Forget about checking your calendar – when you read that Shark Night 3D is one of the big releases of the weekend, you know the Summer Movie Season is officially coming to an end.
Overall, 2011 was a decent year as far as summer releases go. There were a handful of surprises (and more than a couple of disappointments) but most movies were good enough to ensure that people walked away entertained and with their expectations met – as opposed to, say, protesting in the streets and demanding a ticket refund.
Quibbles about whether Fast Five or Thor truly marked the start of Summer 2011 aside, the season started off with a bang at the box office – and eventually fizzled out in the end. So, here are the big questions: What were the standouts of the summer? And what movies left us unimpressed (to put it mildly)?
Bear in mind: the following is strictly OPINION and based on the collective views of us here at Screen Rant. Which is why, for example, Rise of the Planet of the Apes isn’t our choice for Best Surprise Summer Hit – while a lot of people were skeptical about how that franchise reboot would turn out, we were behind that flick long before it was released. So, the final product being as good as it was came as less a surprise to us.
Feel free to voice your agreement (or disagreement) with any choices in the comments section – and as always, keep it civil.
If you’re interested in a particular category, here’s the breakdown
- Best and most disappointing comic book/superhero movie (below)
- Best and most disappointing comedies
- Best and most disappointing 3D movie experiences
- Best and worst surprises (much better and much worse than expected)
- Best and most disappointing animated movies
- Best overall Summer 2011 blockbuster, plus the top 10 movies at the box office
We’ll start out with our favorite movie genre here at Screen Rant…
Best Comic Book Movie – Captain America: The First Avenger
This summer, it turned out the best superhero comic book movie was being saved for last.
Thor and X-Men: First Class were both solid, but it was the second Marvel in-house production, Captain America: The First Avenger, that was arguably the overall best pure superhero movie of the season. It was appropriately old-fashioned in design, didn’t have to devote too much effort to setting up The Avengers – heck, it even came up with a clever explanation for why its main character runs around with a bullseye on his shield!
Captain America didn’t boast the enthralling action set pieces that some of its comic book movie peers have offered, but it was a fun blockbuster that featured some great characters, pleased comic book enthusiasts with its similarities to the source material – and, most importantly, made people all the more excited to see Steve Rogers return in both The Avengers and future Captain America solo ventures.
Most Disappointing Comic Book Movie - Green Lantern
Some two and a half months have passed since this superhero title hit theaters, and fans are still a bit tetchy, to say the least. While the majority of professional critics agree the movie was a mediocre attempt to realize the Green Lantern universe in live-action form, there remains a vocal minority of the fan community who feel that director Martin Campbell’s comic book flick is undeserving of all the flak it’s had to endure.
One thing we can (hopefully) all agree on is that Green Lantern certainly could’ve been better. Case in point: how many people who had never read a Lantern comic book prior to seeing the film honestly walked away afterwards with a solid understanding of how the Green Lantern Corps works? Or didn’t think there were there, at times, some gaping holes in the plot? Or didn’t feel that Ryan Reynolds as Hal Jordan kind of came off as DC’s answer to Marvel’s Iron Man - but not in a good way?
Perhaps this “I’m a Marvel… and I’m a DC” skit put it best: We all love the Hal Jordan character – now we just want to see him appear in a good movie.
Best Comedy – Bridesmaids
Summer 2011 will go down as the season of the comic book movie and R-Rated comedy – and Bridesmaids was easily the best of the adults-only laughfests that hit the big screen between the start of May and end of August. Part of its success can be attributed to the balance of endearing character drama and raunchy humor that director Paul Feig and co-writer/starlet Kristen Wiig managed to pull off so well. That the film had its fair share of genuine laugh-out-loud scenes and chuckle-worthy moments aplenty also helped.
Since Bridemaids became a sleeper hit at the box office, there’s been discussion of not only a followup, but also an increase in the number of female-centric comedies being made in general. The idea that women can be as crude and funny as men is not revolutionary (or rather, it shouldn’t be) – still, it’s quite refreshing to learn that there are better chick flick sequels on the horizon than, say, Sex and the City 3.
