The Summer Movie season has finally, mercifully foot-knee hobbled to another unmerciful end, winding down as it did last year (and as it will next year) with another installment of the resurrected Halloween franchise. Labor Day weekend, of course, doesn’t count, as it’s where the studios dump leftovers rank enough (All About Steve, Gamer) that even the hungriest dogs among us will stick our noses up at the offerings, like Hamburger Helper left in Tupperware long enough to develop an orange gel skin.
So, what have we learned from the summer of 2009? The bad news first: It’s still all about the brand name, as the bloated, over-long, empty shit spectacle Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen proved, racking up $400 million and becoming not just the summer’s biggest hit, but probably the year’s. Michael Bay, who sacrificed John Turtorro, Jackson Browne, Isabel Lucas, three puppies, and a Leprechaun with a unicorn horn, extended his pact with Satan another year, and earned enough to continue snorting blow off little boy’s asses for the foreseeable future. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, also exchanged Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s and Christopher Eccleston’s credibility for a cool $132 million (and counting), which was enough to send frenzied studios to the Hasbro junkyard, where they hope to continue capitalizing on properties that the target audience is too young to have more than a passing familiarity with (July 2010 already has The A-Team, Footloose and Karate Kid on its slate). X-Men Origins: Wolverine also kicked off the summer with an $85 million opening (heading toward $180 million overall), sapping what’s left of the X-Men tree before blowing its rotten remains into another three projects, including a Wolverine sequel, a Deadpool spin-off, and X-Men: First Class, which will tackle the issues surrounding puberty and freak superpowers (there’s also a Magneto movie under consideration).
All was not lost, however. While teenage audiences will still stick their tallywackers into any and everything their parents loved, audiences have thankfully started to grow weary of Will Ferrell (Land of the Lost was 2009’s Speed Racer). It also turns out that Apatow’s Midas Touch was only gold-plated: Dig a little deeper, and there’s a mostly unfunny cancer comedy beneath, as Funny People proved that no one wants to see an Adam Sandler movie unless he’s offending gays. The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 also demonstrated that not all remakes are successful, just the really bad ones. Somehow, I imagine Denzell Washington and John Travolta will bounce back. Angels and Demons also suffered from a mild case of indifference, putting up only $130 million, compared to the $217 million that Da Vinci Code scored. But the additional $350 million that the movie made worldwide pretty much guarantees that Dan Brown’s next novel will bring the Tom Hanks and Ron Howard milquetoast back to your plates in a couple of summers. Oh, and guess who else we’re getting sick of? Christian Bale. Without a bat suit, he’s just another angry face (a very pretty one, mind you). Terminator Salvation pooped up only $125 million, while Public Enemies hasn’t yet hit the $100 million mark. Even Johnny Depp is human (he’s just a better class of human than the rest of us).
Kid’s movies, as the do every summer, dominated the box office. Fortunately, the latest Pixar offering, Up headed the way, putting up $289 million. We all love balloons, fat kids, and old people. Up was also the tear jerkiest of all the summer pics. The other three kid’s hits were Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs ($193 million), Night of the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian ($176 million) and G-Force ($111 million), proving that kids still have soft brains, bless their hearts.
So, where’s the good news is the rock pile of excrement this summer? Star Trek, for one, demonstrated that reboots with a modicum of intelligence and a decent storyline could still attract audiences ($256 million), as did District 9, the surprise sci-fi hit of the summer ($90 million and counting). Word of mouth propelled The Hangover ($270 million), showing that we may be sick of Apatow, but not of R-rated comedies (The Hangover is the 3rd highest grossing R-rated movie of all time, and the top R-rated comedy). Tarantino returned with Inglourious Basterds, which — with $73 million and counting — has a chance to become his biggest hit to date. All it took was the death of Hitler. The Proposal was the other word of mouth hit of the summer (The Hangover being the first), putting up over $160 million and becoming the sixth biggest rom-com of all time, and launching Ryan Reynolds to A-list status (Katherine Heigl’s The Ugly Truth didn’t fare as well — $85 million — but it’s enough to guarantee her return to summer for years to come, sadly). The latest Harry Potter movie ($294 million) was the second biggest money-maker of the summer, demonstrating that we still like condensed picture books, even if the soul has mostly been sucked out of them. Drag Me to Hell ($80 million) also gets my vote as the crowd-pleasing hit of the summer.
It was an amazing summer for indie movies; unfortunately, few of them did particularly well at the box office. Of the ten most anticipated anti-blockbusters of the summer, six were certifiably great, one was pushed to the fall (The Boat that Rocked), one (The Hangover) turned out not to be anti-blockbuster, and two defied our hyped expectations (Taking Woodstock and Dead Snow). (500) Days of Summer, which didn’t reach Juno status, was the big indie hit ($25 million), while Away We Go ($9 million) and The Hurt Locker ($11 million) performed modestly. Two of our other favorites, Cold Souls ($500,000) and In the Loop ($1.8 million) failed to take off.
So, overall, what did we learn in the summer of 2009? Beats the hell out of me. There is evidence that well-made movies can still succeed (Star Trek, District 9, Up, The Hangover), but there’s also plenty to suggest that studios will continue to appeal to our inner seven-year old (Revenge of the Fallen, G.I. Joe). It’d be easy enough to be the cynic, throw our hands in the air, and give up on Hollywood. But I’d prefer to be the optimist, for once. While there might have been a giant-ass robot in the half-full glass of arsenic-laced water, there were still plenty of great movies in the summer of 2009, some were beneath your nose, while some you had to look hard to find. But they were there. It wasn’t up to the level of 2008 (The Dark Knight, Iron Man), but in the end, the summer of 2009 wasn’t really half bad, was it?
So what we’re the five best movies of the summer? Ask any of our writers, and you’ll probably get a completely different list. My personal Top Five:
1. (500) Days of Summer
2. District 9
3. Away We Go
4. The Brothers Bloom
5. Star Trek