Oh, and indeed, dear. If you’re a Hollywood accountant whose annual bonus is determined by a percentage of the grosses, Summer 2017 is a season you will never want to hear about ever again.
Practically all the news was bad this summer. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the take was ‘down nearly 16 percent over last year, the steepest decline in modern times and eclipsing the 14.6 percent dip in 2014. It will also be the first time since 2006 that summer didn’t clear $4 billion.’
The stench of failure was everywhere and the whiff started early. The disasters came in two forms: incipient lucrative franchises scuppered by unpopular, unloveable first instalments, and once-towering franchises toppled finally by audience ennui.
Of the first category, Tom Cruise’s reboot of The Mummy was the worst offender. The first ‘Dark Universe’ movie, confidently announced with its own snappy ident and theme, it was supposed to revive Universal’s sacred legacy of classic horror movies but was instead a ridiculous, hopelessly confused and miscast folly; about the worst film of its kind since Universal’s Van Helsing in 2004, which indicates (especially after Dracula Untold) that the very last people who should be guarding Universal’s legacy are Universal themselves.
Warners took a bath when the opening chapter of their proposed six-movie King Arthur marathon, Legend of The Sword became the first major casualty of the summer, doing to David Beckham’s flowering acting career what the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch did to the much-fear’d white rabbit of Caerbannog.
Steven King’s magnum opus, six-volume The Dark Tower was reduced to an hour and a half of utter nonsense (enlivened only by Idris Elba’s impressive gun-reloading skills), disappointing millions of expectant fans and barely squeaking into the top 20. King fans will hopefully be compensated this month, when It follows.
Elba could at least console himself that he wasn’t Luc Besson, who managed to raise $177m to fund his dream project, an adaptation of the French comic strip Valérian and Laureline, which he hoped would see him reliving his Fifth Element glory days. A bewildered, disinterested critical response saw Valerian and The City of A Thousand Planets funnel less than $40m back onto Besson’s credit card, and it is now doomed to float in the same simmering scum-bucket of sci-fi ignominy as Delgo and The Adventures of Pluto Nash.
Pirates of The Caribbean was the first of the Old Gods to show its feet of clay. Dead Men Tell No Tales (or Salazar’s Revenge over here – why?!) was followed into box office meh-dom by the fifth Transformers film: the first to disappoint financially and the fourth to disappoint critically, plus there were marked downward takings for the Despicable Me series.
The best that could be said about Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant is that it was better than the last one (coincidentally the sum-total of Cars 3’s critical evaluation), which was enough of a C-grade for Fox to go cold on a number of future Alien adventures – though it still won the coveted ‘Poster of The Summer Award’ with this…
However, it wasn’t all bad news. Once again, the international markets came to the rescue, meaning that domestic duds like The Mummy and Pirates 5 made a fortune on the books. Even Valerian made most of its budget back when foreign grosses were added.
Plus, amongst the tedium, there were some fantastically enjoyable films released this summer including at least two future classics, and some huge successes from unexpected quarters. Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver was cruelly denied a place in the top ten but still took over $100m and cemented Wright’s credentials as a major Hollywood player – as well as making Golden Earring fashionable again.
Soderbergh’s Logan Lucky, Bigelow’s Detroit and Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled won critical kudos (if not the financial equivalence) and showed that the studios were keen that the summer shouldn’t be just about explosions and superheroes. In fact, compared to last year, I’d say that for three or four weeks, this was actually a pretty vintage summer.
Plus with films like Thor: Ragnarok, Justice League and Star Wars: The Last Jedi all out before Christmas, it’s a bit too early for the accountants to write 2017 off just yet.
Time now to head down to the bookies and place your bets. Who took the gold at the US box office this summer? If Baby would kindly spin his iPod dial and click on the theme to Pick of The Pops, we can now reveal the top ten…
(Figures courtesy of Box Office Mojo)
10 – Girls Trip
Comedy is normally a dependable summer stalwart. Audience-pleasing and relatively inexpensive, the rewards for hitting the funny-bone just right are potentially immense (The Hangover, Bridesmaids, We’re The Millers). This summer, some highly anticipated comedies just came and went. Some just didn’t get the traction they deserved (The Big Sick, The House), some forgot to add the somewhat crucial element of laughter (Rough Night and especially Baywatch).
Girls Night was the exception and became the summer’s big sleeper hit. Paying as much attention to character and relationships as it did to the big funny set-pieces, it will probably do to Tiffany Haddish’s career what Bridesmaids did for Melissa McCarthy’s.
9 – Transformers: The Last Knight
Finally, the penny seems to have dropped. There are, it turns out, only so many times that audiences can get excited about talking robots hitting each other a lot. Back in 2014, the fourth Transformers movie Age of Extinction was yet another behemoth, finishing second with $245m and over a billion clams internationally.
The Last Knight (Michael Bay’s promised final stint in the Transformers director’s chair) fell behind that total to the tune of $400m, an astonishing drop off, one that gave fans of subtlety and nuance cause for brief celebration until it was confirmed that a Bumblebee spin-off will indeed be followed by another Transformers movie in 2019. Yay.
8 – War For The Planet of the Apes
Proof that returns don’t necessarily need to be diminishing, the new Apes series went from strength to strength with this third entry (or ninth, depending on your point of view). Despite the W word, this was a curiously low-key, personal story, set for its majority in a single location.
