Almost eighteen months ago, actor-turned-filmmaker Jon Favreau predicted that the summer of 2011 was "...going to be a bloodbath. There's never been a summer like this next summer. It's going to be bloody...There's not a weekend where there won't be teeth on the floor. The audience wins, but it's going to be rough for people making these movies. Then there was the big rush to 3D, so you have all of these people fighting for a limited number of screens and to get the 3D done, since most of these are hybrids or conversions, so this is a technology that is still in the relatively early stages and there's going to be a lot of blood pressures going up in the months ahead."
And he wasn't far wrong (in fact the words are probably haunting him still today). Things weren't quite as bad as he predicted (at least not for others); while domestic grosses were down in general, international were way up, with several films crossing the billion dollar mark across the globe, and some of the films that were most problematic on paper -- "Thor," "Super 8," "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" -- proved to be big hits. But there were a number of high-profile casualties as well, including, ironically, Favreau's own film, "Cowboys & Aliens," while "Green Lantern" and "X-Men: First Class" disappointed when compared to their Marvel competition. Ryan Reynolds had two flops ("The Change-Up," "Green Lantern") and August proved to be the predicted clusterfuck, with "Conan," "Fright Night," "Spy Kids 4" and "30 Minutes or Less" all doing near-disastrous business.
But has Hollywood calmed things down for this summer? Of course not. A couple of days ago, Universal made the summer a little more crowded by moving Oliver Stone's "Savages" to the July 4th weekend, a bold move for a film without superheroes or CGI monsters. And indeed, the summer movie season seems to start at the beginning of March, and wrap up, well, on December 30th, with a steady stream of would-be tentpoles taking us through the rest of the year. And it can only follow that not everything will land; indeed, many of this year's films seem like riskier propositions than last year's. There are certain sure-fire hits out there: "The Dark Knight Rises," "The Avengers," "Brave," "The Hobbit," "Skyfall" and "The Hunger Games." But what are the films that could be in trouble?
What Is It And Who Does It Star? Keanu Reeves toplines an epic actioner, shot in 3D, retelling the famous Japanese legend of the titular 47 masterless samurai who set out to avenge their master. He's backed up by Japanese stars including Rinko Kikuchi ("Babel") and Hiroyuki Sanada ("The Last Samurai"), while commercials helmer Carl Erik Rinsch, who at one time was set to direct the project that became "Prometheus," makes his feature debut.
What's The Risk Factor? With "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol" having proven that action-adventure fare can work in the holiday season, the studios have lined up plenty of possibilities this November and December with Bond, Hobbits, Bin Laden and zombies, among others. But "47 Ronin" is less of a sure bet: a tale less than familiar to audiences outside of Japan, with a star, Reeves, who hasn't led a studio movie in four years (since the underperforming "The Day the Earth Stood Still"). Furthermore, The Hollywood Reporter recently ran a story suggesting that newbie director Rinsch had clashed with the studio and gone way over budget, which syncs with rumors we've heard of late; namely, that a whopping ten weeks of additional photography were being planned, possibly with a new director at the helm. The film should play internationally, but given the giant cost, will that be enough? Especially with it opening the same day as the star-laden, reportedly game-changing "Gravity."
What's The Cost? THR says it began with a $175 budget, but has long since crossed that mark. Let's call it $200 million, but even that's likely to be conservative.
What's The Estimated Return On Investment? "The Day the Earth Stood Still" closed out over $200 million, which would barely cover the production budget here, let alone P&A. Then again, "The Last Samurai" made nearly $500 million worldwide, and that didn't have the audience-pleasing fantasy elements that this does. But it did have Tom Cruise. Even with a $175 million dollar budget, this one's going to have to be a huge hit even break even.
When? November 21st
"Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter"
Who's In It And What's It About? Russian helmer Timur Bekmambetov ("Wanted") directs a Tim Burton-produced take on the best-selling novel, with newcomer Benjamin Walker as the legendary president, who, as it turns out, had a secret second career as an undead-fighter. Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie, Rufus Sewell, Jimmi Simpson and Alan Tudyk co-star.
What's The Risk Factor? Silly titles are all well and good for grabbing attention, but as "Snakes On a Plane" and "Hot Tub Time Machine" proved, they don't necessarily convert into dollar bills. As such, "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" has a disadvantage, and its little-known cast won't help matters very much, and neither will opening on the same day as Pixar's "Brave." That being said, Tim Burton's name as producer means a certain amount, and a striking trailer with Bekmambetov's trademark killer visuals could help this become something of a sleeper.
What's The Cost? Relatively cheap compared to its competition, targeted at about $70 million, which should help it into profitablity.
What's The Estimated Return On Investment? Fox would be over the moon with anything near the $340 million that "Wanted" made, but this won't perform anywhere near as well internationally, and is absent Angelina Jolie. This one's either going to be a surprise hit a la "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," or one that mostly goes unnoticed like "Fright Night."
When? June 22nd
"The Amazing Spider-Man"
What Is It And Who Does It Star? A reboot of Sony's key superhero franchise, with Andrew Garfield as your friendly neighborhood wall-crawler, Emma Stone as lady-love Gwen Stacy, and Rhys Ifans as the villainous Lizard. "(500) Days Of Summer" helmer Marc Webb directs.
What's The Risk Factor? Given that the previous "Spider-Man" movies were all giant blockbusters (the first remains the second-biggest grossing superhero movie), it feels odd to call Sony's reboot "a risk." But in a summer with "The Dark Knight Rises" and "The Avengers," both as close to sure-fire hits as there can be, it doesn't dominate in the same way, and there seems to be a genuine resistance among both geeks and the general public to a reboot so hot on the heels of the third film, however disliked that was. That early teaser trailer with the video-game POV shot didn't help matters. That being said, it's one of the best known action-adventure properties; the Comic-Con footage suggested a film that could give Raimi a run for his money; and Sony is about to restart their marketing campaign with "Dark Knight Rises"-style sneak peek screenings next week.
What's It Cost? Despite early talk of a relatively low $90 million budget, this is more likely in the upper echelon ballpark of most tentpoles (likely at least $140 million), although probably not as high as the giant $260 million that "Spider-Man 3" cost.
What's The Estimated Return On Investment? Barring the film becoming an unexpected phenomenon, we're expecting this to take the same reboot drop that "Batman Begins" and "X-Men First Class" did, but it should still be a healthy number.
When? July 4th