Weekend of July 4
On a personal note, this has been my most anticipated film of the summer for some time. It represents something I rather like: an attempt to establish a superhero outside of a comics continuity and consciousness. For other examples, see The Incredibles and the TV series Heroes.
What’s important with these is that they tap into the core strength of the superhero genre without relying on the extensive, and often muddy and conflicting, backstory. The success of these tends to support the fact that well-done superhero stories don’t need either the public consciousness nor the print media to succeed. While the former is helpful (invariably, the more well-known the hero is the better the movie is going to perform, regardless of quality), the latter might actually be a detriment. Arguably the success of Spider-Man, X-Men, and Iron Man is due to the filmmakers stripping out as much of the excess and detritus to have the films focus on the core aspects of the characters.
The Incredibles showcased how well this works. We don’t need to know the full history of the supers. It’s hinted at and shown, but a lexicon isn’t necessary. Thus, the story can instead focus on the plot and character development rather than the minutia.
Hancock is another such attempt, so I’m excited. Plus, it stars Will Smith, who’s just about the most consistent actor working today. He’s had an interesting movie career which can be broken into a few different sections, but in almost all of them, he’s been a rousing success. What’s really interesting is that Hancock seems to be a meshing of the formula of his early success (big budget July 4th event films) with his recent success (intelligent films with broad appeal). While he might not ever get back to the heights that Independence Day reached in 1996, he is coming off the second biggest unadjusted film of his career in I Am Legend. Considering that the film was basically him and nothing else, that’s quite an achievement.
Hancock’s got a neat premise, cushy release date, and the biggest star in Hollywood.
Opening: $70m, Final: $230m
Weekend of July 11
Hellboy II: The Golden Army
Another interesting superhero film. The first Hellboy is one of the top film adaptations of a comic book. Guillermo del Toro is an excellent director who manages to get across the core strengths of the characters as well as an ability to deliver strong spectacle on a budget. Blade II is easily the best film of that trilogy, and there’s a reason he’s been tapped to do the Hobbit films.
Of course, while Hellboy is excellent, it’s not a big film. Made for $66m, it didn’t even gross $100m worldwide, which would normally forego any chances of a sequel. But it’s probably apparent that it’s lack of success wasn’t due to quality but rather that nobody fucking knows who Hellboy is. I’ve been reading comics for over 20 years, and I didn’t actually read a Hellboy book until late last year. Public consciousness drives some of the success for these figures, and there isn’t any here.
Of course, the quality of the first film, along with a fairly effective (if a bit pedestrian) trailer should help Hellboy II do better. I don’t think we’re in for a spectacular ride, but it should be yet another solid outing from del Toro.
Opening: $30m, Final: $75m
Eddie Murphy’s career has been a roller coaster. In the 80s, he had a series of successful films that put him among the most successful actors of the decade. The early 90s saw him made a number of poor choices and it seemed like his career was all but over.
Then came The Nutty Professor in 1996 and for a couple years he was hot like the 80s, although his target audience had dropped a good decade or two in age.
He followed that up with a cold spell for two years, and then a small but huge resurgence in 2000 and 2001, centered on the release of Shrek. Not content to rest on his successful laurels, he had three outright bombs in 2002.
For any other actor, three sustained poor periods would probably be a deathknell, but in 2003, Murphy started another strong period with Daddy Day Care, which hasn’t really ended.
The quality of most of his films isn’t there, with offerings like Daddy Day Care and Norbit being derided by almost everyone. Even the Shrek sequels have been denigrated. But Murphy’s shown that he’s a consistent draw, if a bit juvenile, and he did manage to squeeze in a critically acclaimed performance in Dreamgirls.
So where does this leave Meet Dave. From the trailer, it looks like the typical fare that Murphy’s delivered over the past five years. Pedestrian, juvenile, and funny in a lowest-common-denominator way. Whether or not it succeeds will probably depend on whether it’s forgettably funny or offensive to the viewer.
I’m inclined to think that he might be headed for another career downturn, but he’s got plenty of staying power and could be back in short order.
Opening: $25m, Final: $70m
Journey to the Center of the Earth
Walden Media is a troublesome company. While there’s the obvious high point (The Chronicles of Narnia), and a string of other moderately successful book adaptations (Because of Winn-Dixie, The Waterhorse, Nim’s Island), most of the company’s output has been in the range of disappointing (Charlotte’s Web) or an absolute bomb (Hoot, How to Eat Fried Worms, The Seeker, Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium).
In fact, besides Narnia, there’s really only two standout successes: Holes in 2003, and Bridge to Terabithia in 2007. Were it not for CS Lewis, I’d honestly be surprised if we’d even see anything from the company right now.
This time around, I think we’re looking at another bomb. See, Journey to the Center of the Earth bears a lot of similarity to the worst mark on Walden’s record: Around the World in 80 Days. Like that it’s an effects driven film based on a Jules Verne novel that is squarely focused on the family-friendly bracket.
It also doesn’t look very good. This can probably look at slightly better business than Around the World, but certainly nothing to be proud of.
Opening, $15m, Final: $40m
Weekend of July 18
The Dark Knight
Like Hellboy, this is the sequel to a well-done comic book film, helmed by a director noted for the quality of his craft and ability to evoke depth in the characters and keeping the narrative gripping. Unlike Hellboy, this has name recognition to spur it to greater heights.
Batman Begins was a phenomenal film. Lifting the Batman franchise back to new heights, it also established itself as a new bar to measure the introductory film for a superhero. However, it was somewhat crippled by the WB marketing engine, lack of recognizable enemies, and the fact that the sour taste of Joel Schumacher hadn’t quite left the public consciousness.
