The 2014 Summer Movie Season is now over, and it's time for us to look back over the lineup of movies we either sat through, suffered through, or enjoyed in full. Being the year leading up to some much bigger years in summer cinema (see: the overcrowded 2015 lineup), 2014 wasn't exactly packed with top-shelf material; but there were some important events of note.
There were big gambles on launching new franchises (Guardians of the Galaxy) or re-launching some older ones (Godzilla, TMNT); established franchises tried to course-correct themselves into a shared universe expansion a la Marvel (X-Men, Amazing Spider-Man); and in between the big dogs, a few smaller films tried to gain notoriety (Snowpierecer). And of course, there was no shortage of sequels to bring us back to some familiar places (22 Jump Street, Transformers 4, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes).
As always, our Screen Rant Summer Movie Awards will start off with some serious-minded categories, before we move into some of the more eccentric (and fun) parts of the summer movie season we wish to highlight. Enjoy!
2014 Summer Movie Awards (SPOILERS Follow)
Most Successful: Guardians of the Galaxy
There is no doubt who the big winner of summer 2014 is - and surprise, surprise, it's once again Marvel Studios. However, unlike in previous years, Marvel's success in 2014 comes on the back of a big gamble in the form of Guardians of the Galaxy.
No matter how the people may talk (read: front) now, even most hardcore comic fans hadn't really explored the Guardians comic books - be they the old 1970s version or the more modernized "Marvel Cosmic" version. That meant Marvel Studios risking top-dollar on a relatively unknown property; led by a relatively unknown leading man (Chris Pratt); under the guidance of a relatively untested director (James Gunn, who had previously done indie films); with a release date (first week August) that is traditionally NOT a magnet for big tentpole films.
However, as is the way of things, big gambles resulted in big rewards. And after winning this big (half a billion and counting in just a month), it's hard to imagine that there's anything that stop the Marvel Juggernaut (pun). Bring on Ant-Man.
Most Disappointing: Amazing Spider-Man 2
The Amazing Spider-Man franchise has promised much, only to deliver little. The first installment promised us an "untold" version of the Spider-Man origin... then it basically told us the same story with a sillier CGI villain (The Lizard). Amazing Spider-Man 2 made the bold shared universe promise that our hero's "greatest battle" would begin... but instead we got several half-assed villains and a jumbled mess of a movie.
What wins this sequel this particular award, however, is the fact that, visually, this was the best Spider-Man movie we've ever gotten. The wall-crawler, the super powered action - all of it was top-notch. It's a crying shame that the story surrounding the visuals wasn't as strong, and that the final film looked like a studio hack job, with key pieces (already shown in the overflow of marketing) missing from the puzzle.
Needless to say, the Spider-Man movie franchise is feeling a bit squashed in its hopes for the future.
Best Franchise (Re)Launch: Guardians of the Galaxy
Guardians of the Galaxy is now at $490 million worldwide and counting - in just one month of release! It earned more money domestically than Michael Bay's Transformers 4 - which is a feat in and of itself - thereby cementing its status as the biggest movie of the summer.
With a sequel already in the works, a cartoon series on the way, and a whole shared Marvel universe of future possibilities, the Guardians brand is stronger in its infancy than most other franchises are in their old age (see: Expendables 3).
Worst Franchise (Re)Launch: Hercules
Paramount Pictures thought that they had a new potential action franchise on their hands - and on paper, it sounded pretty solid. Get a massive leading man (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) and put him in a Greek swords-and-sandals tentpole piece starring a superhero-esque protagonist (Hercules).
Well, under the (mis)guidance of director Brett Ratner (X-Men: The Last Stand), Hercules failed to earn back its $100 million budget domestically - and only barely crossed that line with international sales included. Factor in the likely cost of marketing - and the fact that a different Hercules film also flopped in 2014 - and it's clear this franchise is DOA for the immediate future.
Best Shared Universe Launch: X-Men Days of Future Past
The X-Men movie franchise is famously bad for keeping track of its own convoluted continuity. With different directors and creative teams working on different iterations of films, at different times, under conflicting visions, fans had seen things fracture so far apart that it was unclear whether Fox could ever get it together again.
