2017: Surprises and storylines so far in movies

Welcome to (almost) August.

Well, ok, in the real world. But in the parallel cinematic universe that mirrors our own, it’s probably more accurate to say we’re coming up on the end of April as far as the movie year goes, what with most of the year’s best films to come as the weather gets cooler.

Nonetheless, 2017 has been supremely interesting for movies so far.

We got a 2018 Best Picture dark horse contender almost a full year early in Jordan Peele’s Get Out. Following a series of misfires, DC finally gave us a film that is both a critical darling and box office smash in Wonder Woman. After La La Land invigorated the musical last year, Edgar Wright reinvented it with Baby Driver. And, of course, Marvel Studios keeps doing Marvel Studios things.

Seven months into the (real world) year, there’s been a lot to talk about, including surprises and things that turned out exactly the way we thought they would. Here’s just a brief recap.


Expectation: Logan a new kind of superhero film

If there’s one thing that hit the mark and, for the most part, met the immense amounts of hype that was built up for it, it’s Logan.

Ever since the first footage and trailer last year – which showed us that Hugh Jackman’s last turn as the iconic X-Man was going to be more of a grounded character study than perhaps any other comic book movie before it – fans were expecting a franchise gem from Jackman and director James Mangold.

For the most part, it delivered. (Read my complete thoughts on it here.) Jackman’s performance was compelling, the merciless embrace of the R-rating bloody satisfying and the ending ultimately fitting.

Not surprisingly, many fanboys have taken upon themselves to place Logan in the conversation for best comic book movie ever. At the very least, it represents the genre’s best chance at a Best Picture nomination since The Dark Knight.


Surprise: The rebirth of the spring movie season

Normally, February to April is considered a landfill of sorts for some of the worst movies. The only franchise that consistently profits from releasing entries during that span is the Fast and Furious movies.

Otherwise, it’s mostly spent waiting for May.

Not this year, though. In 2017, many studios decided to take a risk and release new movies during the spring when they otherwise might fill more seats in the summer. The first few months of this year saw the releases of Get Out, Logan, The Lego Batman Movie, John Wick: Chapter 2, Beauty and the Beast, Split and Life.

MORE: My review of The Lego Batman Movie

ALSO: My review of Life

And those were just the hits. Audiences also got A Cure for Wellness, Ghost in the Shell, Power Rangers and The Great Wall – movies that weren’t as successful but would have almost certainly been even more dead-on-arrival had they released during a busier summer movie season.

It was a welcome migration for studios to realize the potential of a spring movie season where box office royalty is up for grabs.

And not just profit, but award season potential as well. Zootopia, Ex Machina and The Grand Budapest Hotel represent recent spring releases that were able to sustain buzz all through the year en route to Oscar nominations and even wins.

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Whether 2017 is an outlier with the blossoming of the spring movie season remains to be seen, but at least in the short term it was a foreshadowing for the decidedly above-average year for film that 2017 would continue to be through the summer (and hopefully through its second half).

Speaking of summer…


Expectation: Wonder Woman is a success

You would have been on the money predicting that Wonder Woman would have been a hit with audiences and critics based on the fact alone that Zack Snyder isn’t involved.

The Amazonian superhero’s big screen debut as a cameo in last year’s dreary Batman v. Superman was easily the highlight of its bloated plot. And it’s impossible to ignore that 2017 is just about the perfect time for a genre standard-busting female hero to make waves in Hollywood.

And that’s just what it did upon its release. Buoyed by strong to quite strong direction at the hands of Patty Jenkins, a much more engaging premise than any other DCEU offering thus far and a Snyder-less action aesthetic, Wonder Woman not only got the stamp of approval from critics (92% on Rotten Tomatoes) but also wooed audiences (droves of them), to the tune of a $103 million opening weekend.

A wonder, indeed.


Surprise: Wonder Woman is the most successful movie of the summer

And, as it turns out, the biggest wonder of the summer.

While many would have predicted the film to be the DCEU’s biggest success story so far, most (including yours truly) would not have thought it had a chance at besting the likes of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming, the latest Transformers movie or even perhaps Despicable Me 3 as THE  bonafide hit of the summer.

But that’s exactly what’s happening as the summer movie season winds down, with Wonder Woman having officially grossed more domestically than all of those listed, a crown it will most likely retain through the next month.

The main reason for its success: Remarkable word-of-mouth. While most blockbusters will drop off by 50 to 60 percent or more after opening weekend, Wonder Woman has dropped off by no more than 43 percent in every ensuing weekend since its release.

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By the beginning of July – a month after the film opened – it was still earning nearly $16 million over the weekend. By comparison, BvS earned a meager $5.5 million a month after its release. An immense 70 percent dropoff in that film’s second weekend didn’t help its financial longevity, and signified that the hype that was built up for it wasn’t being met, and moviegoers should spend their money elsewhere.

With Wonder Woman, it’s the opposite. Now the top-grossing female-directed action movie ever, it’s already raked in nearly $70 million more than the entire run of BvS (while costing half as much to make) and even has DC brass rethinking who the real leader of Justice League is.

Oh, and the most profitable female superhero of all-time is now garnering Oscar buzz as well.


Expectation: Marvel’s gonna Marvel

Every year it seems like we get a Marvel film (or two, or three) that is worthy of being called one of the best offerings from the studio to date.

And then you sit to actually think about it, and eventually remember, “Wait. Well, there is the first Iron Man which is still quality nearly 10 years later…the original Avengers is solid as well, as is the first Guardians…every Cap movie also deserves consideration…”

Aside from Thor: The Dark World, Marvel Studios has been reaching Pixar-like levels of consistency for the last decade…and they’re putting out twice as much content.

