The winners and losers of summer 2012

Feature Simon Brew 15 Aug 2012 - 10:47

With summer blockbuster season pretty much done and dusted, which were the triumphs, and which were the underperformers? Here's our round-up...

Summer 2012 was billed by many, us included, as about the most competitive blockbuster season in many, many years. It was perhaps unsurprising, then, that some studios moved big films out of the firing line and into next year (Jack The Giant Killer, G.I. Joe: Retaliation).

That said, many nonetheless lined up for battle. And while it was the superhero and comic book movies that ultimately prevailed, there were other significant hits, too. Let’s take a look at this summer’s big winners and losers. 

THE AVENGERS

Without doubt, the hit of the year has been Joss Whedon's triumphant Avengers. In effect a sequel to at least three different films (four if you count The Incredible Hulk), Marvel had been building up to this movie for half a decade. What was surprising was just how much fun it was. Balancing an ensemble of heroes and delivering a third act that genuinely escalates in a convincing manner, Whedon's movie has set a high watermark for future Marvel projects, and all eyes will be on next year's Iron Man and Thor sequels to see just how they can start building towards The Avengers 2.

For now, with $1.46bn in the bank before it hits Blu-ray and DVD, The Avengers is the third biggest film of all time at the non-inflation-adjusted box office, and comfortably the biggest box office success of 2012. It's a blockbuster that'll take a few years to beat in terms of its level of impact, too...

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES

Marked well ahead of time as the sure-fire hit of summer 2012, The Dark Knight Rises hasn't disappointed. Its box office returns are below that of The Dark Knight, but there are reasons behind that. Firstly, The Dark Knight itself had a slightly clear run, and it also had the Heath Ledger factor, with the late actor's superb Oscar-winning turn as The Joker a contributor to the movie's excellent reviews.

The Dark Knight Rises' reviews were strong, too, although it arrived in cinemas a week or two before the Olympic Games, and towards the end of a summer where two major comic book movies had already done solid business. Believe some, and the horrific shootings in Denver on the film's opening weekend also made an impact. We don't really buy that, though, although don't believe it's our place to dwell further on such a tragedy here.

By the end of its run, The Dark Knight Rises should have garnered the best part of $1bn in business. The Dark Knight scraped over the $1bn mark courtesy of a limited pre-Oscar re-release. The Dark Knight Rises might not need that. 

Money aside, whether you like of loathe what Christopher Nolan has done with Batman, the chances of seeing such a complete trilogy of superhero movies again anytime soon are limited at best. We'll see Batman back on the big screen within five years, we'd wager, but it's going to take some doing to top just what's been achieved with The Dark Knight movies...

ICE AGE: CONTINENTAL DRIFT

Fox doesn't have a franchise with anything like the global pulling power of the Ice Age movies. And while the fourth instalment, Continental Drift, has done decent business in the US - $144m and counting - it's the worldwide reach of the movie that's turned it into one of the top three hits of the year to date.

We really liked Ice Age 4, far more than we were expecting, and the numbers pouring in - with the film on the verge of breaking $800m globally - suggest that a fifth movie isn't far away. It's comfortably outgrossed the year's other big animated releases to date, including Madagascar 3 and The Lorax (with Brave only now beginning a fuller worldwide roll-out), and Ice Age has become one of the most reliable blockbuster franchises on the planet. 

 

MAGIC MIKE & TED

If you're looking for the two films that every studio wish they'd made this year, then look no further than Steven Soderbergh's Magic Mike and Seth MacFarlane's Ted.

The former was basically funded by Soderbergh and his star, Channing Tatum, and was picked up by Warner Bros for distribution. Reportedly made for under $10m, the film has apparently crossed the $250m mark worldwide.

Ted, meanwhile, was more expensive, costing around $50m to make, but the film's worldwide gross currently stands at $323m. Unlike Magic Mike, the lion's share of that – 65 per cent - has come from the US. However, the swear bear movie has sequel potential stamped all over it, and has given Universal a big surprise success.