Most Disappointing Comedy - The Hangover Part II
After we saw the first full-length trailer for The Hangover Part II, one thing was obvious: the setup for the sequel would be literally the same as its predecessor, minus a few insignificant changes (ex. setting). No one went to see this movie expecting the wheel to be re-invented; they were just hoping for a raunchy and wild comedy that was just as outrageously funny as the original Hangover. Did that happen?
Our (and most critics’) answer was a definite “no.” What worked so well in the first Hangover movie (the lewd gags, bizarre characters, etc.) felt tired and annoying in the sequel. The film’s cast and crew tried too hard to replicate the success of that sleeper hit in a cut-and-paste manner, resulting in a second Hangover flick that felt like too much a carbon copy of its predecessor, for most people’s tastes.
The sequel still raked in more than enough dough to guarantee that The Hangover Part III will happen. Take that as you will.
Best 3D Experience – Transformers: Dark of the Moon & Final Destination 5
No one wonders whether the new Transformers or Final Destination movie is their thing; by now, you know whether or not you like or despise either, neither, or both franchises. The latest installments in each series tried to use the 3D factor as a means to appeal the masses – and both did a really good job of using said technology.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon arguably boasts the most impressive 3D sequences of any summer release (see: the massive Chicago set piece that concludes the film), but the first half of this threequel-closer offered little in the way of noteworthy 3D bang for your buck. Final Destination 5, by comparison, never really uses the extra dimension to draw moviegoers into the film’s setting like Dark of the Moon; however, FD5 did use 3D to really heighten the unnerving nature of its deadly mouse trap-like set pieces, starting with the collapsing bridge sequence in the very beginning.
Is it better then to have less, but stellar 3D, or more good 3D? Well, let’s just call it a tie for now.
Most Disappointing 3D Experience - Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
The fourth installment in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise added some new (acting) blood to the mix, put Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow front-and-center, and streamlined the plot in part as a response to complaints about the bloated narratives of the previous two films. Just about everything in the movie still felt like a watered-down variation on what we’d seen in the other Pirate flicks… and yet On Stranger Tides managed to gross more than $1 billion worldwide – despite it also being what most people consider one of the least-impressive shot-in-3D productions yet, that is.
On Stranger Tides takes place primarily under the cover of night, in dimly-lit ship cabins or caverns; it’s a visually dark and murky film to watch, even in regular 2D. Forget being able to feel like you’re swinging around a chandelier with Jack Sparrow or riding a creaking ship at sea – most people who watched the four Pirates adventure in 3D struggled to even see what was going on.
It didn’t help that director Rob Marshall didn’t play around with the 3D format a whole lot either – and when he did, it was often in a very gimmicky fashion.
Best Surprise Hit – X-Men: First Class
Matthew Vaughn’s rebooting prequel, X-Men: First Class, read as potentially fantastic on paper – a ’60s-set adventure full of political intrigue and young mutant drama – but concerns about its significant departure from both the previous X-Men movie and comic book continuity made many a fan wary about its potential quality. Those concerns were only amplified by a rushed production schedule and mixed marketing campaign that even left the film’s cast wondering if the project was a disaster in the making.
That First Class turned out as well as it did in spite of all those issues was a genuine surprise. It failed to reach the heights of box office success that its predecessors and fellow Marvel comic book adaptations managed, but still made enough worldwide to keep plans for a sequel alive. First Class also helped get the X-Men franchise back on track after two installments (X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine) which were given an overall lackluster reception.
Lastly, has there been a better onscreen “bromance” recently than that between young Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) in First Class?
Most Disappointing Surprise Flop - Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark
A remake of the 1970s made-for-TV cult classic Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark was never expected to be a box office smash, but Guillermo del Toro fans were definitely psyched to see this one. Just a day before its hit theaters, a red band trailer was released, hinting that it would be a spooky creature feature that boasted the sort of skin-crawling violence and horrific atmosphere that del Toro fans loved in his previous films. So what the heck went wrong?
