Summer in Review: June
By BOP Staff
October 29, 2008
9) The Love Guru - There is a Studio 60 quote that applies here. "Chevy Chase woke up one day and he just wasn't funny any more." I would argue that Mike Myers experienced the same thing the day after the original Austin Powers stopped filming. The rest of the world had clearly disagreed with me up until The Cat in the Hat came out five years ago. Since then, if he is not doing his Irish brogue ogre voice, they have come to see him for what he is: an angry, bitter man who is convinced he is much more talented than is the case. The Chevy Chase analogy holds. With The Love Guru, this is a film that everyone involved should have known wasn't a good idea months prior to the start of principal photography. The fact that it even got filmed is somewhat amazing, all things considered. Similarly, while The Love Guru is a financial disaster, Myers did manage to trick $32.2 million into giving it the benefit of the doubt. To my mind, this is an even more impressive feat than Joe Maddon's leading the Tampa Bay Rays to the World Series.
8) Kit Kittredge: An American Girl - I was told by someone I consider to be an expert on the subject that these dolls are hugely popular and that a movie based on one of them would do very well. I can tell my advisor is not the only one who holds this opinion since several of the dolls are getting straight-to-DVD releases of their own. Even so, common sense here is that a movie about a plucky girl during the Great Depression would have been great for Shirley Temple. Half a century later, it's a bad idea and Kit Kittredge has the box office to prove it. Fortunately, the production budget was low enough that it didn't take a significant beating.
7) You Don't Mess with the Zohan - North American audiences took the message to heart and not only didn't mess with the Zohan, they didn't show up for his movie. Sandler was already on a creative downturn with the well-intended but low brow (even by Happy Madison standards) I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. That one had been his least successful true Sandler comedy (ignoring stuff like Punch-Drunk Love, Spanglish and Eight Crazy Nights) since the Little Nicky disaster. Now Zohan has thrown $20 million under that. I don't feel North American audiences have grown tired of Sandler. To the contrary, I believe that this film's sneaking (just) over $100 million speaks volumes about the line of credit the comedian has. He just needs to find movies that better fit his style of comedy. 50 First Dates, Anger Management, Click and The Longest Yard are the types of films I believe fit into this category. Stuff like Zohan and Chuck and Larry is well intended but misguided. Sandler and Sony made money on this project, but I expect its lackluster quality will negatively impact their next project.
6) The Incredible Hulk - Face it, green guy. Your movies are never going to be a smash...except maybe The Avengers. The Incredible Hulk was an ambitious reboot that wound up making almost exactly the same amount of money domestically and just under $15 million more worldwide. Given that five years of box office inflation happened in this period, Ang Lee's The Hulk is the more successful project financially. The good news for Marvel is that a better product was delivered to consumers here and the stink of failure of the first title has been removed. Given that this was the primary goal of the film, it's a mission accomplished.
5) The Happening - Logically, I don't feel right about this since The Happening is such a dreadful movie. Discussions such as this are not intended to evaluate the quality of the product, however. We are only talking about the monies involved. The Happening had a relatively frugal budget for a Hollywood blockbuster these days, and it made most of its domestic box office on opening weekend. Combining that with the title's solid performance overseas, it is quite the profitable endeavor, despite what it did to the good names of Zooey Deschanel and Mark Wahlberg (and plants).
4) Get Smart
When this project was finally confirmed, the cast seemed like a series of masterstrokes. Still, spy satire is a hit or miss proposition. Since Get Smart was a series that prided itself on the cheap joke, there was a fear that it might not translate well to the big screen. Fortunately, Steve Carell shook off the failure of Evan Almighty and Anne Hathaway channeled Barbara Feldon to the point that audiences worldwide made Get Smart a blockbuster. Its worldwide receipts are a three to one return on investment (on paper), placing the film safely into the black and possibly even launching a franchise for Warner Bros.
I see a rather clear line of demarcation between most of the groupings for June. #8 and #9 are disappointments, #5, #6 and #7 are placeholders and #4 is a success. The top three films are all huge hits, and determining the factors to delineate which is the best of them can be somewhat arbitrary. In the case of WALL-E, expectations for Pixar films have to be factored in. While the title has easily surpassed Ratatouille domestically and outperformed Cars in terms of worldwide box office, it still isn't anything more than a run-of-the-mill Pixar performer. Given the magical quality of the first half of this movie, that's something of an indictment on movie-goers this past summer.
2) Wanted - Choosing between first and second place for June releases is almost a toss-up. Both titles are huge successes that are wildly profitable. Wanted has made a factor of 4.5 more than its budget and showed relatively strong domestic legs for a low-brow comic book adaptation. It was marketed as a Matrix clone and audiences were reasonably satisfied that this is what they got from the film. In the end, what prevents it from winning is actual dollars. A blockbuster hit at $335 million, it is still roughly $300 million behind the strongest performer of June.
1) Kung-Fu Panda - When this film was announced all the way back in 2002, I immediately recognized the genius of the concept. A martial arts CGI film targeted to kids is a good enough idea on its own, but making the characters lovable tigers and pandas...that's a license to print money. Over the years, DreamWorks Animation has largely disappointed me due to their creed to make animated movies short on story but long on pop culture jokes. The end result is that even their most successful franchise, Shrek, has instantly dated itself. The studio somewhat moved away from that idea with the underrated and underappreciated Over the Hedge, but Kung-Fu Panda is the first title that truly focuses on timeless storytelling. The results speak for themselves. Panda is the most successful non-Shrek animated title in DreamWorks Animation history. It also broke $200 million domestically and is currently the 36th biggest movie of all time in terms of worldwide revenue. Among 2008 releases, it is the third biggest film of the year in terms of worldwide appeal, surpassing even Iron Man, Hancock and Mamma Mia! in this regard. Kung-Fu Panda is a true tentpole blockbuster and DreamWorks Animation recognizes this, which is why a sequel is already in the works.