Fan expectations coming into the summer of 2012 were perhaps a little out of control. Okay, they were waaaaaay out of control. All of the talk seemed to focus on how the lineup of blockbuster films was comparable to the greatest summer movie season of all-time — the summer of 1982.
And why shouldn’t we have thought that? After all, we were getting an Avengers movie! Ridley Scott, who directed two of the greatest sci-fi movies of all-time, Alien and Blade Runner, was finally returning to the Alien universe to reveal the origin of the “space jockey” and blow our minds! Christopher Nolan was ready to unleash the final film in his Batman trilogy; a movie that would be even darker and more epic than The Dark Knight! All of that plus a new Spider-man film, a new Pixar movie, a resurrection of the Bourne franchise, Will Smith back on the big screen in another MIB, Johnny Depp and Tim Burton together again, The Expendables back together, and of course, the return of Tyler Perry’s Madea!!! (Wait — going by those last three things I mentioned, why were we so excited about this summer, exactly?)
Sadly, aside from two or three clean landings, the summer of 2012 crashed and burned, littering the theatrical landscape with burned-out shells that were supposed to soar high and far on glinting wings. After a fast start in May, audiences wilted, culminating in an August that ranked as one of the lowest-grossing summer months on record. What went wrong? What met expectations, and what were the big misfires of summer 2012? Here’s the Geek League of America’s look at the Hits and Misses of the past summer:[divider]
Hit: The Avengers (Duh)
Yeah, you know, this movie did okay, I suppose. Let’s check the tale of the tape: Marvel Studios’ superteam was greeted at the box office with a $207 million opening weekend, which is the biggest opening in movie history. It went on to rack up a gargantuan $621.5 million domestic take, earning an additional $886 million overseas for a staggering worldwide box office gross of $1.5 billion. But the film didn’t just score at the ticket counter, it also rated very high with the critics, earning an unprecendented 92% freshness rating on the review-gathering website Rotten Tomatoes.
The fans, of course, ate up Joss Whedon’s bright and action-packed superhero spectacle like candy, paving the way for the writer/director/producer/uber-nerd to sign a three-year contract with Marvel to write and direct Avengers 2, as well as become the chief “overseer” of the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The future of Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, The Hulk, Black Widow, and Hawkeye is very bright. With Whedon on board, and the promise of fan-favorite villain Thanos threatening the Earth with further cosmic peril, Avengers 2 could easily overtake Avatar as the #1 highest-grossing movie of all-time.[divider]
Peter Berg’s board game adaptation-cum-Naval warships vs. aliens piloting psuedo-transformers flick was easily sussed out by intelligent filmgoers as Michael Bay-Lite dreck, and was soundly rejected by mainstream audiences as well, who ignored it and wisely went back for second and third helpings of The Avengers. The film finished with a domestic box-office haul of only $65 million, which was actually worse than John Carter – the other epic financial bomb also starring “Mr. Box-Office Poison,” Taylor Kitsch.[divider]
Hit AND Miss: Prometheus
To say that Ridley Scott’s return to the Alien universe was polarizing is only scratching the surface. Prometheus turned best friends into hated enemies, tore marriages apart, and lit message boards ablaze with flame wars that stretched across every geek culture website on the Internet.
The film can be considered a minor hit financially with a $225 million worldwide take, which is nearly double its production budget, but from a purely visual standpoint, Prometheus is a definite home run. Ridley Scott perfectly recaptured the dark , haunting, and sumptuous cinematography of Alien, expanding upon it by adding in truly breathtaking digital 3D depth of field.
I also have to put Prometheus in the “miss” category, due to the wildly high expectations fans had for the film, and the poorly constructed screenplay by LOST scribe Damon Lindelf that was riddled with plot holes and unfathomably stupid behavior from its characters. (For more in-depth explanations on these shortcomings, check out my review of Prometheus, and this article I wrote.)[divider]
Hit: The Amazing Spider-Man
I can’t help but think if Sony held off on this Spider-man reboot for another year or two, it would have been an even bigger financial success. As it stands, The Amazing Spider-man did very well considering its competition from the two superhero juggernauts The Dark Knight Rises and The Avengers. It scored almost $750 million worldwide, but more importantly, the film won over fans who were besieged by negative buzz surrounding the reboot.
