NEW YORK—Hollywood’s summer, which kicked off with the fittingly combative “Captain America: Civil War,” will be a season of struggle: for box office, for originality, and for opportunity.
More than ever, the big tent of summer moviegoing is held up by a forest of tentpoles stretching from May to August. The swelling size of the summer movie has turned the season into a game of survival. The possibility of bombing lurks as an ever-present threat and few non-sequel, non-reboot films dare to compete.
Box office and stress levels run high in equal measure.
“It’s a different landscape than 2002 when the first ‘Bourne’ movie came out,” says Matt Damon, who returns to the franchise in Paul Greengrass’s “Jason Bourne” (July 29). “It’s like a high-stakes poker game that I don’t want to be in. The swings are just so brutal. … You feel less a sense of exultation when they do well and more a sense of relief because the bets are so big now.”
This season is particularly risk-adverse. Out of the 33 films coming from the major studios, only 12 aren’t a sequel, reboot, or based on an already popular property, such as a videogame or bestseller. Take comedy and horror out of the equation and you’re left with just a handful of originals. One of them is Jodie Foster’s “Money Monster” (May 13), a thriller about a brash financial news pundit taken hostage on the air, starring George Clooney and Julia Roberts.
Foster’s film is doubly rare. She’s one of only two female filmmakers helming major studio releases this summer. Though equality remains a year-round issue for the movie business, the constricted summer months can reveal Hollywood at its most retrograde.
Paul Feig’s “Ghostbusters” reboot (July 15) was met by a backlash from some corners of the Internet that took offence to a new, female-led version starring four of the funniest comedic performers around: Melissa McCarthy, Kristin Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones. With that lineup, Feig relishes heading into “the big guns of summer.”
“I find it very exciting because a lot of these movies are very male driven, even though they have some great female characters in them,” Feig says. “But to have this be about four incredibly funny people who just happen to be women, I think that’s really exciting.”
This summer includes a number of anticipated sequels (“Finding Dory,” ”Star Trek Beyond,” “Alice Through the Looking Glass”), the expected superhero films (”Suicide Squad,” ”X-Men: Apocalypse”), and some less likely resurrections (”Ben-Hur, ”Independence Day: Resurgence”).
Recent history is clear: These will be among the summer’s biggest hits. Last summer (the second biggest ever with nearly $4.5 billion in box office), seven of the top 10 movies were remakes, sequels, or came from a comic book. Ditto for four of the top five movies so far in 2016.
Andy Samberg and his Lonely Island trio will be among the few to brave the sequel-strewn seas with something fresh: their celebrity flame-out parody “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping” (June 3). Does he take any pride in being one of the few to push an original movie into summer?
“We’ll find out,” says Samberg, laughing. “It’s heavy duty. … There’s stuff that’s coming out the week before and the week during us and the week after us, and they’re all really big movies.”
One of the fathers of the summer movie season, Steven Spielberg, will also be in the mix with “The BFG” (July 1), his Roald Dahl adaptation that reteams the director with Mark Rylance. The recent Oscar-winner plays the titular giant in a motion capture performance.
Family audiences will be especially sought after by the likes of “The Secret Life of Pets,” ”Ice Age: Collision Course” and ”Pete’s Dragon.” One much smaller film, ”Life, Animated” (July 8), will hope to sway moviegoers from the blockbusters while simultaneously reminding them of the power of movies. The documentary is about an autistic man, Owen Suskind, who learned to speak through his love of Disney classics.
“In the summer this is an alternative where families can go together and see it and hopefully be inspired and uplifted,” says director Roger Ross Williams.
To be uplifted rather than pummelled at summer movie theatres would indeed be an almost radical change of pace.
From The Canadian Press