MCN Columnists
David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

Preview Week 2008: Planning for The Worst… Hoping For The Best

The summer of 2008 is 17 weeks long.

There are 44 films scheduled to be released “wide” this summer, only 3 of which are not from the major studios or their Dependent specialty arms.

I count 16 of these releases as “The Big Ones,” meaning that a lot of money has been spent – and a lot more will be spent- on marketing, and expectations are very, very high.

Eight of The Big Ones are sequels or spin-offs (like The Incredible Hulk, which is not strictly a sequel).  Eight are non-sequels: the two big animated films (Wall-E and Kung-Fu Panda), the new Shyamalan, the Angelina Jolie-actioner-ripping-off-M&MS Wanted, Eddie Murphy in Meet Dave, andWill Smith as Hancock are originals.

What will they sequelize in a couple of years?  Well … originals Hancock, Meet Dave, and Wanted … they hope.  And The Hulk and Hellboy and Iron Man and Speed Racerand Batman and Narnia and Indiana Jones and animatedStar Wars movies and Mummy 4 and even the King-Fu Panda and Wall-E.

The hope is that these films, some of which already have a mixed record, will get fat and happy enough this summer to be blockbusters (or bigger blockbusters) the next time around.

Really, the only “franchise” films that are probably not hopeful about being the start of a longer legged franchise are X-Files,which already had years on TV, and The Happening, which is a Shyamalan thriller, none of which has spawned sequels.

Amazingly, after going the first six weeks of the season without any opening weekend overlap, there are three weekends that will see duel openings of films with mage-expectations.  On June 13, The Incredible Hulk goes up against Shyamalan’s The Happening.  On June 27, the most same counterprogramming duo weekend, Wanted vs Wall-E… though putting Wanted just a week before Hancock seems a little suicidal.  Then on July 11, Hellboy II meets Meet Dave, with two very different tones, but very similar demographic targets … that is, if HBII is planning on expanding on its previous base.

But there’s a lot more than the Big Ones … there are the Big Comedies!  12, count ’em 12.  The reverse of My Best Friend’s Wedding (though Patrick Dempsey ain’t Julia Roberts),Cameron Diaz & Ashton Kutcher, S&TC: The Movie, Adam Sandler, Steve Carrell in a redux Get Smart, Mike Myers, a Meryl musical, Will Ferrell/Judd Apatow, all-star girl cast inHe’s Just Not That Into You, Kevin Costner in the kind of film that works for him, a second Judd Apatow film, and a Stiller/Jack Black satire.

Are you going to argue that any of these movies are not targeting $100 million… even though realistic expectations at the studios involved are half that or less for about four of them?

Maybe you can make the case that Sony will be okay with $80 million on Made of Honor or Fox with Vegas or Disney withSwing Vote. But they are all also hoping for breakouts.

Add those to the mix and now, you see a summer with only five weekends that are owned by single wide releases.  Three weeks in May (Caspian/Indy/Sex & The City), Hancock’s July 2 4-quadrant launch, and Pineapple Express on August 8.  I would say that S&TC is simply on a date that scares most distributors … and Pineapple is on a date with two smaller niche titles that work against an R-rated comedy, New Line’sJourney To The Center Of The Earth 3D (which will be on a lot of non-3D screens and an unknown number of 3Ds, given the competition this summer) and WB’s grrrl sequel, Sisterhood of the Traveling Culottes (aka Pants 2).

And here come the underdogs.

Anna Farris as The House Bunny, a Legally Blonde-alike from the guys who wroteLegally Blonde.

The Rainn Wilson comedy, The Rocker, from Full Monty director Peter Cattaneo and written by the team of a Simpsons writer and a Larry Sanders writer.

Lionsgate’s Bangkok Dangerous, a Nic Cage action remake, remade by the original directors, the Pang Brothers.

A late-season Tom Tykwer thriller, The International, starring Clive Owen and Naomi Watts.

And, of course, Space Chimps, a third film from Vanguard Animation, who placed their first film at Lionsgate, the next at Disney, and now, this one at Fox.

Finding an overall theme for this summer is not easy. There are big movies, but compared to last year, it feels like small change. Expectations of success and failure are, as ever, overly bloated just before the season begins.

Easily the most underrated film, by way of potential box office, is Disney’s Prince Caspian, which people seem to forget grew huge over time after the first film was released.  There is no negative feeling that should make it do less well, though there is a lot more competition in that summer slot… and the potential for an even bigger opening.