It turned out that having del Toro write and direct your movie is a very different thing than having him co-write and produce. Not everyone found Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark quite as laughably bad as we did, but even its admirers seem to agree, there was definitely room for improvement. The box office returns have reflected that lack of enthusiasm, seeing how the film doesn’t look to even match its $25 million budget, as far as U.S. ticket sales go.
To further put it in perspective - Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark might not even outgross Apollo 18, when all is said and done. How many people saw that coming?
Best Animated Movie – Kung Fu Panda 2
The Kung Fu Panda sequel didn’t exactly have a lot of competition, but it was nonetheless still the best computer-animated flick to hit screens this summer. Po the Panda returned in an adventure that boasted some clever and stylized martial arts action, decent use of 3D, and a surprisingly complex villain in the form of the fowl (sorry) figure known as Lord Shen (voiced by the always engaging Gary Oldman).
Where Kung Fu Panda 2 fell flat was in the area of story, not being able to fully realize its predecessor’s mix of genuine Asian philosophy with a more standard kid-friendly plot about an outsider discovering the inner strength he never knew he had. It was still a good movie overall and has been more than successful enough in theaters worldwide to ensure that Kung Fu Panda 3 (which the sequel directly set up, with its ending) should be arriving in the future.
Most Disappointing Animated Movie - Cars 2
The original Cars remains one of Pixar’s least-liked films, so it’d be a stretch (if not a flat-out lie) to claim that there was a ton of excitement for the followup. That the trailers basically indicated Cars 2 could be re-titled The Obnoxiously Wacky Adventures of Mater left many an adult rolling their eyes. Why exactly then should Cars 2 be considered a disappointment?
Simple answer: It’s still a Pixar movie, a label that is generally synonymous with quality.
Cars 2 featured some truly stunning animation, but ultimately proved to be a pretty lackluster trip (pun intended). There was plenty of kid-friendly humor to go around in the sequel, but not enough in the way of interesting storytelling and truly memorable characters. Even most Cars defenders has admitted that its followup lacks the heart and simple-but-solid morals of the original.
On the plus side – Pixar’s next production, Brave, looks like a nice return-to-form for the studio. Go originality!
Best Blockbuster – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II
The eighth and (for now) final Harry Potter movie was truly a historical cinematic event. It didn’t matter if you’d never been a fan of author J.K. Rowling’s book-turned-film cash cow – or had grown up while watching the young Potter franchise stars… well, grow up too – the end of a decade where a new Harry Potter movie was being released on almost a yearly basis meant something to everyone (if nothing else than “We’re on the last one – FINALLY!”).
It’d be a lie to say that everyone loved Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II. Many a fan of the original novels were once again annoyed by changes from the source material and some people felt it failed as a truly epic conclusion, given the seven films’ worth of buildup. However, the majority of Potter fans seem to agree: Deathly Hallows: Part II is as action-packed and emotionally-satisfying a finale as one could ask for. So – here’s to hoping that no one tries to reboot this blockbuster franchise, yes?
On that note – here are the current top 10 U.S. moneymakers of the Summer 2011 Movie Season (via Box Office Mojo):
1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II – $374.6 million ($1.3 billion worldwide)
2. Transformers: Dark of the Moon – $350.3 million ($1.1 billion worldwide)
3. The Hangover Part II – $254.3 million ($581.3 million worldwide)
4. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides – $240.5 million ($1 billion worldwide)
5. Fast Five – $209.8 million ($606.9 million worldwide)
6. Cars 2 – $188.6 million ($540.8 million worldwide)
7. Thor – $181 million ($448.5 million worldwide)
8. Captain America: The First Avenger – $171.5 million ($336.6 million worldwide)
9. Bridesmaids – $168.5 million ($281 million worldwide)
10. Kung Fu Panda 2 – $164.8 million ($650.3 million worldwide)
There’s our view of the Summer 2011 movie season. This year’s top 10 box office movies earned $2.3 billion in U.S. ticket sales and a worldwide total of $6.8 billion. Last summer the 2010 season’s top 10 films brought in $2.9 billion in the U.S. and $7.6 billion worldwide, for whatever that’s worth.