The summer movie season is drawing to a close, and 2016 hasn’t been a vintage year. To put it mildly. It seems that most of the big wannabe-blockbusters didn’t make the splash the studios wanted, and many high-profile releases were savaged by critics. But which offerings from summer ’16 became hits, and which were the pits?
CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR
8 years after Iron Man, Marvel have their shit together. If there was ever a dead cert to make over a billion dollars this summer it was with Captain America: Civil War. The Russo brothers made a stealth Avengers film, that avoided the weight of expectation that crushed Age of Ultron last year by instead being a Captain America sequel. One that just happened to involve huge superhero team-ups. And not only that, but fans got to welcome Spider-Man back into the Marvel Studios fold because Sony wisely struck a deal to ‘loan’ him to his creators. After the disappointment of seeing Batman versus Superman earlier in the year, Stark versus Rogers was just the tonic.
Did it have a good summer? Most certainly. Civil War provided another strong comic book epic, re-introduced another Spider-Man successfully, and once again broke through the $1bn ceiling.
Budget: $250m. Box Office: $1.152bn.
THE JUNGLE BOOK
Everyone thought The Jungle Book looked interesting and visually lush, but there was caution about the sense of updating such a favourite from the Disney classics. Jon Favreau is also a director capable of highs (Iron Man) and lows (Cowboys vs. Aliens), so where would this fall on that scale? Amazingly, it was a resounding success that surprised a great many people. A remake that worked on most levels, and also in three dimensions where available.
Did it have a good summer? Oh yes. It’s within touching distance of breaking through the $1bn barrier at the box office, and most reviews were very positive, with only very minor caveats.
Budget: $175m. Box Office: $955.5m.
THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER’S WAR
We’re in a funny world when very average fantasy movies like Snow White and the Huntsman get a big-budget sequel, which chose to instead focus on the dull secondary characters. And despite managing to convince Charlize Theron to return as the Evil Queen and making her a key part of the trailers, many felt hoodwinked that her actual screen time was so minimal. The Huntsman: Winter’s War also provided more evidence that, outside of Thor, Chris Hemsworth can’t open movies.
Did it have a good summer? No. This was a sequel few wanted or expected to see, and when you factor in marketing costs it wasn’t very successful either.
Budget: $115m. Box Office: $164m.
Coming off a fan-favourite like X-Men: Days of Future Past was always going to be tricky, and perhaps a bit of franchise fatigue crept into Apocalypse — the third of the prequel movies, but also the ninth X-Men movie since 2000. I thought this movie was a huge amount of fun and was unfairly maligned for largely minor or unfair issues, but that’s just me. In a landscape where everything is hyped as being ludicrously important and essential to watch, it was just nice to get a decent superhero movie that wasn’t doing anything more than providing another good adventure for its likeable characters.
Did it have a good summer? Yeah, not bad. The reviews were mixed and there were definite problems, but it was a dependable and very visual adventure that pleased most who saw it.
Budget: $178m. Box Office: $542m.
ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS
It was inevitable they’d make a follow-up to Alice in Wonderland from 2012, because Tim Burton’s film managed to make over a billion dollars, and Lewis Carroll wrote a sequel just begging to be produced. Unfortunately, much like Huntsman: Winter’s War, the studio didn’t realise this was a sequel few people actually wanted to see. Reviews were mixed, but most seemed to agree Looking Glass was actually an improvement on Burton’s movie in lots of ways… just not financially, which is all the bean-counters really care about.
Did it have a good summer? No. Compared to its predecessor, its performance was way below expectations. It became an also-ran when Disney expected a leading blockbuster. The sheen coming off Johnny Depp this year (Australian customs furore, messy divorce, and claims of spousal abuse) didn’t really help.
Budget: $170m. Box Office: $294m.
TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: OUT OF THE SHADOWS
Are you noticing a trend? Sequels to movies, many of which were successful but not well-liked, doing badly. Like Alice Through the Looking Glass, many argued that TMNT:OOTS was better than its predecessor, but the core issues with how this franchise is being treated just can’t be easily fixed. While fun to see the Turtles in a live-action context that hewed closer to the insanity and comic book craziness of the ’80s cartoon, not sure if a third movie’s now a guarantee.
