Predicting how a whole summer’s worth of movie madness will play out

This column is From The Archive. It was originally published on hallbrothersfilm.com on April 30, 2015.

The month of May is less than a week away from dawning upon us all, bringing with it the beginning of summer and, of course, the much-ballyhooed summer movie season. If the fall/winter season (September through December) is for your prestige, awards-bait films and the spring (January through April), is where studios dump stuff they did not know what to do with, then that leaves the summer season (May through August) as the time in our lives where we come together to watch some good ol’ fashioned block busting.

Yes, in the grand tradition of pairing movies with seasons, the summer season is the one that looms largest, both for studio executives who rely on the four month span of blockbuster mayhem to make sure they hit their bottom lines and for fanboys everywhere who know that summer, more than anywhere else, is where their insatiable appetites will be precisely catered to but never quite satisfied. That’s what NEXT SUMMER is for!

(It is worth noting that this year and next could mark the beginning of the end for the whole “movie season” mentality and bring about the prophesized “Year-Round Movie Calendar”. Our favorite space saga will drop in December this year and with hits like Alice in Wonderland, The Hunger Games, and next year’s throwdown between Batfleck and Superman, March is the new May.)

This summer promises a healthy lineup of superhero ass-kicking, sequels to film franchises we had honestly forgotten about, as well as all-new adaptations of properties that we did not even know could be turned into movies. All of these films are going to make gobs of money. Most of us will eagerly look to see which tent pole will make the most money, but we here at The Hall Brothers (that is to say, Phillip and myself) want to know something much, much, much more important. We want to know, when the dust settles and the pockets of studios are sufficiently lined with cash, which film will truly win the summer.

Winning can mean a lot of things, but in this instance I’m talking about the intangible type of victory that doesn’t rely on “numbers” and “data” to be validated, but more so my particular feelings and undoubtedly always correct opinions. To win the summer movie season, a film must surely make obscene amounts of money (R.I.P.D. and The Lone Ranger could not be described as winners in any sense of the term) but it must also measure a certain size of cultural footprint, one that will leave a mark on society long after the hot summer air has turned into the cool breeze of fall. Past summer winners, like 2009 champion The Hangover, didn’t make the most money during their summer showcase, but when was the last time you talked about Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen?

There is only one way to determine a true winner of the summer movie season and that is with, of course, a detailed March Madness-style bracket that pits the films of the season against each other, making them battle though multiple rounds of intense scrutiny and conjecture until one film is determined champion and lord over all the others. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you SUMMER MOVIE MADNESS 2015.

Now obviously we won’t know who will truly win the summer till it’s over, so what follows now are my surefire predictions for each round of intense, totally hypothetical action!

Like the NCAA bracket, this frame of contenders is divided into four regions that I have expertly titled as follows: Revenge of the 90s, Tights Required, Women See Movies Too!, and Bros Night. Each region will consist of four films hand-selected by myself as films worthy of possibly being declared the winner of this hallowed movie period. Since we’re not entirely barbarians here and therefore do value some structure, every film has been seeded in their region according to the number of likes the film has on their official Facebook page.

Each round will matchup a pairs of films against each other. Two films will enter, one will leave. To win a matchup, a film must be judged to be more of a “winner” than the other. Who decides who wins? Me. Who made the rules? Me. Any problems with that? Talk to Phil.

Here are the Sweet 16 of SUMMER MOVIE MADNESS 2015!

Revenge of the 90s

(1) Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation

(2) Terminator Genisys

(3) Jurassic World

(4) Mad Max: Fury Road

Tights Required

(1) Avengers: Age of Ultron

(2) Fantastic Four

(3) Ant-Man

(4) The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Women See Movies Too!

(1) Pitch Perfect 2

(2) Magic Mike XXL

(3) Trainwreck

(4) Inside Out

Bros Night

(1) Ted 2

(2) Entourage

(3) San Andreas

(4) Tomorrowland

And now, here is your bracket of madness!

Today I’ll cover the Sweet 16 and tomorrow I’ll wrap up with the Elite Eight, Final Four, and I’ll predict a champion! Let the madness BEGIN!

The Sweet 16

Revenge of the 90s

(1) Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation vs. (4) Mad Max: Fury Road

The General Idea: Tom Cruise teams up with his buddies from the last movie plus some new lady to try and stop bad guys from doing bad guy stuff. The mission, it seems, is impossible. Let’s not overthink this.

The General Idea: Tom Hardy takes over for Mel Gibson as the Road Warrior Max Rockatansky in this reboot of the classic post-apocalyptic franchise.

What a great matchup to kick us off! We have another installment in the at-least-above .500 franchise that is Mission: Impossible and we have what could be the triumphant return of a long forgotten cinema hero in Fury Road. Now the original trilogy of Mad Max films came out in the late 70s and 80s, so it’s placing in this region is already suspect, but it had to go somewhere and this seemed like the best fit. SO JUST GO WITH IT! GOD!

