I live in Portland, Maine. It’s not a huge metro area (250,000 people), but it’s not a small one, either. We have 48 theater screens available in four different theaters within the metro area. On those 48 screens, there currently play 10 movies. Ten. I’ve seen all ten, and there’s not a one among them that I’d want to see a second time. I understand that I’m relatively lucky in among the country as a whole (one of our theaters typically plays two smaller films during much of the year when there’s not a summer blockbuster glut), but damn, the summertime is the pits when it comes to movie choices for most of the country. I remember dreading Independence Day growing up in Arkansas because not only was the weather over 100 degrees most days, but the movie choices were limited and terrbile (in fact, the summer that Independence Day debuted, my fourth of July choices were that, Phenomenon, Eraser, Striptease, and The Nutty Professor, and by that point, I’d seen everything already). The lack of diversity in choices during the summer months is not new.
The point I’m driving at is, if you don’t live in Los Angeles, New York City, Boston, San Francisco, Austin, or a handful of other cities, your movie choices during the summer — the three months when most of us want to see a movie the most — are dreadful. Take a look, for instance, at the top 14 movies at the box office right now, i.e., the movies you’re most likely to find in your local multiplexes. I’ve also taken the liberty of giving them my own grades (two movies among the top 14 I have not seen because they have not been offered in Portland yet, one because it hasn’t rolled out nationwide yet (The Way, Way Back) and one because, I guess, there are no black people in Maine (a shame, really, because I would love to see the Kevin Hart movie).
1. Despicable Me ($44 million) (B-)
2. Grown Ups 2 ($42.5 million) (F)
3. Pacific Rim ($38 million) (B+)
4. The Heat ($14 million) (B)
5. The Lone Ranger ($11.1 million) (D)
6. Monsters University ($10.6 million) (B-)
7. World War Z ($9.4 million (B-)
8. White House Down ($6.1 million) (C)
9. Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain ($5 million) (N/A)
10. Man of Steel ($4.8 million) (B-)
11. This is the End ($2.9 million) (A-)
12. Now You See Me ($1.3 million) (B)
13. The Way, Way Back ($1.3 million) (N/A)
14. Star Trek Into Darkness ($960,000) (B)
On the other hand, if you were lucky enough to be of movie-going age in the summer of 1984, you not only had 10 great choices, but those choices were the kind of movies that were perfect for rewatching. This is the top 14 at the box office on the weekend of July 13-15.
1. Ghostbusters (A+)
2. Gremlins (A)
3. The Last Starfighter (A-)
4. The Karate Kid (A)
5. The Muppets Take Manhattan (A)
6. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (A+)
7. Bachelor Party (A-)
8. Cannonball Run II (D)
9. Conan the Destroyer (C)
10. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (B+)
11. Rhinestone (D-)
12. Top Secret! (B+)
13. The Natural (A+)
14. Romancing the Stone (A)
It’s worth noting that, by July, a few other summer movies had already come and gone, such as Police Academy, Sixteen Candles, Footloose, Splash and This Is Spinal Tap. Moreover, the weekends after July 15th saw the releases of Revenge of the Nerds, The Neverending Story, Purple Rain, and Red Dawn.
In other words, the weekend with the best slate of movies in box-office history was only marginally better than the weekends that came before and after, and based on most of the movies that summer, it was a helluva great time to be a 12-15 year old, even though there were ZERO comic book movies that summer.