Did it have a good summer? No. It wasn’t a disaster, but they threw everything at this sequel and most people just shrugged.
Budget: $135m. Box Office: $239m.
NOW YOU SEE ME 2
It’s bewildering the first movie was successful enough to warrant a sequel, much less one that was a significant summer movie — in that it wasn’t anything to do with superheroes or part of the sci-fi/fantasy genre. Strangely, while not a critical hit, business was decent.
Did it have a good summer? Yeah, kinda. I mean, few people liked it, but it was one of the lower-budget summer movies and therefore made three times its money back.
Budget: $90m. Box Office: $320m.
THE CONJURING 2
A lot of people were excited for this, as The Conjuring was one of the better modern horror movies of recent years. Uprooting a lot of the action to England also helped, even if the script was guilty of basically tracing over the real life case of ‘The Enfield Haunting’ with Conjuring’s usual box of jump-scare tricks. Still, an efficient shocker making back seven times its budget can’t be sniffed at.
Did it have a good summer? It sure did pretty much the same business as the first movie, so profit was less because it cost twice as much to make, but that’s still good economics.
Budget: $40m. Box Office: $318m.
Duncan Jones’s big new fantasy epic, ballsy enough to end with a clear invitation to a sequel, disappointed most people. Gamers seemed to enjoy the adaptation of their favourite time-waster, but it was a big flop everywhere except, oddly, China—where its surprise success may possibly allow a sequel to be made. Crazy days.
Did it have a good summer? Depends who you ask. For most people, it will be seen as one of the summer’s biggest disasters. Warcraft was supposed to be the next Lord of the Rings, but it didn’t work out that way for western audiences. China kept this one afloat.
Budget: $160m. Box Office: $433m.
Pixar sequels always feel a bit unnecessary (outside of Toy Story), but Finding Dory was more Toy Story 2 than Monsters University.
Did it have a good summer? Absolutely. While not as well reviewed as Inside Out, or as good as Finding Nemo, this wasn’t an underperforming Pixar movie like The Good Dinosaur. The box office isn’t very far behind Nemo’s $940m either.
Budget: $200m. Box Office: $915m.
INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE
Maybe the summer’s biggest disappointment? I liked how they never rushed into a sequel when Independence Day became a mega-hit back in 1996, and it seemed like a fantastic idea to set this sequel 20 years later in an alternate post-alien attack Earth. Same director, much of the same cast (including Jeff Golblum), and some promising trailers that looked fun, all lead us to… a bit of a turkey.
Did it have a good summer? No. There was a lot of goodwill towards this belated sequel, but Roland Emmerich messed it up.
Budget: $165m. Box Office: $383m.
This is the summer movie that didn’t deserve to be so snubbed, as US moviegoers didn’t seem to care about a Steven Spielberg adaptation of a Roald Dahl classic. I hear the book was never a ‘big deal’ over there, which may have been part of the problem? Still, it was a hit in the UK and many other overseas territories, but very poor American ticket sales meant The BFG has the ignominy of only narrowly recouping its budget.
Did it have a good summer? No. Most of the reviews were good and only American audiences crushed its ambitions, but for whatever reason, the wind was sucked from The BFG’s sails and it just didn’t deliver what it might have.
Budget: $140m. Box Office: $141m.
THE LEGEND OF TARZAN
An attempt to see if the world still gives a damn about Tarzan, or could be persuaded to take this old-fashioned hero to their hearts again. The answer, as The Lone Ranger also discovered in 2013, was a resounding no.
Did it have a good summer? This could have been a sleeper hit, as it was the kind of summer film that snuck up on you, but it just wasn’t good enough.
Budget: $180m. Box Office: $347m.
A movie where the marketing was steered around sexist comments from a tiny minority, almost as if they wanted to create a hit by compelling all women to go support their ‘sisters’. The ‘Ghostbros’ who were down-voting the trailer on YouTube would go see it regardless, of course. Reviews were largely decent, although many carried the faint whiff of trying way too hard to find merit in something undeserving of it… because being negative could be seen as being a misogynist.
