Crowds embraced more of the same this summer

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Hollywood, like the perpetual 6-year-old that it is, learned a terrible, terrible lesson this summer. And we, like bad parents, were the enablers.

That lesson? "Sell 'em what they know."

Sequels, sequels and more sequels drove a summer in which the studios, for the first time, were able to tally more than $4 billion in box-office receipts. This topped the 2004 record of $3.95 billion, with that last gasp of Labor Day dollars yet to be tallied.

Attendance was up more than 5 percent from last year. Fourteen films cleared the old "hit" benchmark of $100 million. By no coincidence, 14 summer movies this year were sequels. And while Hostel 2 and Mr. Bean's Holiday didn't hit and Rush Hour 3 didn't set the world on fire, most of them packed theaters all summer long. Spider Man 3, Shrek 3 and Pirates 3 all earned more than $300 million. Harry Potter's latest earned almost that much.

The upshot? Look for more Shreks. Spider-Man may continue, in some form. More Batman movies, probably another Superman, X-Men spin-offs, all potential summer pix made from comic books or follow-ups to earlier hits. (Transformers: Revenge of the Fords?)

Not a great summer for indie films. Look at the run of mediocre French movies the local arthouse, the Enzian, booked. Not a lot of alternative fare to book out there in the land of Live Free or Die Hard.

But you would have to be a housebound Singing Bee junkie to have not found something to escape into in a theater. Here's what you might have missed.

Best sequel: The Bourne Ultimatum. Smart, heart-pounding, politically edgy action, with Matt Damon, Joan Allen, David Strathairn and Brian Cox in fine form. Bill O'Reilly calls it a movie for "America-haters." I call it the best spy picture in years.

Best lesson from that sequel: Don't scrimp on your villains. Live Free or Die Hard, Rush Hour 3 and many others didn't spend the bucks and paid the price with weak movies.

Biggest surprise: Transformers. Based on a crummy '80s TV cartoon, directed by action hack Michael Bay, it zipped and zinged along on a Chevy drive-train, at least for its first hour or so.

Most prophetic: Shia LaBeouf. He told me, in an April interview as his sleeper spring hit Disturbia was coming out, "I can promise you, [Transformers will] be the sickest action movie you'll see this year."

First sign that Steve Carell isn't the new Jim Carrey: Evan Almighty. Biggest smash-hit let-down: Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. Even Keith Richards couldn't make this one "yaaarrrrrr."

Second biggest let-down: Spider Man 3. Needed a little something more than Topher Grace. Still made more than $336 million and won the summer box-office race.

Best Oscar contender: Once. The Irish indie musical was re-released to keep it in the public eye and will be out on video when the voting starts. And songs from it are turning up in fall film soundtracks, as if to reinforce the point.

Best musical that isn't Once: Hairspray. Let's hope the High School Musical generation was behind it being a hit. Best song: "Spider-Pig, Spider-Pig. Does whatever a Spider-Pig does. Can he swing from a web? No he can't, 'cause he's a pig."

Best reason to tip generously: Waitress. Keri Russell is a wonder in it, and might there be a sentimental Oscar nom for that ol' scene stealer, Andy Griffith?

Best cartoon: The Simpsons Movie. Second best cartoon, Surf's Up. Worst? Shrek the Third. Dreamworks, have you no shame?

Most overrated: Ratatouille. A pretty comedy with virtually no laughs. Kids knew it, even if critics didn't. They made it the worst-performing Pixar movie in a decade.

Most underrated: Bratz. Shockingly, not awful.

Best movie you missed: Stardust. Just delightful. And almost nobody went.

Best sign you need to change agents: Daddy Day Camp.

Best news: "Torture-porn is dead." Hostel: Part 2 bombed. If Rob Zombie's Halloween does the same, well.....

Best clues it's time to take a break: Georgia Rule, I Know Who Killed Me. Lindsay Lohan, get well. Do a little theater. Take taxis.

Roger Moore can be reached at RMoore@orlandosentinel.com. Add to, or argue about, this list on his blog, Frankly My Dear, at orlandosentinel.com

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