Until this bracket, I had not seen any of George Miller’s original Mad Max films, but in the interest of being fully informed, I took it upon myself to crank through the three original films to get an idea of what, if anything, I could expect from the batshit insanity that looks to be Fury Road. I only made it through the first two (sorry Thunderdome!) but I did learn a lot. First off, the 80s were a crazy time. Second, I don’t think I can say that the films aged well, but it’s not hard to understand why they struck a chord with people back when they first came out. The films are very atmospheric, which surprised me because I was expecting 90 minutes of car chases and explosions. And while the films do deliver their fair share of that, Miller doesn’t try to weave ordinate plots around all the mayhem. The mayhem is the plot and the point. You could comprehensively sum up what “happens” in these two films in two quick sentences, but there is clearly more going on than what is just going on.

Mission: Impossible could be seen as the opposite of the Mad Max films in this way. These films are also all about action set pieces, but unlike Miller, the people behind Mission: Impossible are going out of their way to try and craft a plot that connects and justifies all the action. It’s a more traditional approach, but also, perhaps, one more riddled with opportunities to epic-ly fail. Unlike James Bond though, M:I comes from the fortunate position of not being so engrained in the cultural mythos to require perfection from every outing.

This seeming advantage is also going to be Rogue Nation’s downfall in this bracket. Were you counting down the days till they announced another M:I movie or did you stumble upon the trailer one afternoon and thought, “Oh, they’re making another one of those. Looks cool. Guess I’ll see it.” Perhaps we’re taking M:I and Tom Cruise for granted or perhaps the films are really just boilerplate action flicks with, as Varys from Game of Thrones would say, “the right family name.” From its one trailer, I can already tell what I’m in for with Rogue Nation purely because I’ve seen a Mission: Impossible film before. Even if I do like it, I’ll probably forget about it by the fall. With all this in mind, I’m choosing instead to ride the wave of pure intrigue that is my feelings for a revved up, 2015 version of the Road Warrior and assume the greater populace will as well.

WINNER: Mad Max: Fury Road

(2) Terminator Genisys vs. (3) Jurassic World

The General Idea: Arnold Schwarzenegger is baaaaccckkk and this time he’s brought Game of Throne’s Emila Clarke with him. Clarke is our new Sarah Connor while Arnold plays an aged Terminator that’s been trained to protect her.

The General Idea: As these films are wont to do, dinosaurs have escaped and are causing a ruckus. Our heroes, Pratt and Howard this time, need to wrangle up all the prehistoric terror before things get too out of hand.

A showdown of true 90s powerhouses! While the original Terminator came out in the 80s, the apex film of the franchise, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, came out in 1991. The original Jurassic Park came out in ’93 followed four years later by The Lost World in ’97. In this matchup, we have the definitive examples of Hollywood’s ever-growing desire to play off nostalgia and brand recognition in order to ensure some sort of financial security. But which film will prove to be a stronger safety net?

On one hand, we have the Mother of Dragons becoming the mother of the human resistance and on the other we have humanity’s new collective best friend Chris Pratt riding on a motorcycle flanked by raptors! Oh man! Here’s my concern right now for both: Take a look at their trailers. Do any of the effects look that mind-boggling to you? In some cases, they don’t even look finished. The worry is that these are so clearly going to be effects-heavy films, and if they look half-assed in the trailers, then what should I expect out of the whole movie?

This brings me back to Clarke and Pratt. Genuine rocks stars of the moment whose affinity amongst fans is unassailable. If these films are going to succeed, it will be by standing on their shoulders. I have no doubt that both are going to do their best to make these reboots stick, but when all is considered, Pratt has the advantage here. First, he’s playing a swashbuckling dinosaur wrangler who seems to share 99.9% of his DNA with Pratt’s breakthrough character Star Lord from Guardians of the Galaxy. And who doesn’t love Star Lord?! And who doesn’t want to see Star Lord cruising around with some dinosaurs?! If you answered, “I don’t” to either one of those questions then you’re a dirty liar. Pratt’s second advantage is time, in that it’s been over a decade since we last saw a Jurassic movie. Clarke has to carry the burden of washing away our memories of 2009’s Terminator: Salvation while at the same time establishing her own franchise as the better reboot. I’m not saying she can’t do it, but she’s playing with a handicap, and to win this tournament, you need to be firing on all cylinders.

WINNER: Jurassic World

Tights Required

(1) Avengers: Age of Ultron vs. (4) The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

The General Idea: The Marvel machine keeps barreling forward with its marquee franchise. This time, the super best friends have to fight a James Spader-voiced robot.

