bad for NBC. Eleven years ago, the network was broadcasting Freaks And Geeks, a brilliant, Emmy-nominated show less than seven million people bothered watching each week. They cancelled it, only to watch producer Judd Apatow brand himself, stars Seth Rogen, James Franco and Jason Segel turn themselves into household names, Linda Cardellini land a principal roll in the successful Scooby Doo franchise, Martin Starr destroy on Party Down and Busy Phillips wind up on Cougar Town.
Still, the guilt must have been manageable, at least until this summer when Freaks And Geeks main character John Francis Daley wrote the wonderful comedy Horrible Bosses, creator Paul Feig directed the brilliant and commercially successful Bridesmaids and Samm Levine appeared on Doug Benson's best-selling new comedy album. What else can you do but laugh now? It's no longer an issue of Freaks And Geeks having had a few great cast members, every single goddamn person on the show pathologically started destroying life the second it was cancelled. For the sake of decency, I probably shouldn't mention that Franco's Planet Of The Apes made a fortune last weekend and Segel's new Muppet movie looks amazing, but I just can't help myself.
Winner: The Past
There's no time like the past, at least that's what this summer proved. In an era where most big-budget event films try and look as hip and updated as possible, several studios gambled the past few months and wound their focuses backward. Their efforts gifted audiences with more than a few better than expected offerings, and they were rewarded handsomely with generous returns. No doubt the money men will attempt to look for a specific formula to reproduce amidst all these revisionist history goldmines, but the truly remarkable thing is they may not find one more specific than "the past".
Super 8 was a monster movie set in 1979, Captain America, a superhero movie during World War II. Transformers: Dark Of The Moon was an adapted children's series with an origin story from the 1960s, X-Men: First Class was another superhero movie, this one taking place during the Cuban Missile Crisis and Midnight In Paris was a romantic comedy/ fantasy/ time travel story mainly highlighting the 1920s. Yes, for one of the first times in his life, Woody Allen, perhaps unintentionally, joined the philistines in subject matter and wound up with the most financially successful film of his entire career. You can't make this shit up. As someone who loves history, I can't get enough of this recent development, but talk to me again in two years when the byproducts of this revisionist history craze start flooding the marketplace and I have to review Big Mommas House 4: Gots To Get Myself One Of Them Pyramids .
Losers: Horror Fans
The only thing scary about Summer 2011 was the utter lack of legitimate terrors waiting for horror fans at the multiplex. Paul Bettany's Priest was the only bona-fide horror film released wide over the summer months (a few markets were lucky enough to receive John Carpenter's The Ward), and that one went over like a lead balloon.
Studios, instead, opted for creature features like Super 8 and Cowboys & Aliens, but even those were light on chills and skin-crawling moments. Maybe Hollywood figured we needed a few months to recover from Insidious, which remains one of the scariest films I've seen in years. And August is trying to rectify the horror drought by cramming in Fright Night and a fifth Final Destination. But horror fanatics have every right to say, “Too little too late” after being forced to wait all summer for a memorable scare.
Marvel Studios' movie to-do list had two items on it – introduce Thor and Captain America to mainstream audiences ahead of next summer's The Avengers – and the fledgling studio checked both off with ease. Directors Kenneth Branagh and Joe Johnston delivered origin stories for Thor and Cap, respectively, that worked as standalone adventures while also adding vital pieces to the ever-forming Avengers puzzle.
It's also remarkable how the two films mirror each other critically and financially. Thor posted a 77% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and nabbed $180.8 million domestically, while Captain America: The First Avenger scored a 79% Fresh and has earned $146.8M to date. That bodes well for Joss Whedon's pending Avengers film, due in theaters next May. And while Matthew Vaughn's X-Men: First Class had absolutely nothing to do with the Avengers initiative, that prequel's successes only helps the Marvel Comics brand, overall.
