Days of blunder: Handicapping summer ’12


Predicting summer box office is always a dicey proposition: I never get tired of pointing out that Premiere Magazine thought Days of Thunder was going to be the top warm-weather movie of 1990, instead of a cautionary chapter in Don Simpson’s posthumous biography. Some of the entries in my 2012 forecast are going to look pretty stupid by Labor Day, while others will seem like strokes of forward-thinking genius. But hey, a guy deserves points for going out on a limb. And remember, “inevitability” only counts when your competition is Rick Santorum.

10. Men in Black 3 -- Yeah, Josh Brolin does a hilarious impression of Tommy Lee Jones. That’s five minutes’ worth of entertainment accounted for right there. What are we supposed to do for the rest -- silently congratulate Barry Sonnenfeld for landing in 1969 three years before Mad Men? What you’re about to hear is the last, wheezing gasp of the MIB franchise, due in no small part to something Robert Osborne will one day refer to as the “GNF factor” (i.e., Got No Frank).

9. Sparkle -- It’s this year’s This Is It! (Yeah, Sony, I dare ya to blurb that one.) Whitney Houston’s cinematic swan song will give audiences and critics a once-in-a-lifetime chance to play Monday-morning coroner, clucking their tongues about wasted potential and the eerie portents they’re going to read into every line of dialogue and meaningful glance. Gauche ghoulishness having long since replaced baseball as the great American pastime, expect Sparkle to get as long and lingering a look as a memorial floral display at a deadly intersection.

8. Rock of Ages -- Filmed versions of stage musicals are an up-and-down proposition at the box office: For every Hairspray, there’s a Nine. But this Tom Cruise vehicle will hit just the right note of ’80s nostalgia, especially as its target audience (chicks, Gleeks and geeks) will see nothing outré about the suggestion that the poodleheaded denizens of the Sunset Strip were addicted to Journey. Forget musicals; whatever happened to historical pictures?

7. Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter -- There are two films written by Seth Grahame-Smith coming out this summer, and most industry forecasters expect Dark Shadows to be by far the most successful of the pair. What they don’t realize is that stake-in-the-ass Goths are all but boycotting DS, meaning those folks will need to do something with the spare change that’ll be burning a hole in their pockets by late June. The beneficiary? Grahame-Smith’s adaptation of his own novel, which launched the entire “revisionist horror history” genre. By 2015, it’ll be Crime and Punishment and Werewolves taking the Independence Day slot. 6. Prometheus -- Ridley Scott’s return to Alien territory may come off as recycled goods, but they’re goods people still wanna buy. Among the summer’s straight-up sci-fi entries, it has the best chance at scoring a king-sized haul. (Total Recall? HAHAHAHAHAHA!) Ironically given the trajectory of the Alien franchise, Prometheus is going to benefit from positioning itself as something every summer needs:  a James Cameron movie you don’t have to feel like a dick for seeing. 5. The Dark Knight Rises -- Nobody in his right mind ever expected TDKR to fully recapture the lightning in a bottle that was The Dark Knight. Yet it’s still rather remarkable how hard it is to get excited about this wannabe-epic follow-up. Everything that’s emerged so far -- including three trailers and assorted plot teases -- has come off as self-important and dull, to a degree that portends a massive backlash. And in terms of its underlying philosophy, this may just be the wrong movie at the wrong time: Apparently, the story hinges on a violent uprising masterminded by an international terrorist who manipulates Gotham’s underclasses into taking out their resentments on the rich. How warmly will recession-battered audiences embrace the movie if it indeed ends up portraying 99 percent of them as lawless, envy-crazed dupes? My guess is “not all that warmly.”

4. Brave -- Pixar’s heralded “experiment” with heroine-driven drama comes to us from a writing/directing team that’s actually 50 percent female -- which gives it just as much womanly representation as society as a whole (although 50 percent less than there is in Michele Bachmann’s marriage).   On the down side, the film seems to lack any significant cute factor, which is going to prevent it from performing quite as well as Finding Nemo, Wall-E or either of the last two Toy Storys. Naturally, the industry takeaway will be that little girls just can’t be counted on to propel one of their own into the animation stratosphere. The gender breakdown of the average marketing firm, licensing agency and studio boardroom will get slightly less consideration.

3. The Amazing Spider-Man -- When Roger Corman grinds out an el cheapo superhero flick to maintain his hold on a license, the result (1994’s The Fantastic Four) goes straight to the bootleg video table at MegaCon. When Sony Pictures grinds out an el cheapo superhero flick to maintain its hold on a license, the result opens over the July 4 weekend at nearly every multiplex in America. The fanboy contingent is guaranteed to turn up to see what parts of the mythos Marc Webb got “right” that Sam Raimi didn’t, and vice-versa. Outside those quarters, it’s going to be a harder sell: While the angsty romance elements will ensnare a certain amount of Twilight tweeners, the rest of the audience is going to see this picture for what it really is, which is a remake of a movie they opened their hearts and wallets to a mere 10 years ago. You can’t build repeat business when you’re repeat business already. 2. The Avengers -- No gold stars for prognostication here: Marvel Studios’ long-awaited team-up flick has already opened to strong business overseas, the reviews are overwhelmingly positive, and the promotion continues to be ubiquitous. When U.S. audiences finally get the chance to lay down their dollars, it’s going to be champagne all around at Disney -- and a fresh round of firings at Warners, where that Justice League feature is still a good 10 years from viability.  The Hollywood Reporter is even predicting The Avengers will be a “cultural phenomenon.” And they’d be entirely right, if that title wasn’t instead going to be claimed by

1. Ted -- The “thunder song” in the red-band trailer is this movie’s Spider-Pig: the bit that, all by its lonesome, snags millions at the box office. Other excerpts from Ted reportedly stole the show at  CinemaCon, providing just one more piece of evidence that Seth McFarlane’s first film will establish him as the most important figure in American comedy, bar none. To say the movie is going to be “this year’s Hangover” is an understatement: Not only will Ted emerge as an unprecedented four-quadrant hit, but it’ll get plenty of free P.R. from dismayed pundits who will be simply amazed that every kid over the age of 7 somehow knows everything that happened in an R-rated movie. Yes, there are people this out of touch, and their election-year hand-wringing is as good as gold.

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