Now that summer has come to an end, it’s a great time to take a look at our favorite and not-so-favorite science fiction films that came out during this past summer. There were certainly a few surprise hits and a couple of films that many science fiction fans already knew would be duds.
The month of May started off with a bang (from a mythological hammer). The mostly well-reviewed ‘Thor’ not only kept Marvel’s superhero winning streak going, the Kenneth Branagh directed film was a hit. The film has taken in more than $448.5 million worldwide and a sequel, ‘Thor 2’, is already scheduled for July 2013. I think Marvel’s director choice really helped take this film beyond the standard fanboy feel to connect with a broader audience. And it really showed in the box office take.
Next came the apocalyptic vampire action film ‘Priest’. Based on the excellent graphic novel of the same name, the film received mixed reviews and a decent box office grossing $76.5 million worldwide. Many fans were upset at the films’ changes from the original graphic novel. The film really had a nice look and feel, but being a smaller film and straying too far from the source material probably alienated many fans.
Yo Ho Ho! It’s Johnny Depp. ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides’ set sail for an unbelievable bounty… $1,039.6 billion box office. It now sits at number 8 for all time box office grosses. Also, the film restored the fun that seemed to be missing from the franchise’s previous installment. This goes to show that a big and somewhat tired franchise can be revived (much like a pirate ghost) if the film focuses on the fun factor.
June saw more superhero fun with ‘X-Men: First Class’. The first prequel installment in Marvel’s mutant franchise scored well with fans and some critics attracting $350.9 million at the box office. Even though ‘X-Men: The Last Stand’ and ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’ both did well at the box office, many longtime fans felt both films were mediocre and that franchise had lost is way. So as fanboys we are always hopeful, but usually expecting the worst when studios “reboot” a franchise. ‘X-Men: First Class’ however did a good job of restarting what could be more good films for us to enjoy.
Then Steven Spielberg and J.J. Abrams teamed up for the retro science fiction film ‘Super 8’. With Speilberg’s almost trademarked family fun sci-fi stamp, the film did well, but not quite blockbuster business taking in $236.4 million worldwide. Most wouldn’t argue that Spielberg and Abrams have a lot of science fiction credibility. Unfortunately, the end result is somewhat fun, but a little bland.
One of the most expensive films of the year, the reportedly $200 million budgeted epic, ‘Green Lantern’ tried, but failed to establish a new big screen DC Comics hit besides ‘Batman’ and ‘Superman’. Almost universally hated, the film only grossed $194.3 million worldwide even with a $100 million marketing campaign. Someday hopefully Warner and DC will find that balance that respects the history that fans are looking for while also creating a blockbuster film. They certainly couldn’t go wrong with watching their own excellent animated versions of the DC Universe. The attention to detail and storytelling respect both the comics and television mediums.
Seen for the first time in decades in the theater, ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’ (35th anniversary re-issue) played throughout the summer in at least 1 theater. The cult classic, starring David Bowie, is about an alien who comes to Earth and tries to understand and navigate our world. The classic film grossed $60k this summer. While the film is a bit dated now, the science fiction and human themes should still resonate with audiences.
ATMs in disguise, ‘Transformers:Dark of the Moon’ re-established the franchise after 2009’s disappointing ‘Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen’. ‘Dark of the Moon’, which has now grossed $1,099.9 billion worldwide, is now on track to be the 4th largest box office in history, possibly overtaking ‘Lord of the Rings: ROTK’. Whether you love him or hate him, director Michael Bay really showed the ‘Transformer’ fans that he was sorry for the mess that was ‘Revenge of the Fallen’ with the latest installment.
Another $1 billion July franchise is ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2’. The 8th and final film in the long-running book series, it has now grossed $1,268.7 billion placing it at #3 on the list of all time worldwide box office grosses behind ‘Avatar’ and ‘Titanic’. ‘Part 2’ really made it worthwhile after sitting through the somewhat long and not overly exciting ‘Part 1’ cliffhanger film. Many (myself included) felt a little cheated when ‘Part 1’ ended so abruptly.
Just a little late for the fourth of July celebration is Marvel’s ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’. The Joe Simon and Jack Kirby created American hero was another hit at the box office for Marvel taking in $316.2 million worldwide. While actor Chris Evans (‘Fantastic Four’) as ‘Captain America’ and genre director Joe Johnston (‘The Rocketeer’) wouldn’t have been my first choices for their respective roles, both worked well to bring this iconic character to the big screen. While not Oscar material, the film mostly worked well for fanboys and the general public.
Blending two genres, ‘Cowboys & Aliens’ was released to mixed reviews and a somewhat disappointing box office of $110.5 million worldwide. Although, the alien invasion film has only currenly opened in about 21 of the possible 65 worldwide territories. So, it still has a chance to turn its fortunes. I really wanted this film to strike gold not only because I love both genres and think it’s a cool idea, but because I know the personal love and admiration that creator Scott Rosenberg put into bringing the idea to the big screen. He’s as big fanboy as any of us and it was a long 14 year journey (many of them on a dusty road on horseback).
The month of July also saw the release of two interesting indie sci-fi films, ‘Another Earth’ and ‘Attack the Block’. Both films have been well reviewed and have had great results at their limited releases. Alternate universe love story ‘Another Earth’ has grossed $989k domestically while alien invasion comedy ‘Attack the Block’ has grossed a very respectable $4.9 million dollars in just a few territories. As science fiction fans, I believe we should really support the indies as it will hopefully lead to slew of more genre films.
In August, the apes rose up as ‘Rise of the Planets of the Apes’ was released to surprisingly good reviews. The second reboot of the decades old frachise, the film has grossed almost $200 million as it continues to roll out internationally. It was great to see a reboot that didn’t try to dumbdown a cool concept thinking that audiences might not connect. It’s good for studios to remember that science fiction fans have brains as well as cash.
Another August reboot, ‘Conan the Barbarian’ (2011) was released on unsuspecting movie patrons. The poorly reviewed film, which is also the 3rd in the franchise, barely opened to $10 million. Sadly, this won’t be the start of a group of “Sword and Sorcery” films.
And lastly, ‘Spy Kids: All the Time in the World’ was released to weak reviews and an anemic box office take for a film in this long-running successful franchise. The film opened to $12 million domestically. While we will probably see more films in the franchise, it would be great to see a fresh direction for any further films.