The General Idea: A cinematic adaptation of the classic NBC television show from the 1960s about two spies, one from the USA the other from the USSR, coming together to stop an evil organization from doing evil organization things.

I’ll make this quick. Avengers has already made over $200 million in overseas releases and is on track to have the biggest opening weekend of all time. Marvel films to date have grossed, and this is just an estimate, a gazillion bajillion dollars.

Poor Man from U.N.C.L.E. wasn’t even supposed to be here. It’s stepping in for Joe Wright’s Pan after that movie bailed for the fall. I’ll give it this: the film genuinely looks fun. Henry Cavill looks to have more charisma here than he ever will as Superman and Alicia Vikander is having a moment after her impressive work in the wonderful Ex Machina.

But there’s no way Avengers goes down in the first round, if at all. The machine is hungry and must satisfied.

WINNER: Avengers: Age of Ultron

(2) Fantastic Four vs. (3) Ant-Man

The General Idea: 20th Century Fox takes another crack at bringing the classic superhero team to life, this time casting a bunch of hot twentysomethings as scientists who acquire mutant powers and have to, you know, save the world.

The General Idea: Paul Rudd suits up and then shrinks down to the size of an ant to fight bad guys. If it sounds ridiculous, well…

Are we about to witness the first failed Marvel property? The story of Ant-Man’s troubled production has been well documented, but even if we ignored all that and focused solely on the footage we have seen thus far, is there anything in this film that stokes your passions? I mean, I love Paul Rudd as much as the next guy, but that’s not enough to combat what sounds like a boilerplate script with a semi-absurd premise. I have long held the belief that certain comic book characters work well on the page but simply do not translate well to a different medium like film. This looks to possibly be Exhibit A in that argument.

Meanwhile, Fantastic Four shows some promise. A darker, more somber tone is being used to differentiate the franchise-starter, not just from anything Marvel is currently offering, but also from the 2005 and 2007 films that first brought these characters to the big screen. Josh Trank, fresh off of his debut film Chronicle, has already booked a coveted Star Wars gig, so one gets the impression that the young director seems to know what he’s doing when it comes to large properties. This film gives off the air of striking big with the cultural conscience if everything breaks right for it. And I’m talking everything. The young cast needs to be locked in, Trank has to prove that the creative energy behind Chronicle wasn’t a fluke, and the script needs to be at or above bearable. If all that happens, then this is the film that could walk out of the summer with more than just money in its pockets.

The marketing team behind Ant-Man needs to work a little harder to fight the feeling that this film is being made purely because they got too far into it to turn back. Where’s the excitement? The energy? The anticipation? Maybe it drums up those feelings in the next couple of months, Marvel makes another $100 million, and I look like an idiot for ever doubting the machine. But we’re making picks today, not a couple months from now, and because of that I’m going with the new kids on the block.

WINNER: Fantastic Four

Women See Movies Too!

(1) Pitch Perfect 2 vs. (4) Inside Out

The General Idea: The Barden Bellas are back to slay some more a cappella competitions. The Green Bay Packers make an appearance.

The General Idea: A high-concept film that takes place in the mind of a young girl, where her emotions, now given individual personalities, serve as the main characters.

Pitch Perfect was one of those pleasant surprises from 2012 that overperformed both at the box office and with critics. I can always get down with films that shake off the confines of their budget/genre/release date/whatever to come out of the blue and become something more than what anyone expected. Plus, a cappella! As a kid who did musicals and choir in high school, I am always down for some a cappella magic if for nothing else than to dust up some sweet nostalgia of the days when people singing without instruments was the illest thing I could think of. Also, Anna Kendrick has now become a justified national treasure and if Pitch Perfect contributed to that meteoric rise, then it couldn’t be blamed for anything.

Now Pitch Perfect 2 does not have any of the advantages that Pitch Perfect had. Expectations now be afoot and one can’t help but wonder where the story plans to go after the conclusion of the first one. Is it just going to be more a cappella competitions, each one larger and more cutthroat than the last? I mean guess that’s cool, remember the problem a show like Glee ran into, when the conclusion of every season was a singing competition, whether it was a regional or national one? The stakes start to wear off when we know that there is always a bigger fish to be caught.

The other contender in this matchup comes from a dynasty of summer movie champions. Pixar films like Finding Nemo, Ratatouille, and Toy Story 3 walked away from their respective seasons with the captured hearts and minds of the people and for good reason! They were part of an unprecedented streak of nearly flawless animated stories from a studio that had yet to have a major hiccup. Having the Pixar lamp above the title probably helped sell a movie more than any other type of marketing material purely because the public had so much trust in the brand. After a three-year slump of films that featured Cars 2, Brave, and Monsters University, the same auto-trust might not apply to Inside Out. The film will have to rest on its own individual merits and build its own good will with audiences if it is to succeed.

