What would a summer movie season be without blockbuster wannabe’s, super heroes and sequels? The one upon us at the moment is just like that, albeit on steroids. It seems like every movie opening in the next few months either cost 200 million to make (“Battleship”); stars an actor in a ridiculous costume your child will be wanting come Halloween (“The Amazing Spider-Man”); or has a title with easily marketable, built-in name recognition (“The Bourne Legacy”). Or all three in many cases, like with “The Dark Knight Rises.” But there are some new trends, less obvious ones, shifting the sands of the beach beneath our summer season. Here are five worth noting:
Trend # 1: Summer Is Now 12 Months Long
Time was Memorial Day weekend was considered the start of the summer movie season. No more. These days, more and more tent-pole pictures (those movies that a studio stakes its year on, hoping for a rainmaker) are opening throughout the year. That’s why a popcorn adventure like “The Hunger Games” opened in the spring. It would have done exceptional in any season but by opening with less competition around it, the film became an utter phenomenon and one that ruled the box office for a month. And with the advent of Netflix and same-day-as-theater releases on cable, the May-August period is no longer as exceptional as it once was. Now, movie studios will open any movie at any time, in any way, in any place, if they see a golden opportunity. And popular movies like “The Hunger Games” have proven that any month can be a summer-esque one.
Trend # 2: We’re Number Two, We’re Number Two!
American movies get shown in America first, and then rolled out to foreign markets, right? Wrong. That has been changing over the last few years. You’ll recall that “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” opened in foreign markets weeks before it opened at Christmas in the USA last year. And this year a number of summer movies already opened overseas in the spring. “The Avengers” was raking in the dough in April already across the pond before it opened here in early May. Same with “Battleship.” As film marketing becomes more and more global, Hollywood fare will no longer be stamped with “America first.” And movie studios love opening in a competitive American market being able to brag about it being a hit already overseas.
Trend # 3: 3-D Is Here to Stay
Just when you thought that those silly glasses were destined to remain in the return bin after the failure of so many 3-D extravaganzas over the last few years (“The Green Lantern”, anyone?) along comes Martin Scorsese, who after his 3-D “Hugo” won four Oscars this past February, exclaimed that he’s only going to make films in 3-D from now on. Then there’s James Cameron, who while plotting multiple “Avatar” sequels, says he is now only in the “Avatar” business. Even the esteemed filmmaker Ridley Scott recently told Britain’s Empire magazine that he not only loved doing his upcoming “Prometheus” in 3-D, but that he wishes he had done “Gladiator” the same way. (Can a re-release of that Best Picture winner be far off?) So if you thought that 3-D was going to die the same death as Sensurround or Scratch & Sniff cards in the movie theaters, guess again. More and more Hollywood spectacles will require, dare I say, spectacles!
Trend # 4: Even Rich Actors Feel the Effects of a Bad Economy
Think only the 99% are struggling? Then ask yourself why Sacha Baron Cohen scrapped his ‘take no prisoners’ gonzo style of moviemaking on display in “Borat” and “Bruno” to produce his scripted “The Dictator” with a sweet love story at its core. Consider why Sylvester Stallone was so anxious to use his new clout from the success of “The Expendables” to rush into production its sequel rather than finally produce his long-gestating vanity biopic about Edgar Allan Poe. And reflect on why the still gorgeous and provocative Michelle Pfeiffer was willing to play the matronly third lead in “Dark Shadows” and concede the sexy vamp role to Eva Green. It’s simple. Actors need to eat and pay mortgages and afford their lifestyles, just like the rest of us. And in these unsure economic times, career risk taking is going to be put on hold.
Trend # 5: Everyone in Hollywood Wants To Be Liam Neeson or Noomi Rapace
Whoever would have thought that the graying, master thespian Liam Neeson would become an international adventure star at his age with megahits like “Taken” and “The Grey”? He proved that great actors could do action. And ever since, roles usually filled by the likes of Bruce Willis or Jason Statham, are now being taken by art house beanpoles such as Guy Pearce and Andrew Garfield. And why not? Action films play well overseas, certainly more than film adaptations of Shakespeare or Pinter, which require understanding of words more than visual language. That’s why Neeson is in “Battleship” and not the upcoming bio of Lincoln that he turned down. Actors, even Oscar nominated ones, need to eat. (See Trend # 4.)
As for Swedish actress Noomi Rapace, she proved that women can kick butt too, and they don’t need to be six foot like Sigourney Weaver, or muscle bound like Gina Carana, to do so. Rapace is little and light but when she played Lisbeth Salander in the original Swedish film trilogy of Stieg Larsson’s best-selling Millennium books, every actress in Hollywood sat up and took notice. Suddenly, women in Tinsel Town wanted to be the next Schwarzenegger in their own action franchise. And soon enough willowy stars like Kristen Stewart signed for fight heavy summer releases like the upcoming “Snow White and the Huntsman.” As for Rapace, she’s not only set a new precedent but has the lead in this summer’s huge release “Prometheus.” That movie is rumored to be a prequel to “Alien.” (Take that, Sigourney!)
What other trends will become apparent from the slate of new summer releases? Time will tell. But whatever succeeds, Hollywood will try to duplicate it, re-jigger it, reboot it or re-conform it in one way or another. It is called show business, after all. Art is fine, but art with commerce is considered even better there. Especially in the months when kids are out of school, people take vacation, and everyone needs a good air-conditioned theater to sit in and scratch their sunburn.