Summer movie season 2009, version 1 — wretched. Everything seemed to be based on a comic book, video game, some aging TV franchise, an action toy, or was a remake of a lousy old movie. Lots of noisy films with little humanity.
Summer movie season 2009, version 2 — loved it! Hollywood finally producing movies people want to see. Lots of action! Lots of CGI! Plenty of cool films populated with recognizable characters. A perfect popcorn summer.
Want to reconcile these two versions? That’s about as likely as the passage of a coherent national health-care bill. The fact is, now that Hollywood has discovered the joys of successfully converting pop-culture artifacts into movies and franchises, there’s no going back.
Already in various stages of development are films based on board games (Monopoly, Ouija), comic books (Captain Marvel, Green Lantern), video games (the Sims, Warcraft), action figures (Max Steel) and other product lines (Lego). Can movies based on Cap’n Crunch, Aunt Jemima and the Travelocity garden gnome be far behind?
No matter what Tinseltown puts up on the multiplex screens, however, every summer has its winners and losers. And some of those losers are the very franchises Hollywood loves so dearly.
“Terminator Salvation” — Too dark, too dour, just too darn downbeat. And without Ah-nold, there’s no iconic figure to grab our undivided attention. Guaranteed, there will be no fifth “Terminator” flick.
“X-Men Origins: Wolverine” — Star Hugh Jackman’s charisma couldn’t overcome lousy reviews (36 percent positive on the Rotten Tomatoes poll of critical reaction) and a lack of storytelling substance. Sure, the film grossed $179 million, but it cost $150 million to make. A failure in mega-franchise terms.
Sacha Baron Cohen — Can you say, “Nein, Bruno, nein”? That’s pretty much what America said to the “Borat” follow-up.
Will Ferrell — “Land of the Lost” received wretched reviews (26 percent favorable from Rotten Tomatoes) and died at the multiplex. Audiences just did not want to see Ferrell running from CGI dinosaurs. Who can blame them?
Judd Apatow — We like our comics funny, not obsessing over death and other downer subjects. So even though “Funny People” opened fairly strong, it died in its second week. Apatow needs to go back to what he does best — making R-rated comedies about loser guys who hook up with hot chicks.
Woody Allen — “Whatever Works” received mostly negative reviews and did terrible business ($5 million gross). Even for the Wood Man, never a blockbuster filmmaker, this is bad news.
Hasbro — “Transformers” and “G.I. Joe” hit gold at the box office, which can only mean this toy manufacturer is reaping beaucoup bucks with its action-figure lines. Expect more Hasbro products to be made into films — can the Play-Doh movie be around the corner?
Harry Potter — Every entry in the series has been a huge hit. With only one book left to be filmed, you have to wonder if J.K. Rowling wishes she had kept this cash cow going.
Raunch — “The Hangover” had no big stars, was produced relatively cheaply and was one of the filthiest R-rated comedies ever made. Also one of the funniest, which is why it has grossed more than $260 million, an utterly astonishing figure by any measure. Proof once again that smut is eternal.
“The Hurt Locker” — A blah marketing campaign and slower-than-molasses release pattern didn’t exactly put director Kathryn Bigelow’s film on everyone’s must-see list, but it didn’t matter. Easily one of the best, and best-reviewed, films of the year (98 percent positive from Rotten Tomatoes), this tough-as-nails flick about a bomb disposal squad in Iraq has managed to gross a respectable $11 million — and it’s still in theaters.
Sandra Bullock — America’s darling. At well over $150 million, “The Proposal” has become Bullock’s biggest hit ever.
Pixar — Some analysts thought “Up” would flop, thanks to its cranky geezer protagonist. Wrong ’em, boyo! Turns out it’s the second-highest-grossing picture in Pixar history, after “Finding Nemo.” This animation studio can do no wrong.
The “Star Trek” franchise — Brought back from the dead, thanks to J.J. Abrams. And we just love the new Spock and Kirk. Live long and prosper, fellas!
Meryl Streep — Really. Who wouldn’t want to see her as Julia Child?
Neill Blomkamp and Sharlto Copley — Six months ago, no one outside of South Africa had heard of the director and star of “District 9.” Now, thanks to the film’s terrific reviews and smash opening — “District 9” made back its production costs in three days — Blomkamp and Copley are at the top of everyone’s “let’s take a meeting” list.
Quentin Tarantino — Thanks to star Brad Pitt, solid reviews and a smart marketing campaign, “Inglourious Basterds” opened with a $37 million gross, the best in Tarantino’s career. Killin’ Nazis never looked so attractive.