The official end of summer doesn’t come until September 21st, but by Hollywood standards, the summer movie season for all intents and purposes ended this past weekend with the release of ‘Pete’s Dragon’, yet another movie that didn’t quite live up to studio expectations. Although next weekend will bring both the ‘Ben-Hur’ remake and the well-reviewed ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’, neither of those are expected to set the box office on fire. And so concludes one of the worst summers as a moviegoer I can remember in a long time.
It all started well enough way back at the beginning of May with the release of the excellent ‘Captain America: Civil War‘. That movie was fun, exciting, humorous, action-packed and foreshadowed a movie season loaded with reboots, sequels, and re-imaginings that would surely result in people flocking to their local cineplexes. Who could have guessed back then that this Marvel sequel would represent the best we would see on the big screen until the fall?
The first sign that things were not going to go well happened the very next week with the George Clooney/Julia Roberts (and directed by Jodie Foster) flick ‘Money Monster‘. Once upon a time, just the names Clooney and Roberts on a project would guarantee a strong opening. Not so for this picture, which limped to a third place finish behind the already-in-release ‘The Jungle Book‘ and the aforementioned ‘Civil War’. Any hope that adult audiences would spend much time at the theater during the summer season sunk a week later when director Shane Black’s pairing of Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling in ‘The Nice Guys‘ landed with a thud (and a 4th place opening).
While it became clear early on that adult-oriented material wouldn’t fare well, even more surprising results came with all of the studios’ summer tentpoles, which were loaded up with sequels and reboots of once-popular properties. While most of these films opened strongly, they dropped off quickly in subsequent weeks, with few of them meeting either their studio or audience expectations. Almost all of them received poor to middling reviews. Instead of going through them one by one, I’ll simply remind you of a number of them by name: ‘X-Men: Apocalypse‘, ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass‘, ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows‘, ‘Now You See Me 2‘, ‘Warcraft‘, ‘The Legend of Tarzan‘, ‘The BFG‘, ‘Star Trek Beyond‘, ‘Jason Bourne‘, ‘Suicide Squad’, and the so-awful-I-saved-it-for-last ‘Independence Day: Resurgence‘.
One movie came and went with such controversy, it deserves its own paragraph. I am, of course, referring to the much-maligned reboot of ‘Ghostbusters‘, an idea so bad that when fans of the original 1984 film screamed outrage via social media, the studio, director and cast accused their potential audience of being a bunch of misogynists. In one of the oddest ways of promoting a movie I’ve seen in my years as both a filmgoer and critic, Sony and the powers that be actually thought it was a good idea to try to guilt people into seeing their film – as if by staying home on opening weekend one would announce to the world that they were sexist. While the movie had a respectable – if far from fantastic – opening weekend, its final box office take will fall short of Sony’s expectations, and the studio has already announced that there will be no sequel, turning instead to focus on an animated future for the ‘Ghostbusters’ franchise (with both a TV series and a film in the works).
It was not all doom and gloom this summer. The majority of animated movies still did quite nicely. Disney’s ‘Finding Dory‘ proved not only to be summer’s biggest hit, but as of this writing is the highest (domestic) grossing film of 2016. (‘Captain America: Civil War’ still tops the worldwide box office.) The other summer animated releases ‘The Secret Lives of Pets‘ and ‘The Angry Birds Movie‘ also did very well. The animated sequel ‘Ice Age: Collision Course‘ is really the only one that can be said to be a failure domestically, but the movie still did quite well overall, pulling in (to date) close to $300 million overseas.
Obviously, just looking at the numbers isn’t the most accurate reflection of how this summer went. But the truth of the matter is that most of these movies weren’t very good either. While I personally found things to like in ‘The Nice Guys’ and ‘Star Trek Beyond’, neither of them blew me away. The biggest sin ‘Ghostbusters’ committed was its absence of anything remotely funny (at least anything beyond what one would see in an ‘SNL’ skit), while ‘Independence Day: Resurgence’ (my vote for this summer’s worst film) was so long, loud and dumb, it managed to be one of those rare sequels that not only is a disaster itself, but manages to ruin almost everything you enjoyed about the original.
Sadly, movie studios schedule their big budget tentpoles so far in advance these days that it may take a few more years for a proper course correction. I fear next summer’s lineup of titles like ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales’, ‘Wonder Woman’, ‘World War Z, Part 2’, ‘Transformers: The Last Knight’, ‘Jumanji’ and ‘Alien: Covenant’ may bring us more of the same.
Fortunately, it’s now time for the fall movies, which, historically, bring us more intelligent fare. Films like ‘Sully’, ‘Snowden’, ‘The Magnificent Seven’ and ‘The Girl on the Train’ should wash summer’s bad taste out of my mouth, right?
It was a cruel, cruel summer… but now you’re gone. Thank god.