Now that’s what I call a summer! Heat, actual heat. Weeks on end of prolonged sunshine and blue skies. This was the kind of summer that only used to exist in the movies. The irony of course is that baking sunshine and relentless barbecue conditions are the sworn enemy of the film industry, keeping its target audience outside drinking cold beers when they should be huddled in the cinema instead, eating unjustifiably expensive popcorn.
Miraculously, the twin threats of unexpected sunshine and the World Cup did not have the disastrous effect on box office takings one might have assumed, which suggests that 2018’s summer movie season was a bit of a decent vintage, offering up blockbusters interesting enough to tempt people off their deckchairs and into the darkened Multiplexes (or maybe they just needed two hours in a room with decent air-conditioning).
A slightly more cynical argument might be that Hollywood was just giving us more of the same only bigger, and we went for the bait. I wrote about the summer of ’93 recently and the fact that not one of the top ten summer movies that year were sequels. In 2018, all bar one of the top ten were either sequels or prequels (or in Mamma Mia 2’s case, both!).
There were some high profile disappointments, the most notorious of which actually made the top ten (more on that later). Into the teens and beyond, the recipient of the dreaded ‘Participation Medal’ for just showing up was Dwayne Johnson, whose Die Hard/Towering Inferno hybrid Skyscraper scraped a meagre $67 million only a few months after Rampage had underperformed. After a miraculous golden spell, it seems that even The Rock has feet of clay – albeit immense feet – though Skyscraper’s overseas haul (another $98 million in China alone) might temper his mood.
Way down at number 34 in the charts is Brian Henson’s wildly misguided R-rated Muppet movie The Happytime Murders, an experience which frankly has all the appeal of accidentally witnessing Brian Cant wearing a gimp suit, pole-dancing with Bungle from Rainbow. I suspect that the few people who saw it have been trying to rinse out the memory with soap and bleach ever since including the critics, who were merciless.
At the other end of the quality scale was Spike Lee’s barnstorming BlacKkKlansman which performed well and garnered some of Lee’s best reviews in years. Sicario: Day of the Soldado was critically well received too but was something of a box office disappointment, particularly in the UK. Tom Linay, head of film at Digital Cinema Media, spoke to Screen Daily – “It came out on June 29, the day after England’s final group game. I don’t know if Lionsgate were banking on England being out of the World Cup by then.”
The annual tradition of over-performing low budget horror movies was present and correct this summer. After A Quiet Place had whetted audience appetites for taut suspense and dread back in the spring, The First Purge did excellent business and Hereditary quickly became something of a modern horror classic.
Comedies were a little thin on the ground this summer. Tag, Melissa McCarthy’s Life of The Party and the laugh-free Overboard remake all ended up in the ‘Meh’ zone, though Book Club with Diane Keaton and Jane Fonda was a big hit with the ever-lucrative over-50 market.
The biggest comedy hit of the summer was a late-entry sleeper that’s still doing well even as we speak. As well as being an important multicultural yardstick, Jon M. Chu’s Crazy Rich Asians was the second feelgood film of the season and will soon end up inside the top ten, where it will replace the other big feelgood event of 2018. Sorry Mamma Mia, but that’s the name of the game…
10. Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again
I don’t care what anyone says, I think Pierce Brosnan’s singing was better this time. The film’s US performance was pretty respectable and the reviews were positive (if a little measured), but here in the UK it became something of a repeat-performance phenomenon, matching its predecessor’s achievement of becoming the biggest hit of the summer. The winner does indeed take it all.
9. The Meg
Let’s face it, the ad campaign was better than the finished film, which felt like a Sharknado movie which, through some contractual misunderstanding had accidentally been given a $130m budget and a competent director. Nonetheless, it was honest, campy fun and Jason Statham’s status as a global superstar has never been less in doubt.
8. Ocean’s 8
You could hear the knives being sharpened online by the same trolling contingent that brought the Ghostbusters redo down to earth like a flaming zeppelin. Instead, Ocean’s 8 was an effective girl-powered vehicle that shut up the naysayers and gave Warner Bros. exactly the kind of grosses they’d hoped for. Anne Hathaway, aptly for a heist movie, stole the show
7. Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation
Despite having two young children, I somehow managed to avoid being dragged to see this, having failed to avoid the first two. Many thousands of parents were not so lucky, and thus it pulled in almost exactly the same amount as the first two instalments. It clearly has a devoted fan-base and (I was informed on the quiet), apparently this one wasn’t that bad. I’m sure the kids will make me buy the DVD.