MEN IN BLACK 3

Sony spent an awful lot of money bringing the Men In Black franchise back to life after a dormant decade. It was a real gamble, too: Men In Black 2 remains a shoddy film, that might have made a lot of money, but had seemed to hammer a nail or two in the franchise's coffin.

Men In Black 3 shuffled Tommy Lee Jones out effectively, and brought in Josh Brolin. But this was very much Will Smith's show, and in his first outright movie star role since 2008's Hancock, he proved his commercial pulling power hasn't dwindled. The film hardly won over fresh converts to the Men In Black series, but its $620m worldwide gross has made it the most commercially successful at the box office, and Sony is already talking about Men In Black 4.

Thanks to the high marketing spent, it'll take DVD returns and associated revenues to bolster the Sony coffers, but Men In Black 3 has proven to be a wise business decision by the firm.

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN

And here's another wise business decision from Sony. It attracted a lot of criticism for abandoning Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 4 and rebooting the Spidey franchise just a decade after it first hit cinema screens. But with Andrew Garfield taking over the webslinger's suit from Tobey Maguire, the firm got away with taking Spider-Man back over pretty much the same basics we saw back in 2002.

We didn't care much for The Amazing Spider-Man (although that's not unanimous here), and it's by distance the Spidey movie that's taken the least money at the box office (even accounting for the 3D premium on the ticket price this time around). But Sony's aim here was surely to reposition the franchise to give it a fresh run at several more blockbusters based around Spider-Man. In that regard, it's done what it set out to do.

Sony has already said that it's looking for The Amazing Spider-Man to be the first of a trilogy, and the next chapter is due in the summer of 2014. It's unclear whether Marc Webb will be back to direct. It's also fair to suggest that Sony will be looking for a better film, and bigger box office, next time around...

PROMETHEUS

Back when we previewed 2012 at the end of last year, we marked Prometheus as the film we were most looking forward to seeing. Once we'd seen it? Well, for all its ambition, and notwithstanding the stunning opening third, it was all a bit of an anti-climax. Taken as part of the Alien saga, or just as a standalone science fiction movie, it didn't really cut the mustard. 

But it certainly did good business. Prometheus was a big gamble, albeit one backed by major marketing spend. However, we can't help but be heartened that an R-rated sci-fi movie can generate a global box office take of $309m. That's taken it over the necessary line to get Prometheus 2 greenlit.

We'll bet right now, though, that James Cameron won't be directing Prometheans...

SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN

Arguably the only one of Universal's big three planned blockbusters to deliver at the box office (with The Bourne Legacy and Battleship each facing different challenges), the studio is now pressing ahead with a follow-up to Rupert Sanders' Snow White And The Huntsman. Given that Mirror Mirror had threatened to steal its thunder earlier in the year, that must come as something of a relief in the boardrooms of Universal. 

Snow White And The Huntsman wasn't a cheap film to make by most measures, but its box office return of $389m, and the promise of DVD and Blu-ray riches, has meant Universal has got a franchise off the ground here. It's not a major one yet, but it's enough to get part two made. Or, as the current plan goes, a spin-off focusing on Chris Hemsworth's Huntsman character.

BATTLESHIP 

We didn't mind Battleship really, and would happily take it over any of the Transformers movies it was trying to ape. Furthermore, with around $300m in the bank worldwide, you can't say that Universal lost its gamble to turn a board game into a major blockbuster movie. 

It was an expensive movie, though, with the marketing costs on top of the negative price meaning that it'll take a good run on DVD and Blu-ray to move the film into profit. There's no sequel coming to this one, it's safe to assume.

Perhaps the biggest lesson though will be how to distribute a film such as this. Universal released Battleship outside of America in April, where it made good money ahead of the rest of the blockbuster field. For some reason, it held back the release in the US, and instead, it turned up a week or two after The Avengers, where it was promptly trounced.

Next time, the staggered release strategy may not be the best option: it's not inconceivable that Battleship may have earned another $50m had the US release been scheduled for April, too.

