By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist August 22, 2012 at 1:00PM
With "The Bourne Legacy" and "The Expendables 2" landing over the last couple of weekends, we're pretty much at the tail end of the tentpole-laden summer movie season. The rest of the month finds classic late-August programmers like "Premium Rush," "The Apparition" and "The Possession" hitting theaters before attention will be turned to the fall festival season with Venice, Telluride, TIFF, and NYFF all on the way.
So with the dust settling, we have to ask: who had a good summer, and who are the happiest to see the cooler months coming in? With about as competitive a calendar as you could ever want with at least one major movie opening every week since the start of May, the summer 2012 movie season saw a handful of mega-hits, but also quite a few substantial disappointments. "The Avengers" was a colossal hit, but to the extent that everything that opened in its wake ended up underperforming. For example, films like seemingly no brainer hits like Tim Burton and Johnny Depp's "Dark Shadows" and Sacha Baron Cohen's "The Dictator" were met with a tepid response by audiences. And then there were outright flops like "Total Recall" and underperformers like "Battleship."
So which actors and directors came out of the summer with a new luster to their names? And which are likely to lower their asking price? And on the business side, which studios are cracking open the champagne bottles, and which are cutting back on bonuses? Read on for our complete breakdown of who did and didn't have a successful summer movie season.
It's not terribly clear how much of a boost most of the ensemble cast of "The Avengers" got from the film's giant success. Robert Downey Jr. was already at the top of the tree, while Chris Evans and Mark Ruffalo probably require a non Marvel-lead role that tops the box-office before we know where their leading-man status stands. The same probably goes for Scarlett Johansson and Tom Hiddleston. But one Avenger who definitely had a good few months is Chris Hemsworth. He was as entertaining the second time around as he was in "Thor," but more crucially, he also had a solo success away from Marvel with "Snow White and the Huntsman." His part was turned down by virtually every male actor in Hollywood, but the film did $400 million worldwide, and it now looks like a smart decision for both Hemsworth and Universal. With Steven Spielberg wanting him to star in "Robopocalypse," "Thor: The Dark World" due next year and a 'Snow White' sequel likely to focus on his character, Hemsworth is looking like one of next year's best bets (though he might have to take a loss on "Red Dawn" this fall).
His co-stars in 'Snow White' got something of a boost as well. It remains to be seen if Kristen Stewart's fans will turn away from her after her irrelevant infidelity scandal, but the success of the Universal picture suggests that she's able to open movies outside of the 'Twilight' franchise and that was something all of Hollywood was keeping a close eye on. Charlize Theron had two big movies in two weeks this summer, thanks to "Prometheus" and the aforementioned fairy tale adaptation. And while she wasn't quite the lead in either, she was the most recognizable face, and really for the first time, looks like a viable tentpole draw (hence her co-lead role in "Mad Max: Fury Road" that hopefully will arrive in theaters next year).
As for the other two big superhero movies this summer, the three newcomers to Christopher Nolan's Bat franchise all made out fairly well and drew their Q-rating up. Tom Hardy is probably the closest actor in the bunch to being a solo breakout star, but was essentially unrecognizable, so might have to wait for 'Fury Road' to cement his A-list status. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, however, had a much bigger part than most suspected, and **spoiler** the passing of the torch at the film's end could certainly be read as something of an anointment of a star on the way. He's got two movies opening in the next six weeks with "Premium Rush" and "Looper," and those will tell what kind of post-'TDKR' drawing power the young actor has. Anne Hathaway probably got the biggest advancement out of the film. Many raised eyebrows at her casting, but few came out failing to be impressed, and she's likely now a viable lead away from the rom-com fare that's been her bread and butter to date. Meanwhile, "The Amazing Spider-Man" performed decently, which will benefit both Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, though the former seems, rightly, to be weighing his next move quite carefully.
Away from the tentpole world, Channing Tatum continued his amazing run in 2012 with his third $100 million-plus hit in five months with "Magic Mike" (a project he developed and produced), proving to be a surprise smash shortly after "The Vow" and "21 Jump Street." No wonder Sony moved actioner "White House Down" to the heart of summer 2013 and there's no doubt why "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" moved to March 2013: add more Tatum. His co-star, Matthew McConaughey, also had a pretty good few months. "Magic Mike" was sandwiched by quiet indie phenomenon "Bernie" (which has taken nearly $10 million, despite never having been on more than 330 screens) and "Killer Joe," which has so far performed very handsomely for an NC-17 release. With great reviews following for all three, the McConaComeback is in full swing. Even if "The Paperboy" may be a bit of a speed bump, if reactions from Cannes are to be believed, he's the best part of the picture. He's also got the next Martin Scorsese picture coming up, so things could be a lot worse.
