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Wednesday, August 4,2010

The Screening Room

Hollywood gets summer-schooled

by James Sanford

A recent article by Joe Queenan in The Wall Street Journal asked, “Is 2010 the Worst Movie Year Ever?” Perhaps it’s too early to answer that question definitively. But the summer of 2010 is providing plenty of lessons for studio executives.


Let’s take a look at what they were thinking at the beginning of the season — and what they might be thinking now that some of their sure-fire blockbusters have blown up in their faces.


All people want to see in the summer are mindless action films, sequels and remakes. Well, maybe not. This was the first Memorial Day weekend in years that did not spawn a single $100 million grosser. “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time,” adapted from a video game, has grossed just under $90 million, a huge disappointment, considering it cost more than twice that much. The critically savaged “Sex and the City 2,” which was about as sexy as a Taliban-published romance novel, stalled out at $95 million. Further sequels now seem unlikely, which will be a great disappointment for those who were clamoring for “Sex and the City 3: Geritol and Genitalia.”


“The Twilight Saga: Eclipse” burned brightly: It may yet reach $300 million. But the much-hyped, all-action, no-brains “A-Team” failed to get a passing grade from moviegoers; it’s brought in $76 million, about half of what it was projected to make. The results were no better for “Predators,” which opened weakly and faded quickly, with barely $50 million in the bank.


Another ’80s franchise showed more signs of life: “The Karate Kid” overcame lukewarm reviews to sell $172 million worth of tickets. And, despite the usual it-wasn’tas-good-as-the-first-one gripes, “Iron Man 2” managed to make $311 million. “Shrek Forever After” rang up $235 million in sales, which sounds great, until you compare it to “Shrek the Third” ($322 million) and “Shrek 2” ($441 million).


Russell Crowe’s “Robin Hood” was very popular — outside of America. The film barely scraped past $100 million domestically, but made more than twice that much overseas. On the other hand, Josh Brolin and Megan Fox’s supernatural Western “Jonah Hex” was a debacle of historic proportions, bringing in barely $10 million.


Any studio head who still thinks audiences want to turn off their minds and hearts in June and July better look twice at the grosses on the tearjerking “Toy Story 3,” which will soon hit $400 million, and the mind-bending “Inception,” which just passed $200 million. Let’s not overlook “The Kids Are All Right,” one of the few summer films directly targeted at audiences looking for something smart and classy; the Annette Bening/Julianne Moore comedy-drama did almost $10 million in limited release and is just now moving into mainstream theaters.


Stars are always a safe bet. Yes, somehow Adam Sandler managed to squeeze $150 million out of “Grown- Ups,” but the goofball Tom Cruise/Cameron Diaz spy comedy “Knight and Day” sputtered out with less than half of that. Nicolas Cage’s name didn’t sell “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” which has conjured only $55 million so far, and the jury is still out on Angelina Jolie’s “Salt,” which opened respectably but lost nearly half its audience in its second weekend.


All eyes are now on Julia Roberts, who is essentially the whole show in “Eat Pray Love,” opening next weekend.


3D is here to stay. That remains to be seen. Yes, the animated 3D comedy “Despicable Me” has proven popular (almost $200 million to date). But it’s looking like a dog’s life for the poorly performing “Cats and Dogs II: The Revenge of Kitty Galore,” and “The Last Airbender,” which was shot in 2D and hastily converted into 3D, was shelled by critics and customers alike; at least it made $100 million before the poisonous word-of-mouth got around.


Now, although there are dozens more 3D extravaganzas on the way, there are also rumblings that audiences are getting fed up with paying extra dollars for unspectacular (or downright irritating) 3D effects. So, by next summer, 3D might possibly be 3DOA.

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