DARK SHADOWS

The last time Tim Burton and Johnny Depp joined forces, they powered the surprisingly ordinary Alice In Wonderland to over a billion at the box office. And while Dark Shadows is, on paper, nowhere near as commercial and broad a project, it was still something of a disappointment. It was certainly good to see Tim Burton tackling comedy once more, but a pity that the movie didn't recapture what used to make his work quite so special. Hopefully the upcoming Frankenweenie will rectify that.

For now, though, Dark Shadows is far from a flop. It wasn't a cheap movie for Warner Bros to make (the bill is apparently $150m for the negative alone), but did $236m worldwide. That means it's still in the red, but far from the disaster that some would have you believe...

THE DICTATOR 

Sacha Baron Cohen might just have reached the end of the line where his current style of big screen comedy is concerned. He seems to be running out of people to offend if nothing else. The Dictator wasn't a bad movie, but it was one that struggled to sustain its really quite brief running time. In terms of box office, the film fell into line with most critics' response to the film: better than Bruno, but a long way from Borat. The Dictator's final total has settled at $167.7m globally, although that's not bad considering the movie cost around $65m to make.

Far from a flop, then, even if Paramount won't be seeing anything like the profits that Borat made back in the day... 

Outside of Ice Age, which we've discussed elsewhere, we've had The Lorax this year, as well as Madagascar 3 from DreamWorks, and Brave from Pixar. Each has had its distribution staggered, to take advantage of school holidays around the planet. Thus, while The Lorax appeared in the US back in March, it finally arrived in UK cinemas in July. Likewise, the UK has just got Brave, while Madagascar 3 is scheduled for October. 

That makes it hard to gauge where each will end up at the box office, but it's not too early to declare every one of them a hit. The Lorax hasn't had quite the impact outside of the US, with its total standing at $331m so far. It should comfortably break $400m by the end of its run.

Madagascar 3, meanwhile, has been rolled out across most of the planet already, and with the current total sitting at $548m (with $600m realistic), expect a greenlight for a fourth instalment. 

Then there's Brave, which currently stands at $374m worldwide, and we wouldn't be surprised to see it break through the half a billion mark by the time it's done its box office business.

The moral is clear: there have been four major CG animated films released in 2012 to date, and all four have made at least $400m. Each can expect to do the same again on disc. Expect a lot more CG animated films in the years ahead, then. 

ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER

Fox decided, for some reason, to keep Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter under the radar for a long time. Most UK film critics saw the movie on the day it came out, and the US lead time wasn't much longer. That's not, traditionally, the sign of a strong movie. 

But then, it turned out that Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter was a much better film than many were expected. A masterpiece? Certainly not. But an entertaining mash-up, with a commitment to entertainment? Absolutely. Sadly, it didn't make much of a box office impact, grossing $78m worldwide, but hopefully it'll find the audience it deserves come its home release. 

THE WATCH 

We had this marked as a possible breakout hit of the summer at one point, but sadly, the union of Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill and Richard Ayoade doesn't seem to have delivered. Ayoade appears to have come out of it with the best notices, but the film has underperformed. Its US box office tally stands at $31m, although to our knowledge, it hasn't opened anywhere else yet. The signs aren't promising, though: reviews haven't been kind, and Hollywood comedies don't always travel around the world so well... 

ROCK OF AGES

The failure of Rock Of Ages to catch fire was arguably one of the surprises of the summer. Tom Cruise flops are hardly ten a penny, and Rock Of Ages landed before the stories of his personal life hit the headlines, so you can hardly say that was the reason.

So why did Rock Of Ages under perform? The film has done a staggeringly poor $50m worldwide, the overwhelming majority of that coming from the US. On paper, it seemed like a sure-fire success, too. A cast including Cruise, Russell Brand, Alec Baldwin and more should have got it a bigger opening weekend, and the director of the Hairspray movie musical, Adam Shankman, suggested a decent film may follow. 