As far as comedies, it wasn't a great year for many of the big stars, but Mark Wahlberg led "Ted" to a surprise $200 million mega-gross, confirming that he can bring audiences in for almost anything. Between the sleeper success of "Contraband," plus "The Fighter" and "The Other Guys" in 2010, he's had four hits on the trot, and is pretty firmly placed near the A-list these days, especially with a solid slate of three films coming up next year. Meanwhile, getting less press and less of a big gross but still very successful was early summer sleeper "Think Like a Man," which along with the surprise achievement of concert film "Laugh at My Pain" last year, has made Kevin Hart look like a real prospect for wider success (and look, he was quickly snatched up to host the 2012 MTV Video Music Awards this fall). He's got various projects in the works, including unofficial "Think Like a Man" follow-up "About Last Night," but he's likely going to be positioned for proper crossover stardom before too long.
Finally, not every A-lister had a great summer, but one who's probably breathing a sigh of relief is Will Smith. It had been almost four years since he was last on screens, and the troubled production of "Men In Black 3" raised some question marks on whether he was still on top of the tree. But while the film was the lowest grossing of the series domestically, despite a 3D bump, it took $600 million internationally, the highest-grossing movie in the franchise. If Smith's star is a little diminished at home, he's as big as ever abroad. That said, next year's "After Earth" will be a bigger test, as it's a new property, rather than a proven one.
On the surface, a role in the biggest film of the year, and the lead in a modest late-summer hit makes for a pretty great summer, particularly after it follows on from the second-lead in the biggest movie of the Christmas season, but Jeremy Renner's not quite there... yet. Renner's had three films in the last year and a half or so (including last Christmas' "Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol") but every time he had hit the screen it was with a major property where the brand was the focus, rather than himself. "The Bourne Legacy" will likely lap "The Bourne Identity" but fall short of the two Paul Greengrass entries in the series, so it's not quite the home run Universal were hoping for. Renner could probably use a solo hit, possibly "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters," before the hype on his powers as a leading man at the box office are justified.
It's not like Taylor Kitsch had a great spring (or a great year for that matter), what with being the lead of mega-flop "John Carter" and all, but things didn't get much better as the season warmed. The fairly untested "Friday Night Lights" star was also the lead of Universal's "Battleship," and that film did only slightly better than the Disney picture -- a $300 million worldwide gross on a $200m+ budget (it came in at an almost $100 million loss for Universal and couldn't even top $70 million in the U.S.). Oliver Stone's "Savages" did a little better, proportionately -- taking $47 million domestically (only $18 million less than "Battleship" at home, which cost four times as much). But even so, it's likely to be a long while before someone gives Kitsch another chance to headline a tentpole.
The similarly untested Benjamin Walker didn't do much better. The theater star didn't have many screen credits to his name before he was selected to play the lead role in "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter," and the gimmicky title didn't manage to bring in the crowds on its own, with the film taking a mere $37 million domestically.
The performance of their movies are the fault of neither Kitsch nor Walker, but from the looks of their upcoming gigs (Kitsch is third fiddle to Mark Wahlberg and Eric Bana on "Lone Survivor," Walker is backing up Henry Cavill on Ed Zwick's "The Great Wall"), their careers will be happy to back up more established names for a moment while they try and forget these stumbles. The campaign to make Colin Farrell an A-list star failed again as "Total Recall" looks like it'll be lucky to crack the $75 million mark domestically. Hopefully his agents will settle to let him be an excellent character actor and stop putting him in poor tentpoles that he's just not meant for.
Not that the more established names did much better this summer. Few stars are bigger than Tom Cruise or Johnny Depp, but the former's heavily publicized supporting turn in musical "Rock of Ages" couldn't help move the film past $50 million worldwide. While the latter, who's been fairly untouchable of late, managed to drag Tim Burton's "Dark Shadows" to $236 million worldwide, but given that the film's exorbitant cost ($150 million), and their previous collaboration "Alice In Wonderland" topped the billion dollar mark, it's hardly a satisfactory result. Neither are too bruised, particularly with big hits from their flagship franchises not far forgotten, but it's a reminder that audiences aren't going to turn up just because their names are on the poster.
Still, they had a better time compared to some of the more established comic leads. Adam Sandler tipped his toes back into R-rated waters and was met with his lowest-grossing film since his debut lead "Billy Madison" seventeen years ago. Sacha Baron Cohen found the law of diminishing returns taking effect, with "The Dictator" making slightly less domestically than "Bruno," although it did a touch better internationally. And after four weeks in theaters, "The Watch," toplined by the on-paper dream team of Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Jonah Hill, has only grossed half its $68 million budget. Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis fared better than the rest of their comedic peers with "The Campaign," but only slightly. It's not like the picture was a runaway success. For the most part, it looks like fatigue is setting in for the audiences of established comedy stars doing the same ol' thing, which may not bode well for films like "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" and "The Internship" next summer.