The winners and losers of summer 2009

As the summer blockbuster season of 2009 winds down, we take a look at who won, who lost, and Eddie Murphy…

The Hangover

THE BIG WINNERS

Star Trek

Time will tell just how lucrative Paramount’s massive investment in rebooting the Star Trek franchise will prove to be, as the theory runs that it’s the sequel where you see the real money. But who, ten years ago, would have thought that in 2009 we’d be calling Star Trek the best film of the summer, and looking at a US box office take of over a quarter of a billion dollars? Not for nothing is this now the most anticipated DVD of the winter, and not for nothing does Star Trek 12 stand a real shot at a $300m US take when it rolls around in a few years’ time.

R-rated comedies

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Specifically: The Hangover. While family comedies continue to splutter – Eddie Murphy should take note – Todd Phillips pulled off the studio’s finest dream, and took a cheap cast, made a bargain movie, and raked in over a quarter of a billion dollars in the US for Warner Bros. As Ron Hogan on this very site noted, it’s a lot cheaper to make a star than hire one. The film was surely the one that every studio wished they’d made this summer, and it plastered over a surprisingly weak Warner Bros summer slate. The sequel is assured, and Zach Galifianakis is the planet’s newest comedy movie star.

Rom-coms

Sneaking under the radar were the really profitable films of the summer, namely a clutch of romantic comedies. Sandra Bullock was one of the biggest winners of the season, as she and Ryan Reynolds paired up for The Proposal, guiding it to around $150m at the box office in the US (ahead of Terminator Salvation and Angels & Demons), while Katherine Heigl’s career has hardly been hurt by The Ugly Truth snaring over $50m in just two weeks. Even the Matthew McConaughey vehicle, Ghosts Of Girlfriends Past, snuck past $50m in the US, off a small budget. All were comparably cheap to make, and at least two have made more profit than most of the summer blockbusters…

Michael Bay

Who needs good reviews? Not the Transformers franchise and director Michael Bay, that’s for sure. In spite of the bombastic director complaining to Paramount that the marketing of Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen wasn’t up to scratch, the film smashed through the $300m barrier at the US box office in double quick time, and in spite of its bloated running time, it now sits at over $800m worldwide. Yikes. A third film is guaranteed, and Bay could now walk into any Hollywood studio and make any film he damn well pleases.

Pixar

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Holding its nerve while its competition played safer cards, Pixar released the most original film of the season with Up, a film that was shunned by merchandising companies, and led at one point for some to wonder if this is where the Pixar bubble was about to burst. As usual, though, Pixar let the film do the talking, and the sheer originality and verve of Up was rewarded with an almighty $285m take in the US. We don’t get it in the UK until October, for some bizarre reason, though.

Family Franchises

While Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince has suffered a bit of a box office drop after its gigantic opening week, both it and Ice Age: Dawn Of The Dinosaurs, along with Night At The Museum 2, proved that you can’t beat a major family franchise movie in the middle of the summer. Two more Potter films await, Museum 3 is likely, and Ice Age 4 is an inevitability. Likewise, Disney created a brand new family franchise in the shape of guinea pig-laden G-Force, a sequel to which is just a matter of time.

Wolverine

The reviews may have been crappy, it may have been leaked onto the Internet a month before release and it might not have matched the box office take of the third X-Men film, but Fox still pulled in as good a result as it could have hoped with its Wolverine spin-off. Not only did it launch the possibility of further Wolverine movies, but it gave Fox yet another spin-off as Ryan Reynolds signed up to the idea of a Deadpool movie.

Vin Diesel

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Ah, a movie star whose career was fading fast. Diesel took the most lucrative option open to him, and returned to the franchise that gave him his first stellar hit, with Fast & Furious. Joined by Paul Walker too, along with Tokyo Drift director Justin Lim, they powered the film to over $150m at the US box office, the most successful of the franchise to date (and doubling the take of the last film). F&F 5 is already being talked about, and Vin Diesel might just have a career again. It also means he won’t have to go near a Pacifier sequel…

THE UNDERPERFORMERS

Dan Brown

The movie-going public has spoken. One shitty film based on a Dan Brown book they’ll tolerate, as the $700m+ take for The Da Vinci Code at the box office proved. But make another, and don’t expect the same kind of cash. Despite assurances beforehand from director Ron Howard and co that they weren’t making Angels & Demons quite so reverential to the book, they still tripped on the memo that read “make the new film less shit”. Still, it’s managed to bring in $480m across the planet, but that’s a good deal less than The Da Vinci Code. Expect the next Dan Brown adaptation to do worse still, unless all concerned discover how to make a decent thriller again.

