With both "Indiana Jones" and "James Bond" featured in a western/sci-fi extravaganza -- and with Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard, and Brian Grazer co-producing -- why is the film's first weekend at the box office such a paltry sum ($32+ million)? It appears that the pairing of Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig in Cowboys & Aliens could not salvage a story that was crafted by no less than six authors and without a whit of humor or surprise. Stereotyped characters, predictable story, and no real wow factor appear likely to keep it away from coming close to a $100 million total.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 became the highest grossing film of the Potter franchise in U.S. box office ($318 million), and it hit the one billion mark globally. It also ranks as Warner Brothers most successful film domestically and internationally.
Captain America: The First Avenger took a 62% drop from last week's box office, which dims its outlook for much more than a $150 million cumulative total.
What's left as we enter the final month of summer? Early word on The Help (Aug. 10) is positive -- can this late summer entry bring in an audience and duplicate the popularity of the novel from which it was adapted? The film stars Emma Stone, Viola Davis, and Octavia Spencer in the principal roles (Miss Skeeter, Aibileen, and Minny), with Bryce Dallas Howard, Allison Janney, Sissy Spacek, and Cicely Tyson also featured.
The Toronto Film Festival is notable for screening potential year-end award candidates. Scheduled from September 8-18, the 36th annual fest will see the return of films seen in earlier 2011 film festivals. Those titles include:
Sundance: Martha Marcy May Marlene (featuring breakout performance from Elizabeth Olsen), Take Shelter (with Michael Shannon), and Tyrannosaur (Paddy Considine's first feature as director).
Berlin: Coriolanus (directed by and starring Ralph Fiennes, with Vanessa Redgrave)
Cannes: The Artist (black-and-white charmer), Drive (Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, and Albert Brooks), Melancholia (controversy-laden Lars von Trier's pic with Kirsten Dunst), and We Need to Talk About Kevin (starring Tilda Swinton and John C. Reilly)
American films debuting at Toronto include Glenn Close-starrer Albert Nobbs, George Clooney in Alexander Payne's The Descendants, Brad Pitt in Moneyball, and Francis Ford Coppola's Twixt, which was "clipped" at a Comic-Con panel last week.
Both the Toronto Festival and the Venice Festival (Aug. 31 - Sept. 10) will present the following titles:
- A Dangerous Method, David Cronenberg's take on the relationship between Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender), with Keira Knightley.
- Dark Horse, written and directed by Todd Solondz and featuring Justin Bartha, Christopher Walken, and Donna Murphy.
- The Ides of March, George Clooney's fourth feature directorial effort, featuring him alongside Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Ryan Gosling, and Marisa Tomei.
- Killer Joe, adapted from Tony winner Tracy ("August Osage County") Letts' play and directed by William Friedkin, with Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, and Thomas Haden Church.
- Shame, directed by Steve McQueen and starring Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan.
- W.E., Madonna's second directorial effort contrasts a contemporary romance with that of King Edward VIII (James D'Arcy) and Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough).
As one of the largest conventions in America, the San Diego Comic-Con International offers screenings, previews, panels, and VIPs to the clamoring, pop-culture-hungry attendees, Originally intended to showcase comic books, science fiction/fantasy and film/television, and related popular arts, Comic-Con has increased its focus to include horror, animation, anime, manga, toys, collectible card games, video games, webcomics, and fantasy novels.
So what's happened so far that's worth noting with regard to films? Here's an overview:
- Clips of Drive (opening Sept. 16), toplining Ryan Gosling and directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, who sat on a panel with Guillermo del Toro, producer of Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (directed by Troy Nixey), and Guy Pearce, star of Dark. Refn and del Toro showed lots of love and appreciation for each other,
- Producer Peter Jackson and director Steven Spielberg discussed their year-end (Dec. 12) 3D, motion-capture film, The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn. Spielberg also revealed that he has a completed story and treatment in development for a fourth installment of the Jurassic Park franchise. Both men also advocated a reduction in admission prices for 3D films.
- Steven Soderbergh, director of Contagion (Sept. 9), downplayed reports of his early retirement, attributing the suggestion to "drunken" remarks he made to Matt Damon, who later repeated what was said verbatim.
