Hollywood roars back into action with blockbusters, drama, comedy
August 14, 2018 | 74° | Check Traffic

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Hollywood roars back into action with blockbusters, drama, comedy

  • COURTESY MARVEL STUDIOS

    Front row from left, Danai Gurira, Chadwick Boseman, Chris Evans, Scarlet Johansson and Sebastian Stan in a scene from “Avengers: Infinity War.”

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It was still chilly in parts of the U.S., but the “summer” aka blockbuster-movie season started early this year in Hollywood, with the release of superhero extravaganza “Avengers: Infinity War” on April 27.

The movie industry is looking to redeem itself after last summer, which, despite hits like “Wonder Woman,” had its worst performance in more than a decade. Nothing beats summer’s potential, with the opportunities afforded by work and school vacations, although studios are embracing a year-round blockbuster schedule — and massive hits can emerge in any month, like “Black Panther” in February, “It” in September and “Star Wars” in December.

This summer’s movie-going season, which typically runs from May through Labor Day, could get things back on track.

Following on the heels of franchise pic “Infinity War” from the Walt Disney Co. and Marvel, Universal Pictures is releasing “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” on June 22 — the sequel to “Jurassic World,” an all-time, Top 10 domestic box office draw.

Plenty of sequels and familiar brands are coming to theaters, including: “Deadpool 2” (today); “Solo: A Star Wars Story” (May 25); “The Incredibles 2” (June 15); “Sicario: Day of the Soldado” (June 29); “The First Purge” (July 4); “Ant-Man and the Wasp” (July 6); “Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation” (July 13); “The Equalizer 2” (July 20); “Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again!” (July 20); and “Mission: Impossible — Fallout” (July 27).

WHILE BIG, franchise, tent-pole films are always the highest-grossing, and films like “Jurassic World 2” and “Avengers: Infinity War” will be sure-fire hits, oversaturation is possible, too, notes Wall Street Journal reporter Ben Fritz. His new book “The Big Picture: The Fight for the Future of Movies,” examines the current state of the industry.

“People do like to see the big franchise tent-pole films,” Fritz said. “But even if the studios make more of them, people are not going to more movies. The more of them there are, the more they are competing for the same box office dollars — and as a result you see more flops.”

According to Box Office Mojo, movie ticket sales were at a 25-year low in 2017, and competition for audience attention is only intensifying. Netflix has a whole slate of summer films, from an Adam Sandler and Chris Rock comedy (“The Week Of,” which became available to stream on April 27) to the WWII-set adaptation of “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.”

This year, too, has shown a concentration of box office dollars on just a few films.“Black Panther,” Fritz noted, accounted for 23 percent of ticket sales in the first three months of the year.

That’s at least part of the reason why many studios are touting the diversity of their slates, beyond the spectacle of superheroes and blockbusters.

“Today, it’s even more important that there is a wide variety of films out there, films that are provocative, that are thrilling, that obviously are entertaining, and that you’re presenting them in new and exciting ways,” said Jim Orr, Universal Pictures’ president of domestic theatrical distribution. “We have a theater-going audience that is discerning, and I think we need to keep that in mind with everything we put forth.”

Universal has “Jurassic World” and “Mamma Mia!” sequels, sure, but it is also releasing Dwayne Johnson’s action-thriller “Skyscraper” (July 13). Its indie arm, Focus Features, has films like the dark dramedy starring Charlize Theron, “Tully” (which opened May 4), Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman” (Aug. 10) and documentaries about Pope Francis (today) and Mr. Rogers (“Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” scheduled to open in Honolulu on June 22).

Warner Bros., home of Wonder Woman, Batman and the other DC Comics superheroes, doesn’t even have a major DC film on the slate this summer (aside from the animated “Teen Titans GO! to the Movies,” July 27). Instead, its slate boasts films like the star- (and female-) driven “Life of the Party,” starring Melissa McCarthy (which opened May 11) and “Ocean’s 8” (June 8) with Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett and Rihanna, comedies like “Tag” (June 15) with Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, Ed Helms, Jake Johnson and Hannibal Buress, and an adaptation of the popular book “Crazy Rich Asians” (Aug. 17).

“The business just gets spread out over 12 months,” said Warner Bros. domestic distribution president Jeff Goldstein. “It’s not about one particular season and for a studio, it’s about opportunistically dating your movies in a way to maximize your box office on any given film.”

BEYOND “OCEAN’S 8,” a number of gender-flipped reboots and bawdy female-led comedies are on the season’s schedule. These include “Book Club” (opening today) with Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen, “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” remake “The Hustle” (June 29) with Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson,“The Spy Who Dumped Me” (Aug. 3) with Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon, and “Overboard” (which opened May 4) with Anna Faris.

Action fans can look forward to Mark Wahlberg as an intelligence officer trying to smuggle a police officer out of the country in “Mile 22” (Aug. 3) and Jason Statham fighting a shark in “The Meg” (Aug. 10).

Audiences thirsting for more unconventional fare may just have to look a little deeper for the potential hidden gems, like “Uncle Drew” (June 29), a comedy about an aging basketball team competing in a street tournament, with Lil Rel Howery, Kyrie Irving and Shaquille O’Neal, and “Hereditary” (June 8), a trippy horror about the strange things that start happening when a family’s matriarch dies.

Sundance breakouts coming this summer include “Eighth Grade” (July 13) from comedian Bo Burnham, which follows an eighth-grade girl around her last week of middle school, “Blindspotting” (July 20) about a police shooting in Oakland, Calif., and “Sorry to Bother You” (July 6) also Oakland-set, but with a quirkier sci-fi edge.

There’s the almost too-strange-to-be-true “The Happytime Murders” (Aug. 17) from Brian Henson and starring Melissa McCarthy, where puppets and humans co-exist and a private eye takes on the case of a puppet-on-puppet murder.

And then there’s “Hotel Artemis,” the directorial debut of “Iron Man 3” screenwriter Drew Pearce. It’s an original action-thriller about a hospital for criminals set in a dystopian, near-future Los Angeles with a star-studded cast including Jodie Foster, Sterling K. Brown and Jeff Goldblum that Global Road Entertainment is releasing on June 8. Pearce said there was no way he could have gotten it made in the studio system.

“Hopefully this is a rallying cry. It’s not a sequel, it’s not based on a comic. It’s not a reboot. It’s its own eccentric and hopefully loveable beast of a movie,” Pearce said.

“I think what we’ve seen in the last year is movies with real personality are actually what an audience is crying out for, whether that’s tiny movies that made good like ‘Get Out’ or taking the superhero blockbuster like ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ and essentially making a quirky New Zealand comedy out of it,” he said. “There’s a real appetite for something that’s just a little different and a little less cookie-cutter.”

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