Terminator

Take Arnold Schwarzenegger out of the Terminator franchise, the old saying should have gone, and you may well have a problem. Terminator Salvation had lots of problems, sadly, although it did give us bountiful entertainment when Christian Bale’s on-set rant was leaked online. Yet all concerned would have been hoping for a heavier number than the $124m the fourth Terminator movie pulled in at the box office. Sure, it was saved by the overseas numbers, which lifted the take to $361m, but the performance here is surely a warning shot to next time, simply make a better and more interesting film. Terminator: Salvation was no disaster. It just wasn’t much of a Terminator film.

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Bruno

It’s hardly a disaster, given how cheap it was to make, but next to the mammoth box office take of Borat, Bruno‘s worldwide box office of $118m is a massive disappointment (that’s less than half of Borat‘s numbers). It got to the point where a cut, lower-rated version was released in the UK, but it could well be the case that Sacha Baron Cohen’s comedies have reached the end of this particular road.

The Funny People

Good reviews are one thing, but positioning a ‘dramedy’ in the summer season is another. In spite of the star power of Seth Rogen and Adam Sandler, and the assured hand of Judd Apatow behind the camera, Funny People is nowhere near the kind of Knocked Up numbers that Universal will have been hoping for. A final predicted take of around $70m would still be respectable, but in a summer where The Hangover has set a new commercial benchmark for comedy, you wonder if Universal might have wished it’d backed the other horse instead…

Public Enemies

For the second film running, after Miami Vice, Michael Mann got mixed reviews and slightly disappointing box office results. Public Enemies is far from a failure, and there’s enough in its running time to keep us debating for months. But anyone expected a 1930s Heat, as some of the marketing had suggested, was in for a bit of a surprise. It might just get to $100m in the US still, so its performance is not to be sniffed at. But again, you wonder if Universal was banking on just a little bit more…

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The Pelham Remake

A film few of us in the office wanted to see, due to our love of the original, the Pelham ‘remake’ actually wasn’t too bad, it’s just there was little point to it. It still tidied up just over $60m in the US, so it’s no write off. But it’s conversely not the kind of number that Sony would have been looking for. Will this put Hollywood off remakes for a bit? We doubt it, sadly…

THE BIG LOSERS

Aliens In The Attic

Fox had a terrible summer last year, with flop after flop – Meet Dave, X-Files 2, The Happening, Space Chimps – but managed to serve up a collection of hits both last Christmas and this summer season. The one blot on its copybook though this summer was Aliens In The Attic, a film that must have seemed like a good idea at the time. Yet lousy execution and no major selling points in the midst of a stampede of family movies killed its chances stone dead. Expect no sequel.

Eddie Murphy

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The sad thing about this year’s Eddie Murphy big flop is that it’s nowhere near as bad a film as last year’s Meet Dave. Yet Imagine That still didn’t break $20m at the US box office, and it’s currently limping out around the world, leaving us remembering when the Murphy name at least meant some kind of box office performance. We refer you to the 10 things that Mr Murphy needs to do to turn his career round…

Will Ferrell

Hmmm, now here’s a man at a bit of a crossroads. Away from director Adam McKay, and the two are uniting again for next summer’s The Other Guys (previously known as The B Team), Ferrell has struggled in recent times. The latest example was the major commercial and critical disappointment, Land Of The Lost, which failed to break the $50m for Universal. Arguably the most uneven film of the summer, it’s hardly likely to get much of a second wind on DVD either…

Jack Black

If Ferrell is having a little trouble getting a hit, then Jack Black is aching for one. Having sat through our fair share of underwhelming Jack Black vehicles in recent times, and accepting that somehow he was the weakest link of Tropic Thunder, most of us gave Year One a miss. Coincidentally, so did most of you.

Special Recognition

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Leave it to moviegoers to miss a good thing when they sit it. They’ll flock to a crappy remake of an old horror film, but when Sam Raimi turns up and genuinely tries to scare the bejesus out of people, with a lot of success, only $40m goes through the tills. Drag Me To Hell may not have been the most lucrative blockbuster of the summer, but it’s surely the one that aches the most to be discovered on DVD and Blu-ray.

THE BIG ONE YET TO COME

G.I. Joe

It doesn’t look good for Stephen Sommers’ big screen G.I. Joe adventure. Terrible early word of mouth, terrible reviews, a modest marketing campaign and an August release date suggests that Paramount is looking to do a hit and run to get back as much cash as it can. By next weekend, we’ll know how successful it’s been…

AND THE REST OF AUGUST…

The closing time for blockbuster season used to be the end of July, with just a few big films slipping into August that wouldn’t necessarily get breathing space between May and July. That just about holds true this year too, and it does mean that some interesting fare is incoming over the coming weeks. We’ve seen Inglourious Basterds, but aren’t allowed to tell you much about it yet under pain of death, but there’s hit potential there. District 9 looks great too, and then there’s the battle between The Final Destination and Halloween 2 at the end of August.

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It seems there’s still quite a bit of popcorn waiting to be sold…