- Bill Condon, director of the third film in the Twilight series (Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1, Nov. 18), opted not to film in 3D. Stars Kristen Stewart, Rob Pattinson, and Taylor Lautner signed autographs and participated in a press conference,
The eighth and final film in the Harry Potter franchise smashed nearly every box office record in the book -- domestic and international -- on its opening weekend. Unlike The Lord of the Rings trilogy adaptation, which had a total of 30 Academy Award nominations and won 18 Oscars, the seven Potter films thus far have only garnered 9 nominations and not a single Oscar. A quick review of those nominations over the years follows:
2001's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone - 3 nominations: art direction, costume design, scoring
2002's Harry Potter and Chamber of Secrets - 0 nominations
2004's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - 2 nominations: scoring, visual effects
2005's Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - 1 nomination: art direction-set decoration
2007's Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - 0 nominations
2009's Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - 1 nomination: cinematography
2010's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 - 2 nominations: art direction, visual effects
Can Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 break the pattern? While some pundits are suggesting that its excellent critical reception makes it an automatic lock for one of the best picture slots, I'm not so sure. For those fans who have read the books and seen all of the films, the final installment will bring emotional closure and satisfaction. For the uninitiated or "just curious" audience, its charms may elude them. The bottom line will be the Academy's membership: with the new rules for best picture candidates (i.e., to qualify as a best picture nominee, a film must have 5% first-place votes on the ballots), can the finale of a children's book adaptation receive enough love to make it into the final nominee list? Past history, as indicated above, suggests it won't be an easy feat.
Oscarologists are already honing their early prediction lists for Academy Award nominees now that the studios are firming up release dates for their year-end product, most of which will open between November and December and have top-notch directors, stars, and productions. A quick look at some of these films follows.
FIRST-CLASS DIRECTORS: Steven Spielberg, Roman Polanski, Martin Scorsese, and Clint Eastwood all have films scheduled for release.
* Spielberg has two, including War Horse, which is adapted from a popular children's novel set in the time of World War I and which Tony-Award-winning play adaptation has generated advanced ticket sales into 2012. His second feature, The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, is his first animated film.
* Polanski helms another Tony-Award-winning play, God of Carnage, a screen adaptation retitled Carnage starring Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, and John C. Reilly.
* Scorsese directs his first 3D film with Hugo, based on the novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which tells the story of an orphan boy who lives within the walls of a Paris train station.
* A biopic on the life of J. Edgar Hoover starring Leo DiCaprio gets the Eastwood treatment in J. Edgar. Arnie Hammer (The Social Network) co-stars as Hoover's confidant, Clyde Tolson.
FIRST-CLASS STARS: Meryl Streep, Vanessa Redgrave, George Clooney, and Glenn Close topline end-of-the-year films.
* Streep stars as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, directed by Mamma Mia!'s Phyllida Lloyd. Jim Broadbent co-stars.
* Redgrave gives a star turn as Volumnia in the Ralph Fiennes-directed Coriloanus, with Gerard Butler and Brian Cox co-starring. Fiennes cast himself as the titled lead.
* Clooney stars in Alexander Payne's The Descendants, while delivering another film that he directed. As part of cast that includes Ryan Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, and Marisa Tomei, Clooney directs his fourth film, The Ides of March.
* Close disguises herself as a man in late 19th-century Ireland in the lead role of Albert Nobbs, which co-stars Mia Wasikowska, Janet McTeer, and Jonathan Rhys Meyers.
OTHER FILMS TO SEE: A big hit at the Cannes Film Festival, The Artist looks to be an arthouse hit when it is released around Thanksgiving. David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method puts Jung (Michael Fassbender) and Freud (Viggo Mortensen) at psychoanalytic odds with a patient (Kiera Knightley) in Vienna. Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock topline Stephen Daldry's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, based on Jonathan Safran Foer's novel.
David Fincher (The Social Network) returns with the English adaptation of Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Will Rooney Mara be as mesmerizing at Noomi Rapace in the Swedish version of this thriller? Christopher Plummer and Robin Wright co-star with Mara. Martha Marcy May Marlene was a big hit at Sundance and features a reportedly arresting portrayal by Elizabeth Olsen. Robin Wright co-stars with Brad Pitt in Moneyball, while Michelle Williams takes on the title role in My Week with Marilyn, directed by none other than Madonna.
Cold War era spy thriller Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy lets Gary Oldman and Colin Firth demonstrate their acting chops, and Matt Damon and Scarlet Johansson head up the cast of We Bought a Zoo. Finally, Tilda Swinton garnered rave notices from Cannes for her performance in We Need to Talk About Kevin, and Charlize Theron and Patrick Wilson bring Diablo Cody's Young Adult to life in a film directed by Jason Reitman.