That being said, I think it can do it! The trailers so far look like this could be a true return to form for the studio, with a concept that seems at times entirely unique and yet totally Pixar. If it can tap into the creative magic that marked the first 15 years of Pixar films, then Inside Out should quickly rise to the top of people’s “Best of the Year” lists.

WINNER: Inside Out

(2) Magic Mike XXL vs. (3) Trainwreck

The General Idea: Channing Tatum returns as male stripper Magic Mike and blah, blah, blah you stopped listening after the words “Channing Tatum” and “stripper” appeared in the same sentence.

The General Idea: Amy Schumer makes the leap to the big screen in a comedy about discovering if monogamy is realistic or not.

Confession: I never saw Magic Mike so my assessment of its sequel’s odds of winning the summer will be based entirely on pure speculation. But, as fans of the first film might say, what a thing to speculate about! I have remarkable respect for Steven Soderbergh, the man behind the first Magic Mike and the fact that his longtime 1st AD Gregory Jacobs is picking up the reins for the follow-up gives me confidence that whatever magic was in the first film will flow right into the next one. (There is a way, I feel, of reading that entire last sentence as one long innuendo.) But really, I see nothing here that would dissuade a fan of the original from not jumping onboard the second one.

With XXL, we know what we’re getting into, but with Trainwreck we’re dealing entirely with promise. Even though this is technically a Judd Apatow joint, this film is being billed as the big screen debut of comedian Amy Schumer. Her show, Inside Amy Schumer on Comedy Central, is a gem. She has a sense of humor that, until now, has usually been reserved for men and her sketches can serve as both digs to the status quo while also being objectively hilarious. Trainwreck’s ceiling is high with Schumer leading the way.

So this is a coin-toss matchup for me. My natural skepticism of all sequels will prove a deciding factor here and I’ll go with Apatow and Schumer to move on to the next round, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Mike prove me wrong.

WINNER: Trainwreck

Bros Night

(1) Ted 2 vs. (4) Tomorrowland

The General Idea: The world’s worst-behaved teddy bear returns to the big screen, this time going to court to prove he’s a person.

The General Idea: Think of the area in Disneyland where Space Mountain is located and now imagine you were riding Space Mountain but instead of your brother sitting next to you it’s George Clooney.

The financial success of the first Ted movie guaranteed that a sequel would be coming, so now that Ted 2 is here, what do we think? You watch the trailer and it looks to be more of the same shenanigans that the first film covered, which is both a good and bad thing. No one is expecting a reinvention of the wheel with this movie, but if we’re talking about a film truly winning the summer, than what Ted 2 has to do is contribute towards vaulting Ted, the foul-mouthed teddy bear, into the long term American lexicon. Simply coasting will not do.

Much like the previous Magic Mike v. Trainwreck matchup, what we have here is a proven property going up against the pure potential of another. Tomorrowland looks like a genuine franchise-starter aimed at stoking the bases of both the Hunger Games and Marvel crowds. What I’ll give Brad Bird’s film out of the gate is that, for a film that finds its roots in a theme park land, the movie appears to have a story. A young girl discovers a hidden land that she has to save and George Clooney winds up being her guide to all things Tomorrow. I mean, for a summer movie, it doesn’t get much better than that.

The same logic that pushed Trainwreck to an early victory will do the same here. I think that films with something to prove will always stick in the minds of the people more than a film that’s simply looking to keep a good thing going. I have no doubt that Ted 2 will find an audience, but if Tomorrowland can prove halfway decent, then I think its audience will prove more passionate. Plus, once again, George Clooney is in Tomorrowland. Clooney makes everything cool.

WINNER: Tomorrowland

(2) Entourage vs. (3) San Andreas

The General Idea: Vinny and the boys are back as the hit HBO show gets the big screen treatment.

he General Idea: The worst nightmare of anyone living in Los Angeles is brought to vivid life.

I’ll cut to the chase on this one. There’s no way Vincent Chase, star of such hits as Queen’s Boulevard, Aquaman, and the downright misunderstood Medellin is losing in the first round. Vincent Chase is a legend that those of us who scuttle about this city can only dream of becoming. Don’t think he hasn’t noticed that others are trying to remake his most noteworthy roles. Jason Mamoa as Aquaman? Please. Benicio Del Toro as Pablo Escobar? He wishes he had half of Vince’s talent. Tobey Maguire as Nick Calloway in Great Gatsby? A pawn in the chess game that is life where Vinny Chase is both the King AND Queen.

San Andreas would no doubt be a better movie if it starred Vincent Chase. But it doesn’t. It stars Dwayne Johnson. Enough said.

WINNER: Entourage

After a day of action, here’s where the bracket now stands:

Look for Part 2 tomorrow where I will reveal my final picks for the Elite Eight, Final Four, and where I will predict which film will undoubtedly win SUMMER MOVIE MADNESS 2015!