It wasn’t all good news for Avengers Endgame. Yes, it became the fastest film to make a billion worldwide, yes it overtook first Titanic, then Avatar to become the second most successful film ever made, yes it was rather good, but according to ancient edicts handed down in the great verbal tradition since the time of Jaws and Star Wars…it didn’t actually qualify as a summer movie.
According to Box Office Mojo, ‘The Summer Season is defined as the first Friday in May through Labor Day Weekend’, so Endgame with its April launch will have to console itself with a Spring release category – that and its $2,796,250,059 global take, which will give Marvel some much needed succour, I’m quite sure.
The epic, meticulously crafted pay off to 11 years of game-changing world-building from Marvel Studios, Endgame was this year’s true movie phenomenon and there was talk of little else for weeks in the run up to opening day and during the many weeks that followed.
In fact, it rather drained the air out of the entire summer, like a kid smacking the only ball anyone had to play with for a home run on the first throw; out into orbit, never to be seen again. Once Endgame had finished its first run in the cinemas (another one appeared like a victory lap, just to make sure Avatar’s record was broken), the summer season proper began with the most underwhelming blockbuster line-up since 2001 (the year, not the film).
Within weeks of each other, Men In Black International and X-Men sequel/remake Dark Phoenix came and went, smothered by some punishingly unpleasant reviews. MIB4’s failure might have reflected the fact that no one, not one person has ever thought to themselves, ‘I’d love to see a new Men In Black film, only not starring Will Smith or Tommy Lee Jones.”
Subject to several re-shoots and bounced around the schedules for over a year, Dark Phoenix was an anticlimactic mess and earned less than the unloved X-Men: Apocalypse made in its opening weekend. By this point in the season, people were already asking, ‘Does anyone other than Disney know how to make blockbusters anymore?’
Nothing else really seemed to work, and not always through lack of effort or quality. There were no big sleeper hits this summer; no Crazy Rich Asians. Booksmart should have been that surprise break-out hit, or maybe Midsommar? Both were critical darlings but neither of them cracked $30m.
Kids movies are usually a goldmine thanks to parents being compelled to pay for their seats too even though they’d rather be anywhere else in the world, but Dora and The Lost City of Gold failed to land despite excellent word of mouth. The Angry Birds Movie 2 flopped too, but that was simply karma.
Where was the big comedy smash, like the ones we remember from the 1990s in the heyday of Jim Carrey, Robin Williams and Steve Martin? Well, this summer we got The Hustle, a remake of Martin’s own Dirty Rotten Scoundrels which everyone has now thankfully forgotten. Good Boys was smutty fun, but a $60m gross is pretty minor league stuff.
Horror movies seem to have replaced comedies as the dependable, mid-budget counter-programming alternative night out these days (insert your own observation here about how this reflects the state of the world). This summer we had Ma, Crawl and Annabelle Comes Home, all perfectly scary but there was no Conjuring-style break-out smash. No Purge.
Jukebox movies briefly became a thing. Following the staggering success of Bohemian Rhapsody, the Elton John biopic Rocketman was a sizeable critical and financial hit, narrowly missing the top ten. Danny Boyle’s Beatles rom-com Yesterday couldn’t quite match it, despite a pleasingly insane high-concept premise, but the Springsteen-tinted comedy Blinded By The Light mystifyingly passed audiences by altogether.
All in all, Summer 2019 petered out leaving more questions than answers. Worryingly, one poser might be that given the popularity of streaming providers like Netflix, Amazon Prime and the incoming Disney +, are audiences really starting to lose the willpower to leave their homes and pay to see movies like Booksmart and The Farewell at the cinema; anything other than big blockbuster franchise epics?
Or was it simply that this summer, audiences were short-changed by a release slate that didn’t really appeal. Profits were down by 5.9% on last year which will make for some terribly awkward silences at the studio AGMs later in the year.
A pretty stunning roster of upcoming films between now and Christmas will provide more concrete answers to these dilemmas but until then, let’s take a look at the films that bust the blocks this summer.
(Figures based on US grosses. source: Box Office Mojo)
Godzilla: King of the Monsters
It’s hard to imagine how it’s possible to make a film about skyscraper-sized monsters knocking seven bells out of each other and still make it uninvolving but, like nature, they found a way. Despite some eye-popping moments, reviews were pretty brutal and bad word of mouth may have dented the box office which was $90m down on Gareth Edwards’s reimagining back in 2014. If this whole Monsterverse thing is going to live past 2020, next year’s Godzilla vs Kong will have to be nothing short of a-maaaaaaaazing. Here’s hoping.
Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood
Yes it was far too long, and we’re going to be talking about that ending for years to come. However, Quentin Tarantino’s bedtime story to his 13 year old self is the only original film in the top ten, and we should thank merciful heaven for it. It sets tongues wagging passionately for and against it, but it ultimately proved one thing beyond a doubt: all the money in the world can’t buy you the SFX to match the charisma of a genuine movie star fixing a TV aerial with his shirt off and a tinny in his work belt.
Pokemon Detective Pikachu
A pleasant anomaly inveigled itself into the franchise set this summer. What everyone expected to be yet another cynical cash-grab on the still-fresh memories of our toy-obsessed youth (another Power Rangers disappointment), was far more enjoyable, more ingenious than anyone had the right to expect. Ryan Reynolds helped things along nicely.
The Secret Life of Pets 2
More of the same from Illumination, with Max’s vocal chords tweaked a little and the new addition of a Welsh Sheepdog that sounds like Harrison Ford. My kids saw it, loved it, never mentioned it again. Like I say: more of the same, and perhaps that just wasn’t enough. For whatever reason, this perfectly fun film made half as much as its predecessor, which means that the Secret Life of Pets 3 is likely to remain a secret.
Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw
Full disclosure – I haven’t seen this yet but the feedback I got from friends who did was that it was a classic ‘dumb but fun’ action caper with an enjoyable sideline of deranged silliness. However I can’t imagine it was as interesting to watch as all the revelations about the contractual ‘parity of punches thrown’ stuff were to read.
John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
If there is one thing that can unite this fractured, crazy world of ours, it’s our mutual love of Keanu Reeves which reached a blossomy zenith this summer. When he wasn’t appearing in random video clips being intensely ‘Keanu Reeves’ he was stealing Toy Story 4 from everyone else as Canada’s Favourite Stuntbiker, Duke Caboom, and making the year’s best cameo in Netflix’s Always Be My Maybe. John Wick 3 was delirious fun and Reeves’s new found International Heritage status has seen sequels to The Matrix and Bill & Ted both greenlit. Perhaps it’s not too late to dream that we can, after all, be excellent to each other.
Budding accountants out there will have noted that there is a gap of over $180m between John Wick 3’s grosses and this, the first of four films released under Disney’s watchful eye. This demonstrates the extent to which The Mouse now dominates mainstream Hollywood, being effectively the home address of Pixar, Marvel Studios, Lucasfilm and now 20th Century Fox – hey, does that mean we can get the Fox Fanfare put back on the front of our Star Wars movies? I digress… Fans were unnerved initially by Will Smith’s blue CGI Genie, and Dumbo’s poor performance in March didn’t bode well, but Aladdin’s wishes came true – it put over a billion dollars into Disney’s coffers and a sequel is now on the cards.
Spider-Man: Far from Home
As much a sequel to Avengers Endgame as it was to Homecoming, this had a lot to live up to, and rose to the task. Still fresh and confident enough to feel like a John Hughes film with a £200m effects budget, it tackled the aftermath of Endgame with tremendous wit and emotional warmth. Tom Holland meanwhile cemented his position as the ultimate Peter Parker, which made August’s real world coda all the more frustrating. After a very public corporate-level hissy fit, it seems that Spider-Man will remain in the MCU after Sony and Disney made up. Spider-Man may have just avoided a fight with his most implacable foe yet: lawyers.
Toy Story 4
I’m sure that many share my opinion that the Toy Story trilogy is up there with anything made by Nolan, Kieślowski or Jackson, so the news that a fourth movie was in development wasn’t met with universal elation. What fools we were to doubt. I’m not 100% sure that it’s up with the very best of the series, but then I had to take my son out for a break because the ventriloquist dummies were giving him the fear. Despite missing ten minutes, I was still a blubbering wreck at the end.
The Lion King
Back in 1994, The Lion King became both the most successful animated movie of all time and a cultural phenomenon to boot, but like a passed-over Scar, it lost the summer box office crown to the unlikeliest champion, Forrest Gump. 25 years later, there were no such surprise rivals and CGI Simba is the undisputed king of the summer. As much as the visuals were astonishing – how rare is it to ask ‘how did they do that?’ of a computer generated movie? – am I alone in feeling that we’ve been tricked into buying something twice, like a remastered favourite album, which you already own on vinyl, cassette and CD? Still, with grosses like these, Disney will be reprinting itself for years to come (The Lady & The Tramp is on its way as well as that Maleficent sequel we all begged for, while Mulan arrives next year).