2018: Summer Blockbuster Appraisal
Thanos clicked with Marvel fans; The Rock eventually crumbled; big monsters ate rivals; superheroes flew higher; Star Wars’s box office was ‘so low’; the impossible Tom Cruise proved unmissable, and never underestimate an Abba sing-a-long…
Avengers: Infinity War
In Hollywood, summertime gets earlier and earlier. There are so many high-profile films to cram into the traditional three-month period, we find stray offerings as early as late-March. Spring has become a sort of ‘pre-summer’ to whet audience appetites, but one has to draw a line in the sand somewhere, of course. So, for me, this summer began on 27 April with the long-awaited premiere of Marvel’s cash cow Avengers: Infinity War…
The third Avengers movie was destined to be the biggest hit of the summer, if not the year, and the number of ticket stubs agreed. It’s currently made just over $2BN dollars, making it the fourth highest-grossing movie ever made — behind Avatar (2009), Titanic (1997), and very narrowly Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015).
Not bad for the 19th offering from a cinematic universe about to enter its second decade. Audiences certainly aren’t showing signs of Marvel or superhero fatigue, and it helped Infinity War was promoted as the must-see climax to a multifaceted story some kids have literally grown up watching. Infinity War’s story doesn’t actually conclude until next summer, of course, but fans couldn’t wait to see practically all their favourite superheroes band together to try and stop Hulk-whuppin’ purple brute Thanos.
Another Marvel superhero had success at the box office, although this one’s actually under the creative control of 20th Century Fox. Deadpool was an unexpected ‘sleeper hit’ back in 2015, offering the kind of adult language, meta-comedy, and grisly action scenarios the comic-book genre’s shied away from to follow Marvel’s family-friendly example.
The Merc with the Mouth’s sequel was always going to do well, although Deadpool 2 received a more mixed reception, partly because the original’s novelty value can’t be replicated. It made a respectable $733M worldwide — only slightly behind its predecessor’s $783, but that’s perhaps a disappointment because comic-book sequels usually make more money. Still, the takings are strong enough to guarantee we’ll be seeing Ryan Reynolds slip on that red-and-black leather suit again.
Solo: A Star Wars Story
This summer’s biggest disappointment was probably Solo: A Star Wars Story, Disney’s second attempt at broadening the Star Wars saga away from the Skywalker lineage “Episodes”. Rogue One (2016) surprised everyone by making $1.05BN, despite not having any recognisable lead characters, but while Solo gave fans a more traditional Star Wars adventure with younger versions of beloved characters and the iconic Millennium Falcon, it only raked in $392M. That’s way below projections.
Why did it fail? Lucasfilm will be pondering this for awhile (worried their other Star Wars “Stories” will be met with similar shrugs), but it’s likely a confluence of problems. There was never good buzz surrounding Solo due to its behind-the-scenes turmoil (the original directors were fired and replaced by Ron Howard, who remade the entire film), the idea of making “a young Han Solo movie” felt uninspired, plus it arrived in cinemas months after Star Wars: The Last Jedi ended its theatrical run. Star Wars movies once felt special because they were infrequent cultural “events” breaking new technological ground, but Solo was a mostly generic sci-fi caper that washed over most people.
It also felt small in scale, almost like a big-budget TV pilot, which Rogue One very much didn’t. It’s rumoured Rian Johnson’s planned trilogy for a ‘Skywalker-unrelated story’ is now dead in the water as Disney rethink their strategy.
A sequel to a trilogy of male-dominated heist movies, that ended 11 years ago, was an unusual step to take, but Ocean’s 8 was unexpectedly timely thanks to the #MeToo movement. The spin-off certainly proved that an all-female cast isn’t a turnoff for audiences (uh, again), as it was great counter-programming to the other summer offerings- that tend to be aimed at young teenage boys.
Gary Ross’s movie grossed $289M at the global box office. That makes it the second most successful instalment of the franchise, just behind Ocean’s Eleven (2001), but only domestically. The receipts worldwide weren’t as solid, unfortunately, as it’s currently the least globally profitable of the four Ocean’s movie — below Ocean’s Thirteen’s (2007) $311M. Reviews were also mixed, although its fans blamed the dominance of male critics for the tepid press response. Mind you, I read plenty of middling reviews from female critics online, too, including our very own Charing Kam.
Every summer needs a horror sleeper hit, and Hereditary was definitely it for 2018. It technically failed to quality as a blockbuster after grossing under $100M (that’s $77M), but that was still A24’s biggest ever hit after Lady Bird. It was a movie that caught a lot of people’s attention thanks to glowing reviews about how frightening it was, with many taking a look in-between their fourth rewatch of Infinity War. If nothing else, debuting director Ari Aster is going to be one to watch.
Pixar don’t have the golden touch they used to, but everyone was psyched for a sequel to The Incredibles (2004). Brad Bird’s superhero family movie has only grown in stature over 14 years, and everyone wanted to see more of the spandex-wearing Parr clan. Incredbles 2′s reviews were also very positive, with most saying it at least equalled the original, and it outperformed everyone’s expectations by making $1.1BN and counting! It’s likely Pixar are now eyeing a trilogy.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
The first Jurassic World (2015) was always going to be a hit, but few expected it would make over a billion dollars ($1.6BN) and put the eminent 1993 original’s taking ($983M) in the shade. A sequel was inevitable, and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom likewise joined the Billion Dollar Club with $1.2BN. And that’s despite polarising reviews, that either appreciated the bold risks the plot took (especially in the second half), or just found it too preposterous and a weird bridge to what Universal really want to do in part three.