This summer, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 set the summer in motion in May, a supremely enjoyable piece of film that, while not as memorable as the first and a tad overlong, pushed all the right buttons and, at the very least, met the expectations of most who bought a ticket.

Later, we got the latest reincarnation of Spider-Man in Tom Holland, finally in the hands of Marvel, which understands the character much better than Sony ever did. While its action may not have been as inventive as some set pieces from the franchise’s Toby Maguire days, the movies’ John Hughes vibe and focus on Peter Parker as a vulnerable yet confident superhero youngster hit the bullseye.

Even those weary of Spidey flicks would have to admit the film provides a new standard for villains in the MCU with Michael Keaton’s sympathetic Vulture, who yearns not for world domination, but rather to provide for his family.

The beat goes on for both movies critically and financially – Guardians sits at 82 percent, Spidey at 92 percent on RT; both have expectedly brought in big bucks so far – as the MCU inches closer to what it’s been working towards all these years: the final showdown with Thanos in Infinity War, featuring a cast so big it will make Joss Whedon pulling off Avengers look like a walk through destroyed New York City.

Before that, though: the third Thor entry, which already looks like the best of his respective films, this November, and The Black Panther next spring.


Surprise: Franchise fatigue becomes an epidemic

Compared to other studio tentpoles that have been relied on for years for their box office pull, Marvel is establishing an increasingly remarkable consistency for staying the course with audiences.

Other franchises, though, not so much.

For one, there’s the fifth Pirates of the Caribbean movie, a brand that hasn’t been relevant in cinemas for nearly 10 years yet ceases to die. In May, not even the talents of Oscar winner Javier Bardem could entice audiences.

So far, it’s grossing a franchise-worst $171 million domestically, the surest sign yet that it’s time for Captain Jack Sparrow to hang it up for good and ride off into the sunset with his rum bottle in hand.

Then, a month later, turnout for Transformers: The Last Knight reflected its critical reception, as audiences seem to finally be getting tired of the overlong, overblown mindlessness from Michael Bay that has less substance than an episode of Family Feud.

The Last Knight grossed just $44.7 million in its opening weekend while garnering an ugly 14 percent on RT, and it doesn’t seem like it will sniff the $244.5 million domestic run of the previous entry in the franchise…also currently its lowest-grossing.

Other sequels that studios were probably relying to bring in much more than they did: Cars 3, Alien: Covenant, Underworld: Blood Wars and the final chapter of the Resident Evil franchise.

The Mummy and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword also proved that audiences aren’t flocking to familiar stories, and showed industry higher-ups that if they feel their movie really needs two titles, that may already be an indicator of how much moviegoers will care.

The bright side to less money for Hollywood? Instead of seeing familiar stories, audiences are instead going to new ones.

Get Out¸ perhaps the most original movie of the year so far, is the ninth-highest grossing film of 2017, making over $175 million on a meager $5 million budget. (Check out what I thought of the movie here.) In the process it’s catapulted Jordan Peele onto the list of most sought-after directors.

Baby Driver, Edgar Wright’s action heist musical, continues to be the surprise hit of the summer, growing $20.5 million in its opening weekend, a figure that itself nearly eclipses the entire theatrical runs of each of the auteur’s previous films. It’s in the top 20 for highest grossing films of 2017 so far.

And Dunkirk – the film many are calling director Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece but ostensibly lacking a premise as enticing as Interstellar, Inception and his Dark Knight movies – beat most box office estimates on its opening weekend, grossing over $50 million. It’s a remarkable figure for a WWII film, a genre that hasn’t seen a movie gross that much in its release since 2001’s Pearl Harbor, unless you include the first Captain America.

MORE: My thoughts on Dunkirk

Original films are only going to continue to be made based on how much audiences show they have a desire for them, so in that regard 2017 may be showing the brightest signs yet for aspiring filmmakers.

Below is the list of the top 20 grossing films, as of July 29.

  1. Beauty and the Beast/$504 million (total domestic gross)/ $174.8 million (opening weekend gross)
  2. Wonder Woman / $392.9 million $103.3 million
  3. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 / $387.6 million $146.5 million
  4. Spider-Man: Homecoming / $268.8 million $117 million
  5. Logan / $226.3 million $88.4 million
  6. The Fate of the Furious / $225.8 million $98.8 million
  7. Despicable Me 3 / $225 million $72.4 million
  8. The Lego Batman Movie / $175.8 million $53 million
  9. Get Out / $175.5 million $33.4 million
  10. The Boss Baby / $174.6 million $50.2 million
  11. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales / $170.1 million $63 million
  12. Kong: Skull Island / $168 million $61 million
  13. Cars 3 / $145.7 million $53.7 million
  14. Split / $138.1 million $40 million
  15. Transformers: The Last Knight / $128.4 million $44.7 million
  16. Fifty Shades Darker / $114.4 million $46.6 million
  17. War for the Planet of the Apes / $111.3 million $56.3 million
  18. John Wick: Chapter Two / $92 million $30.4 million
  19. Baby Driver / $89.2 million $20.5 million
  20. Power Rangers / $85.4 million $40.3 million

 

Expectation: Emojis make horrid movie fare

Sitting at a whopping 6 percent on RT, The Emoji Movie is easily the worst wide-release film of the year, and will certainly be up for the wrong kind of award buzz at the Razzies.

Audiences go to movies to escape, and that includes a break from the social media obsession pervading our culture. To try and create a commentary on that using the type of digital lingo we go to the theater to avoid was never going to be a success.

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