Blogs and websites constantly questioned the decision Sony made to dump Sam Raimi’s fourth Spider-man film with Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst and reboot the franchise with a first-time director and a new star in Andrew Garfield that most people had never heard of. When early footage was screened, they bemoaned the possibility of an “emo” Spidey who wore hipster glasses and rode a skateboard around. Yet, despite some glaring flaws in the screenplay, and another trip through familiar origin territory, audiences embraced Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, making this new iteration of the web-slinger a hit.[divider]
Channing Tatum (or C-Tates, as the kids call him these days), is on a roll at the box-office. Magic Mike, Tatum’s semi-autobiographical chronicle of the lives of male strippers, was the young actor’s third consecutive $100 million-grossing movie. It drew young women and horny Soccer Moms to the theater in droves with the promise of seeing oiled up pecs and abs, but the critics also enjoyed the compelling narrative and the always interesting direction of Steven Soderberg.[divider]
With the exception of Seth MacFarlane’s directing debut Ted, which was the breakout comedy of 2012 at $217 million, and the political comedy The Campaign ($80 million), there were very few laughs to be found at the cineplex during the dog days of 2012. Ben Stiller’s all-star ensemble/alien invasion comedy The Watch (changed from Neighborhood Watch after the Trayvon Martin shooting) was completely ignored, collecting a meager $34 million on a $70 million budget. Audiences didn’t fall for Sacha Baron Cohen or Adam Sandler’s shtick this Summer either, as both The Dictator and That’s My Boy failed to meet expectations, coming in at $59 million and $36 million respectively.
I’m not sure if Rock of Ages was meant to be intentionally funny, but plenty of people were laughing their asses off at the horrendous trailers, resulting in a pathetic $38 million haul. And last (but certainly least), a word of advice for Tim Burton: if you’re going to try to turn a gothic soap opera like Dark Shadows into a quirky satire, you have to remember to actually make it funny. Also, for the love of all that is good and holy, please make a movie without Johnny Depp next time, ok? Other actors exist.[divider]
Pixar, Dreamworks, and FOX animation know how to put family asses in air-conditioned theater seats, and they all had banner summers. Pixar lead the way with their feisty Scottish herione Princess Merida in Brave ($233 million), Dreamworks was close behind with Madagascar 3 ($215 million), and FOX finished third with Ice Age: Continental Drift ($157 million). While Dreamworks might squeeze out one more crackalackin’ Madagascar sequel, it looks like the glaciers have finally melted, ending the Ice Age. Paranorman, a stop-motion animated film from the Coraline team, was also a critical darling and did quite well for a late-summer animated feature with $47 million and counting.[divider]
Miss: Re-boots and Re-treads
While not a complete disaster, the resurrection of the Bourne franchise wasn’t the dynamic jump-start for a new series of films with Jeremy Renner replacing Matt Damon that Universal was hoping for. It under-performed – just like everything else in August – taking in just over $100 million domestically on a $125 million production budget. There will likely be a fifth Bourne film, but Universal will lobby hard for Matt Damon to re-join the franchise to team up with Renner’s character. The Bourne Buddies?
Total Recall, on the other hand, was D.O.A. Audiences weren’t fooled or distracted by the shiny new coat of paint. They could tell this was a tired, soulless, by-the-numbers, piece of shit that cannibalized better sci-fi films like Blade Runner, Minority Report, and the Star Wars saga. It was completely unnecessary. No one went, resulting in a titanic turdbomb of a movie that couldn’t crack $60 million. (Words cannot express how much I personally loathe this movie.)[divider]
Hit: The Dark Knight Rises
Was Christopher Nolan’s final Batman film a masterpiece? Was it his magnum opus; the epic final chapter to “The Dark Knight” trilogy that everyone had hoped for? Well…not quite. Marred by the tragic theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado during a midnight preview screening, and upstaged earlier in the summer by the vibrant, light-hearted Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises was already fighting a losing battle before it was even officially released. It was never going to be The Dark Knight – that film is a transcendent geek culture touchstone – but Christopher Nolan delivered a satisfying and powerful conclusion to the saga he began in 2005 with Batman Begins, and the film took in a massive worldwide gross of nearly $1.1 billion.[divider]
Snow White and The Huntsman, The Expendables 2, MIB 3, Savages, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter: