It's no secret that, up until the release of Toy Story 3 last weekend, the summer of 2010 had been a massive disappointment. Box office totals are down and suddenly, spending time in the summer sunshine seems far more appealing that lining up to sit inside a crowded movie theater. People aren't showing up for what Hollywood has to offer and critics seem to loathe this summer mess even more than usual.
This summer's been a mess and we think we know why. There are lessons to be learned here. More importantly we want to keep it from happening again. Summer's movie going is supposed to be fun, and before we have to sit through another one like this one, we're hoping Hollywood will take our advice on how to do it right. We know why this summer's movies are a bust, and here's how to fix it next time.
Some ideas are eternal. We'll probably never get sick of James Bond movies. But others, like Robin Hood, we can only watch so many times before we're ready to move on to something else. If you want to play it safe, come up with something original. Or you can make the same, endless string of movies in which a single man is forced to take care of a child. Or you could do what both Knight & Day and Killers did in the same summer by reusing the tired, old, spy teams up with an average woman and drags her into the spy game premise. It was pretty awesome back when True Lies did it. In fact it was so awesome that Cameron's movie had it covered and we never really needed to see it again. Yet here we are in the summer of 2010 with not one, but two movies using that same old, worn out premise. Next summer we'll probably have two more. Come up with a new idea. Or, if you're incapable of that, try coming up with a new variation on that same idea. Here's a thought: Make the spy a woman and turn the awkward, fish out of water into a man. See? It's not hard.
Adam Sandler's movies have made so much money that he now has the power to round up some of his buddies, stand around a lake with them goofing off, hire pal Dennis Dugan to film it all and call it Grown Ups, a movie he expects people to pay and see. It'd be one thing to fund their summer vacation if the movie were actually funny, but apparently Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, Rob Schneider and David Spade figured they were above putting together a screenplay and actual characters, and chose just to fall down and make fart jokes instead. Sandler has made some good movies, sure, but Grown Ups is a clear instance of a studio letting a star do whatever he wants and figuring they'll make a profit anyway. Memo to Sony and Sandler: that's how you start losing the audiences you worked so hard to build. Stop stroking star egos and letting them take advantage of moviegoers in the process.
It's one thing to keep making superhero movies, it's another to keep making the same superhero movies. John Wayne made a lot of westerns, but he didn't play a one-eyed alcoholic US Marshall in all of them. This summer Tony Stark made the jump from carefree inventor to son trying desperately to live up to the expectations of his dead father. Sound familiar? Maybe it's because you've seen Spider-Man, Superman, Wolverine or Batman. And if you haven't seen those, don't worry, it'll sound familiar later when you see Green Hornet, Green Lantern, or Thor. Yep, they all have issues with their dads too. It just seems like there should be something else to explore there. Maybe if someone had found it, Iron Man 2 would have been the crowd pleaser the world was hoping for, instead of just this movie everyone saw and then sort of forgot. Easy to understand, they're all starting to run together.
We didn't need this summer to tell us that movies based on video games suck. But it was reasonable to wonder if, perhaps, it was only because no one had put much effort into them. Enter Prince of Persia, shot on location with lavish sets, big stars, and big special effects. Disney spent more than $200 million on their Jake Gyllenhaal game adaptation. It didn't matter. We'd have all been just as well off re-watching Doom. You can't fault them, it was worth a shot. Now we know. Lesson learned. It doesn't matter how you do it, it doesn't matter how much money you pour into it, it doesn't even matter who you get to star in it: video game movies suck. It'll never work. Let's stop doing them. Moving on.
We first started hearing hints of trouble with Jonah Hex late last year, and eventually it was sent back for reshoots to fix a movie that the studio didn't think was good enough to release as is. Instead of going through all that trouble, they probably should have just shot it out of a canon. Whether Jonah Hex was any good before the studio started meddling is anyone's guess, but what's certain is that studio interference, and reshoots of any kind for that matter, almost never make it better. Odds are if the movie wasn't good, and if the studio didn't like it before the reshoots, they won't like it after. Jonah Hex was an unforgiveable mess by the time it hit theaters, everyone saw through it, and nobody bothered to show up to see it. Next time don't bother to release it. We're better off at home watching Hell's Kitchen.
The A-Team marketed itself as an action movie, but does it really count as action if all I see on screen is a bunch of jumbled limbs moving back and forth while the camera shakes around? Does it count as an action movie if the big finale revolves around watching a CGI crane move a bunch of CGI boxes back and forth for twenty-minutes? If so then dock workers are all action heroes. No, I'm pretty sure that's not an action movie. I think what you have there is a bunch of mildly comedic one-liners interspersed amongst a bunch of meaningless confusion. If you're going to make an action movie, rule number one should be letting your audience see a bunch of really awesome, wildly cool, action. The one-liners are nice, and we're glad to have them, but mostly we want to actually see someone punched in the face. I don't think that's too much to ask.
Just because a movie makes a lot of money doesn't mean it needs a sequel. Even then, it needs to be the right sequel. There's a reason it took Pixar more than a decade to follow-up with Buzz and Woody, and it's the same reason nobody showed up to see Sex and the City 2. Pixar waited to let interest build for Toy Story 3, and while they waited, came up with a good story. Sex and the City rushed another sequel out the door as soon as some Arab prince wandered over the studio and offered them a bunch of money to trivialize the mistreatment of women in the middle east by reducing it a bunch of shoe-shopping clichés. Is it any wonder no one showed up to see it? Sex and the City used up all its potential juice after the first movie. Worse Shrek used its up after two, yet didn't seem to notice even after everyone hated the third one. Before making a sequel ask yourself this simple question Hollywood: Does anyone who doesn't stand to profit off it, actually want to see it?
I love a good shit joke as much as the next guy. I laughed my ass off when Austin Powers mistook poop for coffee and then wondered why it tasted a bit nutty. But I need more in my movies than a series of bits revolving around a mulleted idiot shoving things up his butt. If I want that, that's why they make the Jackass movies. MacGruber had a pretty good thing going for it on SNL as a MacGyver parody but when it came time to turn him into a movie, all that went out the window in favor of increasingly less funny scat jokes and ass produce. I suppose it was in its own stupid way funny, but shit veggies and Cunth jokes aren't enough to get people into a movie, at least not unless you work in few more boobies. Welcome to America.
You know what doesn't work, here's what does: Making a real, genuine, emotional connection with your audience. Toy Story 3 and The Karate Kid seem to be the only two movies this summer that people agree on being pretty good, and they've been rewarded with solid box office attendance. What do they have that all of this summer's disappointments don't? Heart. Make an emotional connection with your audience, give them a few real, honest to god feelings, and they'll respond. Toy Story 3 does it with layered, heart-wrenching complexity, but it doesn't have to be that hard. Karate Kid does it simply with a teacher, a student, and a few life lessons. Sure you could shake your camera around and tell everyone something cool is happening, but why bother when that almost never works. Keep it real Hollywood and we'll walk out smiling.