2012: Hollywood’s most insane year for blockbuster movies?

Is 2012 looking like the most packed year for major blockbusters yet? And is it a high stakes game that Hollywood has any chance of winning?

It’s hardly going out on a limb to suggest that, when the schedules are so full of big movie releases, there are going to be casualties. I first remember thinking this back in 1997, when the release roster featured a summer chockfull of titles such as The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Men In Black, Air Force One, Con Air, Contact, Conspiracy Theory, Speed 2, Batman & Robin, Volcano and Starship Troopers.

And casualties there were that year. Starship Troopers was shunted to the end of the year and struggled to find an initial audience. Volcano was hurt by the arrival of Dante’s Peak earlier in the year, and wasn’t aided by being a bit shit. Speed 2 and Batman & Robin faltered for a couple of (obvious) reasons, while Conspiracy Theory, a potentially interesting film, never really stood a chance.

Casualties in the summer season are nothing fresh, of course. But Hollywood is increasingly playing a high stakes game in the way that it’s scheduling very expensive movies. 2011 looks packed enough, with a summer season of major films that we can’t all possibly get to see. 2012? It might just be the peak of the blockbuster.

Let’s just go through what we’ve got coming, and the fun starts as early as March, surely now the new official kick-off time for summer blockbuster season. For, in that month alone, Disney will be launching its big-budget family flick, John Carter Of Mars, while Warner Bros will be hoping lightning strikes back with Clash Of The Titans 2. Universal’s The Lorax, an animated adaptation of a Dr Seuss story, has big hit written all over it, too.

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But it’s the summer proper, from May onwards, when already the schedule is looking rammed. In May alone, we’re definitely getting Marvel’s The Avengers, Universal’s big budget board game tie-in, Battleship, DreamWorks’ Madagascar 3, Sony’s Men In Black 3, and, er, Sacha Baron Cohen’s Saddam Hussein book-based comedy, The Dictator.

June? Ridley Scott’s Prometheus (once known as the Alien prequel), Pixar’s Brave, the big-budget Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, and the Star Trek sequel. Wise money suggests that Fox will place The Wolverine in June, too. But already, from May onwards, it’s a blockbuster every single week.

And it doesn’t really let up in July. The Spider-Man reboot, Ice Age 4 and The Dark Knight Rises each stand a chance at cracking a billion dollars apiece on past form. Which leaves The Bourne Legacy tentatively planned for an early August release.

But there’s more, in summer alone. Die Hard 5 is expected in summer 2012, as is The Expendables 2. Neither of those has a fixed release date yet. Disney hasn’t placed King Of The Elves. Universal hasn’t confirmed where it’ll put Stretch Armstrong. And there’s also the comedies, which traditionally come up with their release dates closer to the time.

Don’t forget too that a last-minute blockbuster generally gets added a year before, such as Predators, or X-Men: First Class.

Bluntly, there are going to be casualties.

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Perhaps what’s even more staggering is what’s happening at the end of the year. The Christmas season has long been the secondary release window for blockbusters, but generally, we’ve had a couple of family pictures and possibly a Bond movie. In 2012? We get a lot more than that.

Firstly, there is a Bond movie, as the twenty-third 007 adventure is set for November 9th (the same day as Universal’s Ouija). But just a week before that, Disney is planning to roll out Monsters, Inc 2. Pixar hasn’t released a film outside of the summer for many years, yet, in 2012, it’s releasing two movies. Hence, Christmas 2012 it is for the return of Sully and he’s only got a week or two before DreamWorks Animation rolls out Rise Of The Guardians.

November also sees the finale of the Twilight saga, with The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2. And in December, we can expect the first of the two movies of The Hobbit, as well as the intriguing-sounding Snow White And The Huntsman.

What’s set to throw an extra rocket into the end of year schedules, though, is the two blockbusters yet to be given a release date. The second Tintin movie is the first, and that alone should make a few quid. But we also have the return of Superman, which follows Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol in 2011 by putting an obvious summer blockbuster in the middle of winter.

There are reasons why Warner Bros needs Superman to hit that release slot, but even so, it’s hard to shake the feeling that there’s too many movies in the summer to slot something like Superman in.

All we’ve really looked at here are the big-budget movies, but there are plenty of medium-budget flicks fighting for attention, who may just be the victim of the blockbuster overload.

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Unless some savvy counter-programming or marketing can be deployed, it’s going to be harder and harder for some films to get noticed in blockbuster season. And by necessity of the number of big films in the market, blockbuster season is now eating up at least half of the year in one form or another.

I can’t help but feel, then, that 2012 might see a bit of a peak, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few movies get pushed back to give themselves room. What chance, as things stand, does a grown-up sci-fi flick like Prometheus stand, for instance? It’s a hard sell at the best of times, without a bunch of superheroes around the corner.

Also, I wonder if 2012 will see the peak of Marvel’s box office powers. It’s hard to find too many places it can go post-The Avengers, although maybe that’s a chat for another time.

For now, while I look forward to some of the cinematic treats upcoming in 2012, I can’t help thinking that in some way, we might just all be paying for them later. Big-budget flops, after all, tend to see studios taking fewer risks. And given that it’s arguably that approach that’s seen us get to the 2012 overload anyway, that might just make blockbuster cinema a little less interesting for a while.

Mind you, the world may just end in 2012, making all of the above moot. Ho hum.

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