Summer blockbusters: The movies that will be hits, and the movies that should be

Alice Eve as molecular biologist Dr. Carol Marcus in Star Trek Into Darkness.

It appears our winter has finally ended in the Twin Cities. This marks the start of the summer movie extravaganza with the monstrous opening of Robert Downey Jr. mega-hit franchise installment Iron Man 3, to the tune of $175 million over its opening weekend. That's the second highest opening weekend ever, after a little action film from last year, The Avengers, also starring Robert Downey Jr. Since Iron Man 3 opened overseas a week ahead of its U.S. release date, the film in 12 days has amassed an eye-opening $500 million. That makes it a bona-fide blockbuster, and the total will only continue to grow.

It is exciting to catch the first glimpse of many of these films; usually many first appear around the Super Bowl, during highly publicized promotion and well-timed 30-second spots. Hollywood is hoping that for those mere seconds, you will put down your food and drink and be mesmerized by the action-packed images, then remember to drop everything when these films are released. Ever since then, many of these commercials and promotions will not go away—but the more and more I see advertisements of these films, the less and less I want to see them.

Earlier this month, Derek Anderson of Tuesday Movie Men offered his take on what could be blockbusters in the summer of 2013. My guess is that nothing is going to touch Iron Man 3 all summer in terms of box office receipts, but the five others Derek highlights (The Great Gatsby, This is the End, Man of Steel, World War Z, and Pacific Rim) are all likely to make plenty of money. Looking at that list, though—plus 30 more mentioned by Derek at the end of the post—I found myself wondering how many I actually want to see this summer, or ever.

Over the next 15 weeks, something close to 115 films will be released. How do we chose what to see over a summer—especially when many of these titles are either sequels, prequels, or reboots? There are a plenty of new offerings of original content, but it seems to be Hollywood is hoping many of us will go see products and stories we are familiar with. Derek's list includes six titles that I will see this summer in the theater, no questions asked.  There are a good 20 titles I could skip, catch on DVD or at a Redbox in the fall, or maybe never see—and another six or so titles that I will never invest a second in.

The Great Gatsby, opening this Friday, May 10, looks and feels like it has blockbuster written all over it based on its fast-paced, stylishly cut trailer, in a similar vein to director Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 musical Moulin Rouge. Luhrmaan’s film, the sixth time The Great Gatsby has been turned into a film, has the director reteaming with Leonardo DiCaprio (Luhrmann's 1996 Romeo and Juliet turned DiCaprio into a heartthrob), and also stars Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, and Joel Edgerton. The film has created enough buzz to get me into the theater to see it; hopefully it's better than his dreadful 2008 Australia, which was also being trumped up as a potential “blockbuster” before its release, then completely nose-dived and left an awful taste in my mouth. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel is one I consider to be one of my all-time favorite reads and a sacred text to me, so I will tread lightly going into this new adaptation—but if the goods are delivered, then I suppose everyone wins.

Not to sound to cynical about what Hollywood is dishing up and serving to us this summer, but the list of titles Derek mentions does not look that appetizing to me. Maybe it's the “film snob” in me that goes through this list and immediately crosses off titles I have zero interest in, such as Grown-Up 2, Fast & Furious 6, and RED 2. Those nothing for me as far as excitement, general interest, and wanting to actual discuss with anyone. Perhaps Derek has no interest either, although he is right about all three of these titles being blockbuster “hopefuls”; all could spawn more truly unnecessary sequels with even more potential blockbuster promise a year or two from now.

There are, however, a few films Derek mentions that I do hope find an audience and have a chance to break out. They include Adam Wingard’s horror-thriller You’re Next and Neill Blomkamp’s follow-up to District 9: another sci-fi adventure, Elysium, starring Matt Damon. In fact, this summer will see another Damon film (not mentioned in Anderson’s column because it will not even open in theaters) that premieres on HBO May 26: the Liberace-inspired drama Behind the Candelabra, directed by Steven Soderbergh, supposedly the director's last film.

That said, the soon-to-be blockbuster I am most looking forward to in the summer of 2013 is the new Star Trek sequel, Star Trek Into Darkness, directed by J.J. Abrams. Why am I interested in the new Star Trek? I trust Abrams as a proven director, who will now be handling the next Star Wars film in 2015; his 2011 film Super 8 is probably the most recent studio summer “blockbuster” film I have actually enjoyed. Am I in the minority about this claim? Maybe, but I guarantee that every Hollywood studio head would love to have Abrams direct their newest franchise. Abrams's 2009 Star Trek film worked splendidly for everyone, and now we have a sequel that I am particularly looking forward to.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the summer movie season and seeing the “buzzed-about” films as much as anyone, but the thought of seeing the new Superman reboot, Man of Steel, over its opening weekend, does not excite me one bit. Will I see it? I sure will, but not before I see about another dozen films opening this summer in what looks poised to be a “blockbuster” summer of films being released by veteran directors who aren't going through Hollywood studios, and clearly will not have big promotional and advertising budgets—unlike say something like the Brad Pitt zombie film, World War Z, opening in mid-June.

This list includes a new film from director Joss Whedon (who directed the highest-grossing film of 2012 in The Avengers), his remake or retelling of William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing; Neil Jordan’s vampire flick Byzantium starring Saoirse Ronan; Woody Allen’s latest, Blue Jasmine starring Alec Baldwin and Cate Blanchett; Spaniard wild-man Pedro Almodovar‘s newest comedy, I’m So Excited, starring Penelope Cruz; Brian DePalma’s newest thriller, Passion, starring Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace; James Marsh’s political mystery, Shadow Dancer, starring Clive Owen; and, closing out the summer around August 23, the highly anticipated film from Chinese master director Wong Kar-Wai, The Grandmaster.

I might even revisit a few more films I caught at Sundance earlier this year—including Richard Linklater’s wonderfully romantic and brutally honest Before Midnight, Ben Wheatley’s profane road-comedy Sightseers, James Ponsoldt’s heartbreaking drama The Spectacular Now, David Gordon Green’s dramedy Prince Avalanche starring Paul Rudd and Emilie Hirsch, and David Lowery’s slow-burn drama, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, starring Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara—before checking out Man of Steel. These five films will most likely not break the bank, but have the potential to find substantial audiences. A world dominated by social media could find these “hopefuls” as some of this summer’s surprising “blockbusters”—just not in the realm of making over $175 million in their first 12 days in release (or ever).

Now to me, those sound like “blockbuster” films, maybe not in terms of raking in the dough and/or being films co-workers will be huddling around the water cooler Monday morning to discuss, but films that could also potentially be “blockbusters” in another world—one I hope will break through and exist very soon.

  • I'll second the notion to see "The Spectacular Now" - found it to be a great teen flick worthy of audiences. - by Jeremy Wilker on Tue, 05/07/2013 - 10:02pm

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Jim Brunzell III's picture
Jim Brunzell III

Jim Brunzell III (djguamwins [at] yahoo [dot] com) was born in the 70's, went to school in the 80's, played sports in the 90's, and has been writing on film for the Daily Planet since 2007.  He is also the Festival Director and programmer for the Sound Unseen Music/Film/Art festival in the Twin Cities, lead programmer for the Flyway Film Festival in Pepin and Stockholm WI, the creator of "The Defenders" series at the Trylon microcinema and has been working on a novel since finishing college.  You can follow Jim on Twitter at (@JimBrunzell_3).