6. Mission: Impossible – Fallout
What is the greatest ongoing movie franchise? Anyone who doesn’t think the Mission: Impossible films are high on that list after watching this is delirious. They just seem to get better with each one (the shaky second one notwithstanding) and the devotion here to ever-insane, CGI-free stuntwork met with thunderous applause around the world. Henry Cavill finally found a part that worked for him and Cruise… What’s left to say? He’s the same age that Roger Moore was when he made A View To A Kill, yet he looks young enough to be singing in a boy-band. Also… Best. Running. Ever.
5. Ant-Man and The Wasp
After the devastating seven-course banquet of emotion that was Avengers: Infinity War, this was like a bit of a palate cleanser; an After Eight mint of a film, by comparison. It was funny and charming and whizzed along nicely but after the Thanos earthquake back in April, this did feel unavoidably slight (until the post-credits scene which had a genuine sting in its tail).
4. Solo: A Star Wars Story
How do you gross over $200m and still qualify as a failure so immense that the future of one of the greatest modern-day franchises is suddenly in doubt? Enter Solo, the first entirely unessential Star Wars movie. There wasn’t even any good news from the safety net of foreign grosses – it only took another $120m overseas including a derisory $16m in China. For all the negativity however, Solo was actually a perfectly enjoyable space adventure for kids – bit like, well, Star Wars (1977).
If lessons are to be learned back at Lucasfilm HQ the big one is ‘Don’t dilute your brand.’ Like Bond movies, Star Wars films were something we grew up desperately waiting, yearning to see, willing the years to fall away until the next one. Solo turned up before The Last Jedi was even on DVD. I think Solo will age well, but its legacy might end up being the cancellation of any stand-alone Boba Fett or Obi Wan Kenobi films, both of which are currently looking a lot less certain than they did in April.
3. Deadpool 2
Basically a re-tread, only this time with a much better villain, a bigger budget and the ever-welcome addition of Rob Delaney’s Peter. If you liked the first Deadpool movie, the sequel was everything you could have hoped for. That’s about it, really though its immense success gives succour to those of us who have been waiting years for gratuitous blood and gore in mainstream movies to make a comeback. After Logan, Deadpool 2 and now having seen the final trailer for The Predator, my guess is that that Twentieth Century Fox are all for it too. PS. Private bet…who thinks Celine Dion’s song Ashes will win the Oscar for Best Song?
2. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
Initially, the reviews suggested that a terrible mistake had been made and that the franchise, like most of the dinosaurs at one point, was heading for a cliff edge. It was certainly a strange film, especially after the second half when the action was relocated from the park to a Gothic mansion, but audiences were more responsive than the critics and the film has since grossed over a billion worldwide. Points are docked for the absurdly misleading underuse of Jeff Goldblum, but kudos for possibly the most tear-jerking moment of the summer (no spoilers but it involves a brontosaurus with a ‘Wait for me, you guys!’ look on his face and a volcano).
1. Incredibles 2
Sorry Marvel Studios, but according to Box Office Mojo, “The Summer Season is defined as the first Friday in May through Labor Day Weekend,” which means that Avengers: Infinity War with its April release doesn’t actually qualify as a summer movie. I’m sure that the $2 billion worldwide gross will in some small way assuage Marvel’s grief at this disappointing news, and in any case, Marvel’s parent company Disney have Pixar on their roster too so it’s win-win for the House of Mouse.
Brad Bird’s belated follow-up to his brilliant 2004 original was festooned with some of the most exultant critical praise of the summer. It deserved every fawning syllable, being that rare thing: a sequel that eclipses the original. There was more wit, creativity, subversion, sweetness, political awareness and craftsmanship going on in this ‘kid’s film’ than in just about anything made in Hollywood in the past twelve months.
For all its eye-popping brilliance and delicious mid-1960s-futurist art design, at its core was the rarely acknowledged message that, as Edna Mode says, ‘Parenting is a heroic act.’ Not that taking the kids to see this was in any way heroic; it might just have been the best two hours of the year.