Geeks and Girls have got to be drooling coming into the season.  Not only is there an new Indiana Jones, but there is a great comic book hero coming along with some very good buzz, a new Batman from a hero director, a Star Wars that is supposed to look like a cartoon, and the return of two beloved geek colors, green and red.  For women, Hollywood responded strongly to some female-driven hits in recent summers with no less than a half-dozen films aimed at them.

The big question mark of this summer is whether Sandler, Ferrell, Stiller, Carrell, Myers, and Pineapple Express is just too much boy comedy for one summer.  It’s a lot… and I am not even counting Eddie Murphy, whose film seems to have some of that spirit with snot jokes, etc.

The biggest question mark around a single film is Speed Racer… a movie that delivers on all it wanted to be, but seems to be confusing every demographic with its marketing campaign.  This is the great family film of the summer, with lots of unreal action, no deaths, no gun violence in which a bullet hits skin, no sex, lots of positive family messages, and one use of the word “shit.”  But that won’t matter if no one knows.  The example best pointed to is Tim Burton’s Charlie & The Chocolate Factory, which people were dubious about, but which ended up being a $200 million long-legged beauty.   The problem here is that Speed Racer doesn’t have much time to get up to speed.

The spread between the studios is pretty even, though it does look like a down summer for Fox… though the studio isn’t making big gambles this year.

Based on my charts, which will inevitably be flawed, the summer by studio may look like:

The top grosser will be Sony, with $711 million.  But it will take them 7 films to do it, averaging out at “just” $102 million.

I am projecting two big winners battling it out this summer: Disney and Paramount.  Each has three films… and each “will” average $198m per and $197m per.

Interestingly, if you add the DreamWorks product to Paramount’s line-up, this summer, I see it lowering the studio numbers, not adding to them.  Ironically, this is caused byStephen Spielberg making a Paramount sequel that isn’t co-owned by DreamWorks.  Still, I have the two DreamWorks movies averaging over $100 million also.

The other $100 million averaging company I am anticipating is Warner Bros, recovering from some tough summers with a $129, per-film avg.

Here is a list –

And so, the horserace begins …

– Email David Poland

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“The worst thing that we have in today’s movie culture is Rotten Tomatoes. It’s the destruction of our business. I have such respect and admiration for film criticism. When I was growing up film criticism was a real art. And there was intellect that went into that. And you would read Pauline’s Kael’s reviews, or some others, and that doesn’t exist anymore. Now it’s about a number. A compounded number of how many positives vs. negatives. Now it’s about, ‘What’s your Rotten Tomatoes score?’ And that’s sad, because the Rotten Tomatoes score was so low on Batman v Superman I think it put a cloud over a movie that was incredibly successful. People don’t realize what goes into making a movie like that. It’s mind-blowing. It’s just insane, it’s hurting the business, it’s getting people to not see a movie. In Middle America it’s, ‘Oh, it’s a low Rotten Tomatoes score so I’m not going to go see it because it must suck.’ But that number is an aggregate and one that nobody can figure out exactly what it means, and it’s not always correct. I’ve seen some great movies with really abysmal Rotten Tomatoes scores. What’s sad is film criticism has disappeared. It’s really sad.”
~ Brett Ratner Has A Sad

“The loss of a local newspaper critic is a real loss. People who know the local audience and know the local cultural scene are very important resources. You can’t just substitute the stuff that comes in from nowhere through syndication or the wire. I think at the same time, some of the newer outlets have really beefed up and improved their coverage and made room for criticism. The real problem is in the more specialized art forms — fine arts, classical music, dance and jazz, say. There is a real slowing of critical voices, partly because those art forms have smaller audiences. Newspapers and magazines can say that doesn’t get enough traffic, so we don’t have room for that. To me, that’s especially worrisome. This is the opposite of what newspapers are supposed to do, which is not to try to figure out what people are already interested in and recite that back to them, but to hopefully guide them to something that they should be interested in, connecting potential audiences with more interesting work.

“Then again, not everyone needs a critic. People have been going to movies for more than 100 years now, and probably the vast majority of those people have not read movie reviews or cared what critics thought. But there has always been an important subset that wants to know more, that wants to think about what they’ve seen and what they’re going to see, and wants someone to think along with. I think critics are important, not just as dispensers of consumer advice — though that’s certainly part of it, too — but as trusted voices and companions for people to argue with in your head when you’re going to movies or afterwards.”
~ A. O. Scott