But it was a disappointment all round. The film wasn't much cop, the box office returns less so. And while it wasn't the summer's most expensive film by a long chalk - the reported budget was $75m - Warner Bros will nonetheless be massively disappointed with its return here. 

THAT'S MY BOY

Has the Adam Sandler bubble finally burst? The purveyor of Hollywood's laziest comedies is experiencing something he's not felt in a long, long time: two comparative flops on the trot. Jack And Jill did pull together $149m worldwide, which drove it into profit, but it was a long way under the gross expected of a Sandler comedy. That's My Boy, meanwhile, hasn't broken $50m worldwide yet (appreciating that there are many territories where it's yet to open). The particular alarm bell will be that Sandler's new film hasn't managed even half the gross of Jack And Jill on his home soil. Next summer, he's retreating to the relative safety of his first outright sequel, Grown Ups 2..

TOTAL RECALL

It's early days for Total Recall, given that we've only really got American box office numbers to go on. Those numbers, though, seem to suggest a $60-70m total at best for the new take on Total Recall, which against its $125m cost doesn't seem too strong. The test will be when Total Recall hits non-US markets. It's pulled in just shy of $30m from its international engagements thus far, but the full roll-out is coming later this month. Our best guess would be that Total Recall will do well to get to $150m in total business. 

THE BOURNE LEGACY

Universal's $38m-ish US opening weekend for The Bourne Legacy isn't a bad number, all considered. This is a franchise, after all, without its lead star and title character any more, and no matter how strong Jeremy Renner is, he's never going to instantly be the box office draw that Damon as Bourne had become. The next few weeks will determine just what future the Bourne franchise has, though. If the audience holds, and the non-US takings deliver, then Renner may get another solo outing. If not, then the obvious way forward will be to get Damon and Renner side by side in Bourne 5.

The opening weekend offers the first clue that there's life in the franchise yet. But there's still a lot of work to go to bring it back to The Bourne Ultimatum levels. 

SAVAGES and MOONRISE KINGDOM

In a time when big blockbusters eat up several screens at a multiplex at one time, finding room for some good, old-fashioned counter-programming is tougher than ever. But there are still smaller, breakthrough hits to be found if you know where to look.

Oliver Stone's new film, Savages, has only been released in the US thus far, but with a $45m budget to pay back (plus the usual costs), its $46.8m US take is a smart step forward. Released a few days after The Amazing Spider-Man in the States, it proves that there's room for more than just a few big blockbusters. 

Moonrise Kingdom is another example. Wes Anderson's new film was a critical darling, and Focus released it at the end of May in the US. It was going up against Men In Black 3, and it snared $42m in receipts. Its budget was $16m, and it proved that there's still room for a good smaller film to make some headway. 

Final Thoughts

Given just what was expected of the summer of 2012 at the box office, it doesn't seem to have quite materialised in the way many thought. Last year, three films broke through the $1bn barrier at the global box office. Two of them weren't any good - Pirates Of The Caribbean 4, Transformers: Dark Of The Moon - and one of them was (Harry Potter). But outside of The Avengers and Batman, there's been nothing threatening to break through to that level. 

That's hardly surprising: you need the power of a franchise or a movie star (or you need to be James Cameron) to get to that level. What summer 2012 has delivered though is a series of films that generally didn't get as much critical love as had been expected, yet still made decent cash. One new franchise has been launched, in the shape of Snow White, while the tried and tested have been the films delivering the cash. Expect no slow down in the number of sequels and comic book movies in the years ahead.

But do expect to see Hollywood taking a few more chances on comedy. The Hangover has become one of Warner Bros' biggest current franchises, and Universal will surely look to capitalise on the success of Ted in the same way. 

As this is being written, we still have The Expendables 2 to go, which should bring the summer to a decent close. And then, in the US, there's the terrific ParaNorman and Lawless to come before August is done, too.

It's been a busy summer, with no shortage of peaks and troughs. And, perhaps above all else, it's left Hollywood realising they should have trusted Joss Whedon just a little bit earlier...

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