Nerd Approved: Summer 2012 – More Lackluster Than Blockbuster

The summer months are generally a fun time to be a movie fan. It’s when the studios release the majority of their most highly anticipated films. Last summer was a treat because we got such crowd-pleasers as Captain America: the First Avenger , X-Men: First Class, Thor, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Rango, Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows and the Oscar winning Midnight in Paris. All of these films were generally well reviewed, as well as being very profitable.

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Given last year’s overall success—both financially and in terms of audience satisfaction—there was high anticipation regarding this year’s summer film offerings. With several high profile films being released, which were predicted to light the box office on fire, Hollywood was expecting a highly profitable year and fans were expecting to have a very entertaining summer at the theater.  Seeing as the May-August box office accounts for 40% of Hollywood’s annual profit, the studios can’t afford to have a lackluster summer season. Unfortunately, that’s just what they got.

2012 did have a very strong start, particularly around Oscar season, and March gave us the new, hot franchise in town, the Hunger Games. Since then, however, the slow summer has dragged the industry down. Ticket sales for the 2012 May-August period are running an average of 5 cents less for every dollar than last year’s box office. The 2011 mid-year box office was 4.4 billion but for 2012 the receipts for the same period will struggle to reach the 4 billion mark. This is the first time that the May-August box office has dropped from the previous year since the summer of 2005.

Industry analysts admit that most films have done weaker than expected this year. Of course there was that monster hit, the record-breaking Avengers, but hits were less common this year than Hollywood had hoped. The much anticipated The Dark Knight Rises has made 442 million, which is a formidable financial return, but it is considerably behind its lauded predecessor The Dark Knight and therefore failed to meet expectations. The franchise reboot the Amazing Spider-Man and Pixar’s newest animated film Brave both had a respectable showing in theaters, but not spectacular.

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This year has had more than its share of disappointing flops. Adam Sandler had his worst opening in 16 years with That’s my Boy. Also, the big-budget releases of Total Recall, Battleship, Dark Shadows, John Carter, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and the Watch all crashed and burned.  Some people have blamed competition from the Olympics for the mediocre showing at the box office, but that doesn’t explain the lack of quality we’ve gotten this year.

Critically, there were a few well-reviewed gems like Moonrise Kingdom which have come out since May (although it’s been ignored at the box office) and the Avengers got overwhelmingly strong reviews, but how many other films released in the last four months have gotten rave critical praise? I doubt many of this summer’s movies are going to end up on film critics ‘Best of 2012’ lists. Summer movies are not usually known for being Oscar-bait, although last summer saw the release of Woody Allen’s Best Screenplay Oscar winner Midnight in Paris, his biggest hit in years. Will this summer produce any Oscar winners? Not likely!

And what about the fan’s reactions? How many movies this summer have lived up to audience anticipation?  Film fans seemed to love The Avengers, but the Dark Knight Rises did not get the unqualified praise that its predecessor the Dark Knight got. Many fans have deemed it the weakest of the Batman franchise. The sequel MIB 3 has generated almost no buzz at all. Aside from the Avengers, there has not been massive positive buzz for any summer movie. True, the Dark Knight Rises had a lot of buzz but not all of it has been positive since its release and the tragic theater shooting has dominated most of the discussion regarding the film. Paranorman is turning out to be a surprise fan favorite but it’s one of the rare standouts this year, both in terms of quality and popularity.

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Analysts are anticipating that a strong fall/winter season, which will include the latest James Bond film Skyfall, Peter Jackson’s long-awaited the Hobbit and the final Twilight installment—as well as all the usual late-year Oscar-bait movies—could salvage the overall year. Let’s hope that the rest of the year will give us the quality films we didn’t get this summer, as well as giving Hollywood a good fiscal year.