Then along came original X-Men director Bryan Singer with a crazy little old idea called Days of Future Past.
Infusing the superhero movie formula with time travel and a dysfunctional family drama, Singer made Days of Future Past an all-around fun and immersive X-Men movie experience, while simultaneously wiping (much of) the old, messy, slate clean. We now have new and exciting possibilities for future X-Men sequels and spinoffs set within an expanded and revitalized universe.
In the race for shared universe franchise supremacy, Fox's X-Men brand came back from near-death and pulled a major dark horse win. Now about that Deadpool movie, though...
Worst Shared Universe Launch: Amazing Spider-Man 2
Right now it seems it'll be a few years before we see anything; and when we do finally get more Spidey, it will be villain films like Venom and Sinister Six first. Kids moving into freshman college dorms today could be receiving their diplomas at graduation before Amazing Spider-Man 3 ever makes it into theaters. Thank ASM2 for that massive franchise cool down.
Right now, if the franchise's star player can't even muster excitement for himself, it's hard to see how villains and supporting characters from his universe are going to win back waning fan interest. It's going to take something very different, and very great, to turn this drifting ship around.
Best Fight: Godzilla vs. MUTOs - Godzilla
Godzilla admittedly split audiences, depending on whether or not you found the final destination worth the journey to get there. One thing that is not really debatable, however, is whether or not the film delivered an adequate climactic payoff.
It was a long chase between the MUTOs and Godzilla - but when the big showdown in the San Francisco bay finally came, Godzilla once again proved why he is - and forever will be - the undisputed King of Monsters.
Talk all you want about what other films had what other great fights; there was only one moment in our summer 2014 movie experience where the crowd went absolutely wild during a big brawl - and that moment involved an atomic mouth-to-mouth fatality.
Worst Fight: End Battle - Transformers Age of Extinction
If nothing else, you can always count on Michael Bay's Transformers movies to deliver some unequaled blockbuster action. But with Transformers: Age of Extinction, it's like Bay's heart is no longer in his many, many, pyrotechnics and explosions.
Fans waited four films to finally see Transformers favorites like Galvatron and the Dinobots - but when the aforementioned finally came together with Optimus Prime, the Autobots, a sadistic bounty hunter and a new breed of Decepticons for a big showdown in China, the result was pretty underwhelming.
More Transformers than ever, and yet we saw the least interesting battle ever. Just a mess of faceless robots doing this or that; a few recycled ideas from Transformers 1 (see: tow truck rescue); more than a few wasted characters (Galvatron, Grimlock) and a triceratops stuck in a tractor beam.
Yeah... it was pretty terrible.
Best Sequel: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Rise of the Planet of the Apes was an unlikely franchise-spawning reboot that impressed both critics and fans - so expectations were understandably high for the sequel, Dawn of the Planet of Apes. The return of motion-capture actor Andy Serkis and his Weta Digital effects teams was a good sign; but having Cloverfield director Matt Reeves step in was something of a question mark.
Well, the answer to that question turned out to be this: Matt Reeves was the perfect choice for DotPotA.
Crafting a story that boldly put the Apes and their fledgling society front and center, Reeves led the character of Caesar (Serkis) through a turn of events that both continued what we liked about Rise, while offering a decidedly new and different vision. DotPotA expanded both the scope and scale of the story on every level; we'd be lucky if every sequel was this good.
Honorable Mention: X-Men: Days of Future Past. As a sequel to X3, First Class AND The Wolverine, DoFP was a much-improved version of all aspects of the X-Men movie universe.
Worst Sequel: Amazing Spider-Man 2
Look, we don't want to keep hitting Spidey when he's down, but this was a sequel that promised to fix the many problems of its predecessor AND introduce us to an exciting new shared universe.... and it did neither. That's pretty much a total failure of intent.
(Dis)Honorable Mention: The Expendables 3. While some on our staff enjoyed this action throwback, we can all agree that it was pretty pointless to wedge younger characters (and subsequently, an extra hour of screen time) into a franchise built entirely on showcasing old greats. And drop that PG-13 rating; Hard-R action is what the core fans are paying to see.