While the official end of summer, in calendar terms, isn't upon us for another couple of weeks, summertime is history. They call this season fall for a reason, because everything seems to fall, from the temperature to the box office recepits. So before we break out the sweaters lets take a final look back at the summer movie season of 2005: the hits, the misses, the surprises and what trends we might expect in summers to come.
THE REVENGE OF THE "R"
The summer movie season has traditionally been dominated by flicks of a PG-13 denomination and this summer was no different. The top 5 grossing movies this year, so far, have all come from the summer season and 4 of those 5 had the PG-13 seal of approval. While this comes as no shock to anyone, the summer of 2005 clearly marked the return to prominence of the R-rated movie. This trend was highlighted by the phenomenal success of Wedding Crashers, a $40 million movie that will probably eclipse the $200 million mark next weekend. It clearly had longevity at the theater with its biggest weekend decline being 32.4% in its 8-week run so far. That was the MOST it declined , folks. Most studio heads would kill for a decline that small, and Crashers kept rock-steady with declines hovering between 19 and 26 percent for most of its run. These kind of numbers leave a big message, folks: the adults want some summertime fun too. Most of the rest of the year is catered to adults and the summer is always filled with movies aimed at younger kids and teens. It's clear that the adults want more stake in the summertime slate, but the Crashers weren't the only ones that proved this point. The 40 Year Old Virgin, was #1 for two weekends in a row, Four Brothers, a throwback flick, overcame a massive theater count defecit and two new PG-13 flicks to take the #1 spot in its opening weekend and Crash exceeded many expectations taking in over $50 million even in a blockbuster-heavy month of May. While all adult flicks didn't prosper as much as these examples, as I'll explain later, I wouldn't be surprised, in summers to come, to showcase more summer-adult fare like we saw this summer.
BIGGER ISN'T ALWAYS BETTER
When the mercury starts to rise, it seems that the movie budgets start to rise as well. With big budgets come big expectations, and while some had massive success (Star Wars - Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, War of the Worlds, Batman Begins) there were many that fell far short of expectations and profit.
Ironically, what probably was the biggest flop of the summer was the movie that kicked off the summer season: Kingdom of Heaven. It just couldn't get rolling at all at the box office, earning just $47.3 million off of a massive $130 million budget. I suppose it didn't help much that the "box office slump" was garnering more news than anything at that time, but with this primo release date they should've been able to get more out of it than they did.
Right on its tail for biggest flop of the summer was The Island, which has taken in a meager $35.7 million, so far, from a $126 million budget. What's a little odd about this one is this flick is from Michael Bay, a man who used to rule summer like another big-budget outfit: the New York Yankees. Well, we all know what happened to them last year, don't we... Anyway, Bay tried to do something different this summer, and go all serious on us with a sci-fi drama...that had more explosions on screen that I had ever seen in my life. Some things just don't mix, Mike. Another former summer maestro, Rob Cohen struck out with his summer offering, Stealth, which has earned just $31.5 million so far, working off a $100 million budget. While there were plenty of big-budget successes this summer, these flicks just failed where others like it have succeeded in past summers. Big budget flicks will never disappear, especially in the summer, but from now on you might see more studios playing the movie equivalent of "small ball" and less eagar to swing for the fences with $100 million budgets.
TOO HOT FOR OSCAR
This all seemed to start in 2002 when the fabulous Road to Perdition was released in July, it made over $100 million and generated some Oscar buzz, getting 6 Oscar nominations including a win for Conrad Hall's cinematography. The next year, Seabiscuit, another summer flick, was a Best Picture nominee. Since then, there are always at least a few flicks that would normally be an Oscar-friendly December release, crammed in between the blockbusters to score the double-whammy of early Oscar buzz and truckloads of bank. They even started the summer out with this sort of flick, the epic Kingdom of Heaven which went 0-for-2 in the double-whammy department. The most notable of this type of movie, however, was June's Cinderella Man. While there is the Oscar buzz floating about for damn near everyone involved in this picture, they'll have to settle for a 1-for-2 on the double-whammy. This Depression-era boxing tale has only punched up $61 million so far, from an $88 million budget. I can understand the logic of placing an Oscar-friendly flick into the summer mix, because an early summer release will likely mean the DVD release should coincide with Oscar voting time. There is also the possibility of a December re-release, just to keep it fresh in the voters minds, which is why Oscar-type flicks are released in December in the first place. But, with the obvious exceptions of Titanic and the last Lord of the Rings flick, Oscar doesn't really equate to big money. If a studio thinks they have the next Best Picture winner on their hands, and release it on Memorial Day weekend, thinking it will make $200 million and win 35 Oscars, they might want to think again. I don't really expect to see an end to this trend, but the studios might want to consider it.
Unlike summers past, we were really light on sequels this summer. But, in the summer tradition of unoriginality, the sequels were replaced with remakes, either of older flicks or television shows. There was even a fictionalized version of an already popular documentary, for Christ's sake... OK, I'll admit that I actually did enjoy Lords of Dogtown, despite my previous rants. Not that it does the Dogtown dudes any good, since it only made $11 million, but I digress. Old-school movies and TV shows were given the 2005 treatment all the hell over the place this summer. Some did some pretty good business, with War of the Worlds crowed king of the remake this summer, earning $232 million so far. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory fared well this summer with over $201 million to date andThe Longest Yard performed well also, taking in $157 million, almost double its $82 million budget. The Dukes of Hazzard and Herbie: Fully Loaded both fared decently, earning $77.5 million and $62.5 million respectively, both profiting from $50 million budgets. The rest of the pack didn't fare so well, with Bewitched, Bad News Bears, House of Wax and Dark Water (a remake of a Japanese flick) all failing to earn a profit. We saw the return of Batman this summer as well, but that's not really a remake, more of a prequel I guess, and even so, it gave us a fresh take on the Dark Knight. The same can be said of the two biggest remakes this year, War of the Worlds and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. They gave us fresh takes on the story, rather than different names in the same places and that's what made them both successful.
Well, as the old back-to-school saying goes, here's what I learned on my summer vacation. The moviegoing public is as fickle as ever, but give them a great product and they'll keep coming back for more, as we saw with the incredible performance and longevity of Wedding Crashers. Big budgets don't always equal big profits, Oscar doesn't do so well in the heat and if this summer was any indication, a Jake and the Fat Man movie or a Marathon Man remake might not be too far off in the future. That's all for now, folks, but always remember: if it looks like a good time, sounds like a good time and feels like a good time... it probably isn't free.