Three years later, Batman’s probably going to stand on his own. Plus, he’s got his most recognizable villain in the Joker to face off against, looking especially psychotic and absolutely gripping as portrayed by the late Heath Ledger. Gone is the 60s-esque tomfoolery of Jack Nicholson, this is a Joker that rides on fear, not laughs.
Early concerns about the script have been washed away by the advertising, which is uncharacteristically strong for a WB film. The first trailer made it look like an enticing continuation of the previous, but the new one in front of Iron Man catapults it beyond. Like Spiderman and the X-men, it seems as if the second Batman film is going to be in a league of its own, quality-wise.
Opening: $85m, Final: $270m
Thanks largely to the modest success of Moulin Rouge! in 2001, musicals have had a bit of a comeback this decade. Chicago in 2002 can be pointed as the ideal goal: excellent business and critical acclaim.
Of course, the success hasn’t always been coming. The Phantom of the Opera, Rent, and The Producers were, like Chicago, adaptations of Broadway musicals with similarly high aspirations. However, they didn’t garner either the box office success of the movie predecessors or their own live performance counterparts.
Even Dreamgirls (an original production, but the clearest spiritual successor to Chicago) failed to live up to hype and expectations. It seemed like the genre was taking its steps towards obscurity again.
Then Hairspray hit. Possibly the biggest surprise success of last summer, it managed to ride that often-ignored demographic-the teenage girl-to astounding success. Even the frankly weird and a bit offputting John Travolta in drag couldn’t hamper it.
Mamma Mia! seems like it’s well situated to take up the baton and run with it. It’s got a bunch of catchy tunes (from ABBA, possibly the greatest producers of pop of all time), easy to grasp and upbeat plot, and practically the same release date. If nothing else, it’s a brilliantly placed bit of counter-programming against Batman.
But wait. It lacks one thing that Hairspray had: teenagers. The plot centers around a wedding and a bride-to-be with three possible fathers, which skews a bit older than Hairspray’s crowd. Even so, I think it’ll see a fair bit of success, even if not quite at those heights.
Opening: $25m, Final: $80m
In the realm of computer animated films, there are two groups: the high budget, high performance options from Dreamworks, Pixar, and Blue Sky Studios and just about everything else.
Space Chimps falls into the second group. It might be good, or at least enjoyable, but it’s not going to be big. Patrick Warburton likely has yet another fun role to add to his resume, but it’s not a breakout.
Opening: $10m, Final: $35m
Weekend of July 25
Since 2003, Will Ferrell has been struggling under the auspice of being the next huge comedy star as the true successor of Jim Carrey. In that year, he stole the show in Old School and then followed it up with the monster hit Elf, both of which established him as a go-to guy to play idiot man-children.
Since then he’s mostly failed to capitalize. Anchorman in 2004 was well received, but Steve Carell upstaged him in a big way. 2005 brought Kicking and Screaming and Bewitched, neither of which satisfied or delivered. In 2006, he provided his voice to the underperforming Curious George, but also headlined Talledega Nights, which finally made it seem like he was delivering on his potential. He seemed like he was on a roll with Blades of Glory last March, but just this year he crashed hard with Semi-Pro.
And now we’re at Step Brothers. The initial signs seem good for the film. It bears some similarity to Talledega Nights. Like that film, Ferrell co-wrote the script with director Adam McKay. Also, he has costar John C. Reilly and a similar release date.
The initial trailer showcases Ferrell’s strength, with both him and Reilly playing immature middle-aged men. And despite both of them skeweing heavily idiotic (they both live with their parents, who get married, hence the step brother scenario), the roles don’t feel annoying and excessive, which may have been the damning point for Semi Pro.
Opening: $35, Final: $115.
The X-Files: I Want to Believe
Ten years after the first theatrical film, and six years since the end of the TV series, Agents Mulder and Scully return for another adventure. Unlike the previous movie, this one stands alone from the mythos of the series, instead following the monster-of-the-week formula used in some episodes. In effect, it’s an extra long episode, six years after the fact.
The first film did quite well, opening to $30m and finishing with $84m. It did even better overseas, earning $105m. And this isn’t an attempt to just cash in on the name. Stars Duchovny and Anderson are back, as is series creator Chris Carter, this time in the director’s chair. If nothing else, it should be a faithful extension of the original series, likely to please the fans and with potential to drag in some new ones.
However, I wonder about the timing. Fans of the series certainly still exist, but in the intervening time, they’ve likely moved onto other things. Lost, for example. And it hasn’t been so long that nostalgia for the series has set in.
On the other hand, it could be well primed to take that genre fansbase and expand it. I doubt anyone involved expects huge things, but if the film has quality and manages to deliver some positive response, it could re-establish the series for the big screen.
Or it could be another Serenity.
Opening: $25m, Final: $65m.
So, take your prototypical high school movie, focusing on senior year. Showcase a slice from all the cliques as these students struggle with the end of their school lives and look forward to moving on and up in the world.
Fairly typical fare, right?
Except this time it’s a Sundance Award winning documentary.
I really have no idea what to expect from this film, but it’s getting a wide release, which is usually reserved for Michael Moore… and penguins.
Opening: $3m, Final: $10m, but it could take off, too.
While the two huge films should dominate over the month, it’s there’s a number of potentially solid releases. Certainly unlike May, studios are more willing to cram films into the theaters, even against hefty competition like Batman.
August predictions will likely have to wait another month or so. It’s getting to be difficult to find any trailers. I predict The Mummy 3 will have its first in front of Indiana Jones.