Did it have a good summer? In a sense. Ghostbusters wasn’t awful, as many feared. It just wasn’t very good, despite many critics posting gleaming reviews (which just felt like a way to combat the ugly ‘Ghostbros’ response to the all-female casting). Tellingly, when marketing costs become a factor, Sony claim they lost about $70m thanks to its underperforming box-office, so hopes for direct sequels and other spin-offs have been put on hold.
Budget: $144m. Box Office: $208m.
STAR TREK BEYOND
Another sequel. Third films are always difficult. You’re not capitalising on the success of the first, and in Star Trek’s case you just want to rid the bad taste lots of people had from the second. It’s ‘franchise damage limitation time’ with Star Trek Beyond, but most people agreed this was a fun summer movie that captured a ‘summer blockbuster’ spirit better than most other releases this year. Shame most people didn’t seem to care enough to see it.
Did it have a good summer? Well, it’s made about half of what Star Trek Into Darkness managed to; so either its faltering predecessor turned people off the franchise a little, or it just didn’t seem like a big screen outing was required to enjoy it. Hard to gauge, but a fourth Trek has already been ordered by Paramount.
Budget: $185m. Box Office: $231m.
The cash cow revival movie. No idea why they decided to bring Jason Bourne back after nine years, after completing a perfectly formed trilogy. The Jeremy Renner spin-off was bad enough, but now they’ve tarnished the main event with a limp sequel. Was this made because Matt Damon’s going through a midlife crisis? Paul Greengrass needing something to rejuvenate his career to get more interesting projects made?
Did it have a good summer? No. It stood out in the marketplace as a more grounded offering, resurrecting a popular modern brand, but there wasn’t much here that looked new.
Budget: $120m. Box Office: $278m.
Maybe the summer’s most frustrating release? The trailers have been running since summer 2015 and became a huge source of entertainment in isolation. After the twin disappointments of Man of Steel and Batman v Superman for DC Comics and Warner Bros., who want to compete with Marvel but seem to lack the same understanding of their own characters, everyone was so predicting Suicide Squad would turn the tide. But it wasn’t to be. David Ayer’s movie was just a big mess.
Did it have a good summer? Oh yes! The reviews were savage and a lot of people were disappointed it wasn’t as much fun as the trailers suggested. There were tonal issues exacerbated by the reshoots (designed to make it as fun as the trailers, at the expense of the original vision), but the marketing campaign did its job. People went to see it. Lots of them. It had the biggest August opening
since Guardians of the Galaxy.
Budget: $175m. Box Office: $575m.
Oddly, a very similar concept to The BFG (young child befriends a large mythical creature), and this seems to have gone down better than one may have expected it to.Did it have a good summer?
Did it have a good summer? Too early to tell, as a late-summer movie, but the signs are that Pete’s Dragon will only be a very modest hit.
Budget: $60m. Box Office: $57m.
So what did we learn?
- Don’t make sequels to financially successful movies people weren’t actually all that enamoured with (The Huntsman, Alice Through the Looking Glass, TMNT).
- If you’re going to remake a beloved movie or reintroduce a famous character, there are ways to do it (Jungle Book) and ways not to (Tarzan).
- Children prefer dragons (Pete’s Dragon) to giants (The BFG).
- Good marketing is vital to success (Suicide Squad) and can sometimes make something a big hit despite terrible reviews. Failing that, twist the social conversation to your own ends (Ghostbusters).
- Movies based on video games remain one of cinema’s trickiest things to get correct (Warcraft).
- Keep costs low, then reap bigger rewards despite any mixed reviews (Now You See Me 2, The Conjuring 2).
- Audiences get apathetic when sequels don’t promise them the ‘greatest filmgoing experience ever’, even when they know that’s a lie (X-Men Apocalypse, Star Trek Beyond).
- There’s too much vying for attention at the cinema these days. Many movies only underperformed because, after their opening weekends, the conversation had already moved onto the next week’s big release.