Sicario 2: Soldado
The first Sicario (2015) was a very well reviewed thriller from Denis Villeneuve that grossed $84M, but audiences weren’t so keen on a sequel that didn’t see the return of Emily Blunt’s character. The reviews were positive on the whole, but with multiplexes crammed with bigger spectacles and better-known sequels, Sicario 2 only managed to charm $73M out of people’s pockets. It’ll probably do better on home video.
Ant-Man and the Wasp
After the thrilling Infinity War broke box office records, audiences were happy to take another dive into the Marvel Cinematic Universe with the nimbler Ant-Man and the Wasp. The first was a likeable distraction, and in some ways that same lighthearted vibe continued with the flashier sequel. The reviews were good and the film has so far made $491M, against a $195M budget. Oh wow, that’s not even a typo. This cost more than the latest Mission: Impossible? Ironic the budgets of the Ant-Man movies can’t be made smaller.
Mission: Impossible — Fallout
This year, critics started championing the Mission: Impossible franchise as if they’d just realised these are good movies. There have now been six Mission’s released since 1996 with Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt, and only one dud amongst them (John Woo’s MI:II). In our digital age, their practical stunts standout from the crowd and give M:I sequels a more enjoyable vibe than the CGI-bloat we’re accustomed to in blockbusters. It’s not even that they’re “old-fashioned”, just modern but without unnecessary digital shortcuts. As enjoyable as digital F/X fuelled movies can be, audiences smell inauthenticity and it makes a welcome change to watch (most) things done for real.
Fallout cost $178M to make, the budget inflating due to delays caused by Cruise injuring himself during a rooftop jump, but it’s already grossed $515M thanks to excellent reviews and word-of-mouth. Indeed, Fallout was one of the summer’s best-reviewed movies, currently enjoying a 97% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Sometimes you just have to make a good movie, offering something unique in the current marketplace, for people to actually go out and buy a ticket. Whodathunk?
The First Purge
The Purge films have become one of the most prolific horror franchises of the 2010s. It started as a claustrophobia home invasion movie based around a twisted concept (that all crime becomes legal one day a year), and has now evolved into a funhouse mirror version of US politics to explain its premise. The First Purge is the fourth movie, but a prequel to the others, and it’s the most profitable of the lot with a $131M haul. The Purge: Election Year (2016) is a close second with $118M. But in the US, adjusted for inflation, it’s the least profitable with $68M, below The Purge (2013) at $71M. So, there were mixed successes this summer with the franchise, which is now moving into television for a weekly dose of society-gone-wrong anarchy.
Solo’s only competition for summer’s biggest face-plant was Skyscraper. My theory about Dwayne Johnson alternating flops with hits held water, hot on the heels of Rampage’s success just three months prior. This $130M action movie was marketed as The Towering Inferno-meets-Die Hard, with the world’s #1 action star The Rock. How could it fail? It’s currently made $292M and has garnered very mixed reviews. It’s opened in China, where it was tailored to appeal to that large marketplace by design, so hopes of an overseas financial reprieve aren’t high. But hey, at least this bellyflop means The Rock’s next movie will be a smash hit. Uh, that’s Stephen Merchant’s Fighting with My Family…
The term “blockbuster” was coined in 1976 when Jaws first broke through the $100M mark, so 42 years later there’s a ‘bigger is better’ version about an ancient shark, the carcharocles megalodon (or “meg”). The Meg’s script is prime Syfy Original Movie schlock material, only starring someone credible like Jason Statham instead of Ian Zerling from Beverly Hills 90210. Oh, and it cost $178M to make, not $178.
If Jurassic World confirmed anything, it’s that filmgoers love watching photorealistic prehistoric monsters chasing people around. The Meg was expected to make $20M on its opening weekend, but made $44.5M, including $4.1M from IMAX screens. That’s better than what Ready Player One and Rampage managed, and is perhaps testament to the witty, Jaws-inflected marketing campaign (“Opening Wide”). It’s a newer August release, so the box office gross isn’t close to being final, but The Meg has so far generated $368M worldwide.
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again
Catering for an older female demographic this summer, the sequel to hit jukebox musical Mamma Mia! became a bigger deal than was perhaps expected. The original came out a full decade ago, so many of the younger principles have aged, plus they sang the most famous Abba hits first time around, but Here We Go Again proved doubters wrong. In fact, reviews were even more positive about this tardy sequel, with many commenting it was better made and more aware of its core strengths. It cost $75M to produce, but has already grossed $330M around the world. It actually made 24% more on its US opening weekend than the original managed, and in the UK it had the fourth biggest opening of 2018 with £12.7M.
The Happytime Murders
Released in the late-summer “dumping ground”, there was nevertheless reason to be hopeful about The Happytime Murders because August is also the place for the more risque, adult-skewing blockbuster-wannabes. The Happytime Murders is this year’s Sausage Party; a movie that takes something “childish” (foam puppets, of the style popularised by Jim Henson) and throws lots of adult themes into the mix. That’s another way of saying it’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit with Muppets, sex, and violence. The project got some early “buzz” when the creators of Sesame Street objected to its tagline “No Sesame. All Street”, but otherwise the trailers seemed to communicate the joke enough that people perhaps knew they could wait for DVD.
And, wow, reviews were incredibly harsh. An instant 25% on Rotten Tomatoes, Happytime Muders was one of the summer’s worst reviewed releases and got buried at the box office with a dismal $10M opening weekend. It cost $40M to make, so… someone’s feeling blue, and it sure ain’t Gonzo!
Originally published at www.framerated.co.uk on August 31, 2018.