Winner: Beyond The Trilogy Franchises
From The Godfather to Back to the Future to Star Wars movie going audiences are used to seeing films in trilogy form, but this summer some of the biggest winners were those films that went beyond movie #3. Between Fast Five (Budget: $125 million, International Gross: $604 million); Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (Budget: $250 million, International Gross: $1.037 billion); X-Men: First Class (Budget: $160 million, International Gross: $349 million); and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (Budget: approximately $125 million, International Gross: $1.134 billion and growing), these kind of franchise movies made $2.464 billion at the global box office.
Even more impressive, these films, with the exception of Pirates, won over critics as well, three of the four films earning an average score of 87% on Rotten Tomatoes. Some people may complain about seeing the same characters over and over again on screen, but if your character was making their fourth, fifth, six or seventh performance during the summer of 2011, you were in the right place at the right time.
Losers: People Who Saw The Smurfs Instead Of Winnie The Pooh
In many ways the two projects are very similar: both are movies based on classic, beloved source material that features a group of characters that are specifically defined by a single trait. But there is one huge, outstanding difference between Winnie The Pooh and The Smurfs: the former is one of the best films to come out this year, while the latter will end up being considered one of the worst. What's devastating is that The Smurfs had a huge opening weekend and an already guaranteed sequel, while Pooh opened against Harry Potter and only made $7.8 million in its first three days.
That said, Winnie The Pooh isn't the loser here, it's everyone who went to go see The Smurfs instead. By refusing to modernize the characters, directors Don Hall and Stephen J. Anderson crafted their A.A. Milne adaptation as a timeless and beautiful work that was perfect for both children and adults. Raja Gosnell's take on Peyo's work, however, had the little blue creatures playing Guitar Hero and rapping over Run DMC. If you saw The Smufrs instead of Winnie The Pooh this summer, it's your loss.
Summer 2011 was the year that audiences, at last, started to revolt against 3D. Tired of higher ticket prices and ready to relive the good old days when they could watch movies without glasses, time and again audiences seemed to seek out 2D tickets instead of 3D. Harry Potter fans, for instance, snatched up 2D tickets to the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 at a faster pace than they bought 3D ones, even though 3D showings were often in the biggest and best features. Most cited a desire to finish the franchise the way they started it, without the third dimension.
Fast Five was one of the early frontrunners for biggest movie of the year, and it did it without a 3D option. Factor in the inflated cost of 3D tickets and the truth is that 2D Fast Five was seen by more people than any other movie released this summer, outside of the aforementioned Harry Potter and Michael Bay's unstoppable Transformers juggernaut. People continue to see movies in 3D, in some cases because they have no choice and in others because it's actually occasionally good (thanks for that Captain America), but with movies X-Men: First Class making more money than competing 3D movies selling tickets at a higher price, it seems clearer than ever that 2D is not only alive and well, but wanted by audiences.
Loser: Ryan Reynolds
I like Ryan Reynolds. Scratch that, I love Ryan Reynolds. He's been the best thing about every bad movie he's ever been in, unfortunately bad movies no one wants to see seems to be about all he ever ends up doing. This summer was particularly painful for him, he was the star-power anchor behind not one, but two big-budget, badly reviewed, under-performers. Critics savaged Green Lantern and audiences barely showed up for it. The movie probably won't make back its $200 million budget at the box office, though the studio is still talking about a sequel.
The Change-Up paired Reynolds with Jason Bateman, who entered the fray with one successful summer 2011 comedy (Horrible Bosses) under his belt. The movie sank anyway and ended up as not only one of the worst reviewed movies of the year, but with $18 million earned on a $52 million budget, also one of the biggest flops. It's not clear how long Reynolds can go on like this, the guy's obviously a talent but Hollywood can only take this kind bleeding so long before he's relegated to supporting roles. Summer 2011 may end up as the year the whole Ryan Reynolds thing was kind of over. Hey Ryan, maybe now's a good time to try something edgy. How about Deadpool?