This might account for the real-terms drop-off from Dawn’s $208m gross in 2014. Nevertheless, it was a critical hit for returning director Matt Reeves, with Andy Serkis on dependably stunning form and the utterly flawless special effects being so special that you don’t even notice them.
7 – Cars 3
Cars is the blind spot in Pixar’s windscreen. The first ‘OK but not great’ entry in their filmography, the subsequent arrival of Cars 2 suggested that these miraculous pioneering animators might just have caught a lucky-streak for a few years and were now showing their true colours.
The inexplicable announcement of Cars 3 appeared to be a depressingly brazen acknowledgement that the lure of the merchandising dollars ($10billion and counting) was too tempting for Pixar to turn down. However the third movie was unexpectedly mature and better than anyone had a right to expect – and how sweet to hear Paul Newman’s voice just one last time.
6 -Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
Like the Transformers films, the ‘Pirates’ franchise has set critics and audiences apart like families feuding over the Brexit debate. By all means ask Mark Kermode what he thinks about the adventures of Jack Sparrow but be sure to stand back to a safe distance when you do. Despite the advice of film critics everywhere however, the Pirates movies have all been dependable box office Goliaths, even the last one.
Presumably Johnny Depp’s seemingly never-ending bad publicity bandwagon didn’t help – did you notice how little he featured in the marketing? – but it seems that the Black Pearl has finally struck a reef with all hands on deck. Domestically this took a nose-dive of $70m from the $240m that On Stranger Tides brought in, though international ticket sales of $791m amounts to some serious pieces of eight. In truth, this was probably the best Pirates film since the first one in 2003 but does anyone though, anyone really want to see this ship set sail again?
5 – Dunkirk
The Academy Awards are over five months away but the front runner for Best Picture has already been released, and at the height of summer no less. After weeks of comic book capery and poorly performing non-blockbusters, Dunkirk’s stark, tension-straining rescue drama was like an adrenaline shot to the brain.
The marquee value of Christopher Nolan’s name, combined with the teen-bait appeal of Harry Styles (and didn’t he do well?) saw an impressive first week at the top of the charts and a $50m opening, but the sheer quality and the resulting rhapsodic word-of-mouth extended its appeal throughout the summer: in the UK it stayed at number one for four straight weeks. Dunkirk also proved that all the money in the world can’t buy you a special effect as memorable as Mark Rylance looking a little bit pensive.
4 – Despicable Me 3
Three. By all accounts, it’s a magic number. It’s also the average number of stars this movie received from the critics across the board. It’s ridiculous to label a film that is only a handful of small change away from taking $1billion internationally a flop, but didn’t it just feel a bit same old-same old? Perhaps because Despicable Me 2 was something of a phenomenon, this just felt a little below par by comparison.
Nonetheless, every single moment of Trey Parker’s antics as ‘80s-obsessed villain Balthazar Bratt was worth the price of admission alone, and the supplemental income of the merchandising makes Part 4 inevitable. As someone whose sleep is being constantly disturbed these days by a laughing Minion liquid soap dispenser, I can wait.
3 – Spider-Man: Homecoming
Cannily holding out until July, when many of the big guns had fired their bolts, the third 21st century Spider-Man incarnation finally made his appearance and it was clear from the pre-credits video-diary onwards that the world had found its definitive Peter Parker in Tom Holland. In box office terms, it didn’t quite scale the same heights as Sam Raimi’s trilogy, but John Watts’s fun and vital new vision instantly repositioned Spidey as of one of Marvel’s most valuable players.
It helped enormously to have former Batman Michael Keaton around as a well-written, complex villain, but with Spider-Man now safely in the Avengers MCU where he belongs, it could be argued that the biggest baddie he ever faced was former producer Avi “Three Villains Minimum” Arad, from whose contractual clutches, Spidey has now been rescued.
2 – Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
The first Guardians film was Marvel’s riskiest roll of the dice to date, a group of unknown heroes including a tree and a talking raccoon, its August opening date was not viewed as a sign of confidence. However, it became the biggest hit of the summer: a highly original, immensely enjoyable character-based romp filled with the fun spirit of the Spielbergian 1980s.
Vol. 2 suffered a little from the unavoidable lack of surprise and overcompensated for it with too much spectacle and not enough discipline. Nonetheless, these are still some of the most loveable and engaging characters in contemporary mainstream cinema. For my money, Dave Bautista stole the show: his proud proclamation that “I have famously huge turds” might just have been the greatest line of the summer.
1 – Wonder Woman
Marvel must be getting a bit sick of all the silver medals they’ve been accumulating these past few summers. Last year, Finding Dory kept Captain America: Civil War back in second place and Avengers: Age of Ultron was pipped to the post by Jurassic World in 2015. This year’s second place must have been an especially painful blow as they lost to the auld enemy – DC!
After years of ‘umming’ and ‘ahhing’ from ball-less studio execs dithering over the commercial value of a female superhero movie, Patty Jenkins’s massively enjoyable origin movie showed the boys who was in charge. The $103m it took on its opening weekend left no doubt for the naysayers, but such was its stamina that it just kept going, as wave after wave of cinemagoers fell to its charms (it was even re-released last week to capitalise on the absence of any hits in the multiplexes).
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman was the most miraculously perfect combination of actor and character since Christopher Reeve became Superman in 1978. By far the best thing in Batman v Superman (a film Wonder Woman has now trounced at the box office), Gadot has now given doubters something to look forward to when Justice League opens in November. In fact, she and Jenkins have single-handedly corrected the course of the entire DCU adventure. The future’s bright. Wondrous, even.