The summer blockbuster season is like a giant roulette table. You pick your numbers and colors, spin the wheel and pray to the powers that be that your movie comes out unscathed. Box office is only one factor—evolving technology, the waning of theatrical experience and creativity all play a part in a movie's "success." Want to know what you might be seeing more or less of in the next few years? These are the winners and losers that will influence the movie biz:
This year, the movie division of the comics giant took a big risk: release two property-based movies in one summer, both of them second-tier characters with an uphill battle to get non-comic fans in the seats. No one was sure Thor and Captain America had legs, but they had to—Marvel was gearing up for the team-up movie Avengers in 2012, and if the movies didn't find audiences, neither would their most expensive endeavor to date. Now Summer 2011 has whizzed by and Marvel's wallet is stuffed thick, with both movies being box office and critical hits. Let's not forget they also had stakes in X-Men: First Class, a prequel to an already successful franchise.
The Dark Knight blew blockbuster audiences' collective brains when it swept into theaters in 2008, but besides Bats, the WB/DC parternship has never really amounted to anything in the last decade (unless you're like me and think Superman Returns is the bees knees). But this year the collaboration gave it another go with Green Lantern, a movie that touted itself as more Star Wars than Iron Man. Unfortunately, the final product didn't click with audiences and the movie quickly faded into the background of summer. The studio insists there's still franchise potential, but GL certainly can't be considered a winner this season.
Winner: The R-Rated Comedy
Studios tend to shy away from an R rating. The thinking is that the ghastly red branding cuts down on sizable audiences, meaning less moolah to be made. Not so this season, when studios took gambles on R-rated comedies like Bridesmaids, The Hangover Part II, Horrible Bosses, and Bad Teacher. Forget that most of them are raking in boatloads of cash—audiences ate up this summer's crude humor as they took a break from action-oriented blockbusters and copious amounts of 3D. Anyone who thinks you can't pull off poop jokes with a bit of heart needs to go back to the beginning of the summer.
Loser: The Safe Bets
On that note, the movies that should have been easy. enjoyable counterprogramming like Tom Hanks' Larry Crowne and the for-the-kids Zookeeper never picked up the momentum—thanks in most part to the sub-par quality of the films. Talking gorillas and TGIFridays product placement can only take you so far.
Winner: 3-D, the Money-Making Tool
Audiences' receptiveness is a difficult thing to measure. On one hand, 3-D is proving to be a valuable tool for marketing a movie and helping a modestly performing tentpole bump up its numbers. That may sound ruthless, but in the end, it could be the deciding factor on whether or not a franchise you love gets a second installment. On the other hand, a ticket costs $15. A "winner" with an emphasis on the quotation marks, for sure.
Loser: 3-D, the Art Form
So for people who enjoy carefully produced 3-D, the kind demonstrated in Avatar and even last year's Resident Evil: Apocalypse…well, they lost. Most of the 3-D this summer, in movies like Thor, Priest, Green Lantern and Cars 2, either went barely noticeable or turned our eyes to mush from improperly converted footage. The best of the year was Transformers 3, which barely pushed the popping sensation to its limit. By the time Conan the Barbarian and Final Destination 5 rolled around, people started giving up, the idea of an immersive, 3-D experience becoming almost as fantastical as the films that could utilize it.
Winner: Festival Flicks
When the summer is filled to the brim, it can be hard for little indie movies to squeeze their way through the crowd and make their presences known. Not this year, with Terrance Malick's poetic Tree of Life emerging has one of the best reviewed films of the year. Following in his footsteps was another film that debuted at Cannes Film Festival: Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris. The auteur's latest film is critically acclaimed, finding a large audience that the studio behind it is actually bringing it back to theaters this Fall.
Loser: Original Properties
Here's a double dose of bad news: while small films thrived this season, the blockbusters that found the most praise (and the biggest paydays) weren't new ideas, but rather, continuing franchises. Super 8 tried to revive old school nostalgia and made just enough to be considered a success. The audience response was so-so. But an even bigger disaster has to be Cowboys and Aliens which couldn't garner enough interest in its genre-bending plot. Too bad—after last year's Inception, 2011 could have sprung up with even more original content, but like years past, stuck to what it knew.
Winner: Harry Potter Fans
After a decade of following the literary character on screen, Potter fans saw the boy wizard go out with an explosive bang. The final battle between Harry and Voldemort called for scale and Deathly Hallows - Part 2 delivered. And while the last movie may not have served every fan, the real treat will when Part 2 hits Blu-ray, so the entire Deathly Hallows saga van be viewed as it was meant to be seen: an epic, four-hour journey.
Loser: Twilight Fans
Twilight fans weren't thrilled when the first installment of their beloved franchise, Breaking Dawn - Part 1, was slated to hit theaters in November of 2012. A summer without Twilight!? For shame! Don't worry Twi-hards—Potter fans may have had their due, but it was during a packed season. Come winter, you'll go from losers to winners!
Hollywood will not underestimate the power of the female-audience ever again. After Bridesmaids, a female driven comedy that was just as raunchy as any bro-oriented movie hit big, suddenly Hollywood went into greenlighting mode, putting into motion a handful of lady-driven flicks. Then at the tail end of the summer, what overperforms but The Help, an adaptation with a core female audience. Sticking it to the man!
Speaking of which, sorry guys. The buddy comedy Hangover Part II wore thin after another round with the Wolf Pack, while guy-oriented fare like the bloody Conan or the sex comedy The Change-Up were both met with a barrage of thumbs pointing in the downward direction. Summer 2011 was a season for the cross-gender movie (think Captain America or Transformers), leaving the "guy's guy" movie in jeopardy.
Winner: Movie-Going Audiences
All that said, this was a pretty solid summer for those who trekked through the heat to the movie theater. With a year full of positive reviews, under-the-radar gems and impressive films that defied all odds (can anyone believe how good Rise of the Planet of the Apes was?!), it was a good season to be a movie buff. Hollywood didn't revolutionize the blockbuster or completely cave in to mind-numbing entertainment. 2011 was a passable summer, and that's more than you can usually expect from cinema's most bombastic four months.
Loser: LaserDisc Enthusiasts
Sorry guys, better luck next year!