SEQUELS: With the final installment of the Harry Potter juggernaut opening this weekend -- with $32 million already collected in advance ticket sales and counting, thank you very much -- it's safe to say that the bulk of the 2011 summer box office blockbusters will have had their official debuts. The three biggest hits to date are all sequels: Transformers: Dark of the Moon, The Hangover Part II, and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. It appears that only Transformers will cross the $300 million mark. In the animated arena, Kung Fu Panda 2 is not performing nearly as well as its predecessor and is not likely to come close to $200 million. Pixar-Disney's Cars 2 is also struggling to reach beyond that mark (the original Cars brought in $244 million). In spite of better-than-average reviews, X-Men: First Class (yet another sequel) is the lowest performing film of that franchise.
Lesson: While sequels almost always drive the summer box office, the lack of innovation in followup screenplays can hurt the final gross. Miscalculations of appeal and popularity are evident with the passing of time as generations get older and move on to more adult fare. Nevertheless, sequels are here to stay.
HITS: Bridesmaids, a comedy starring Saturday Night Live goddess Kristen Wiig, is a major hit with $160 million already in the coffer and made on a $32 million budget. On the arthouse circuit, Woody Allen has his highest-grossing film ever with Midnight in Paris, with box office grosses a few million higher than either Hannah and Her Sisters, Manhattan, and Annie Hall (not counting for inflation, of course).
Lesson: An all-female comedy, mixed with aggressive behavior, vulgarity, and crude situations, will appeal to a large segment of the movie-going crowd. And who knew that the introduction of famous artists and writers of the early 1900s into a contemporary story set in Paris would be as charming and entertaining as Woody Allen's latest oeuvre. Personal kudos to Adrien Brody and Corey Stoll for their takes on Salvador Dali and Ernest Hemingway, respectively.
MISSES: Star-driven vehicles such as Bad Teacher (Cameron DIaz), Green Lantern (Ryan Reynolds), Mr. Popper's Penguins (Jim Carrey), and Larry Crowne (Tom Hanks-Juia Roberts) have been critically panned and are not bringing in the bucks at the multiplpexes. The recently opened Kevin James' Zookeeper will also join this group.
Lesson: Concepts are either tired or uninteresting, or maybe the stars' appeal has started to fade or their personalities aren't necessarily suited for the story's characters.
CURIOSITIES: Super 8 was widely anticipated but has fizzled out around $120 million with so-so reviews and not-so-kind comparisons to early Spielberg films. The Tree of Life won top prize at the Cannes Film Festival in May, but the Terrence Malick opus divided critics and confused general audiences. Made for $32 million, it has barely eked out $9 million in ticket sales.
Lesson: Mimicking a major director -- who just happens to be your producer -- doesn't always mean box office grosses will be in the stratosphere. And in Malick's case, who has only made his fifth film in the last 40 years, he remains a head-scratcher for many and a genius for others. Nature, spirituality, philosophy, and human behavior all seem to combine in variously interpreted ways.
WHAT'S AHEAD?: July 29 is the opening date for Jon (Iron Man) Favreau's Cowboys & Aliens, with Harrison ("Indiana Jones") Ford and Daniel ("James Bond") Craig going toe-to-toe in a combo western-sci-fi movie. The trailer is intriguing, but will this blended genre deliver the goods? Crazy, Stupid, Love has a great cast (Steve Carell, Julianne Moore, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Kevin Bacon, Marisa Tomei)and opens on July 29 as well. Friends with Benefits is looking for success when it premieres on July 22. On the same day, another superhero film, Captain America: The First Avenger, will try to bring in the masses, and August will see yet another sequel, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, starring James Franco.
Perhaps the most anticipated film of the late summer is The Help, based on the excellent novel by Kathryn Stockett and starring Viola Davis, Emma Stone (again), Sissy Spacek, Cicely Tyson, Allison Janney, and Octavia Spencer. The only question mark here may be the director, Tate Taylor, who has been the author's best friend since kindergarten in Jackson, Mississippi, where they grew up together. They were both cared for by black housekeepers there, but Taylor's casting eye and insistence on shooting in Mississippi could produce box office rewards if the adaptation equals the emotional experience of the book.