By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist August 22, 2012 at 1:00PM
Anyone who directed a superhero movie in 2012, came out smelling pretty good. Christopher Nolan obviously cemented his place as perhaps the top director working, behind James Cameron at least. Indeed, after a slowish start, it looks like "The Dark Knight Rises" will be his biggest grosser to date worldwide if its five-week pace so far keeps up. Meanwhile, despite rumors of a tumultous production, Marc Webb mostly delivered the box office goods with "The Amazing Spider-Man." It's the lowest-grossing of the four 'Spider-Man' films both globally and domestically, but the picture will surpass $700 million worldwide before all is said and done and that's nothing to snicker at. To boot, Sony seems to want him back, although there's some territorial battling going on with Fox, who have a long-delayed option on a new film from the director. That's never going to be bad for your career.
But obviously, it's Joss Whedon who became the overnight megastar this summer. Already beloved by geeks, but never having cracked the mainstream, Whedon took $1.5 billion with his second feature film, "The Avengers," and you can't ask for much more than that. Together with the excellent reviews, the world is now Whedon's oyster, but he ended up committing to Marvel for "The Avengers 2" -- presumably for an enormous paycheck -- after which he'll be able to make whatever the hell he likes.
Having almost as great a few months as Whedon was another TV name, first-time director Seth MacFarlane. We're a long way from the premature cancellation of "Family Guy" in 2001 -- MacFarlane's output dominates TV primetime animation, and his first feature was a monster hit, sitting behind only the two "The Hangover" movies as the third biggest-grossing R-rated comedy of all time. Not too bad for a script that, if the finished film is any indication, must have taken all of about 45 minutes to write. Universal will likely chuck a ton of cash at him to make a sequel, and he's pretty much got an instant green light on anything he wants to do at this point. Hopefully it won't be a concert movie about his big-band side career.
In the indie world, Richard Linklater, Wes Anderson and Steven Soderbergh all had some of the biggest hits of their career. "Bernie" took more than any non-studio Linklater movie, "Moonrise Kingdom" lags only a little behind "The Royal Tenenbaums," and "Magic Mike" made only a little less than "Ocean's Thirteen" movie. With Soderbergh's hiatus imminent, he won't really cash in, but the other two likely get a bump and maybe a bigger budget. Certainly Linklater is the biggest winner of this trio. The director had almost fallen on hard times before this and had a difficult time mounting several projects. Hopefully this gives him the proper juice for that proposed spiritual sequel to "Dazed & Confused," or whatever project his heart desires.
Meanwhile, reliable old hand John Madden had his biggest hit since "Shakespeare In Love" with "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," while "Tyler Perry's Madea's Witness Protection" was the hyphenate's second biggest hit ever.
For a while, it seemed as though the Tim Burton brand was untouchable after the billion-dollar success of "Alice In Wonderland." But no one checked if anyone other than Burton and Johnny Depp wanted to see "Dark Shadows," and the film performed more like "Sweeney Todd" than 'Alice.' Given the usual ceiling on spooky animation fare, we're not sure the black-and-white "Frankenweenie" will be an immediate box office return to form, so Burton might need to choose his next project a bit more carefully.
For younger names, Peter Berg and Len Wiseman both had hefty budgets placed on their shoulders and came up short with "Battleship" and "Total Recall," respectively. Neither will take too much of a hit -- it's that the films got the greenlight in the first place that'll be blamed, rather than their execution (though neither were exactly outstanding). But neither are likely to get to make their "Inception" any time soon (though Berg cannily got passion project "Lone Survivor" greenlit in exchange for making "Battleship").
It wasn't an outright disaster, but Oliver Stone has been trying to get back in Hollywood's good books since "Alexander," and we're not sure how much "Savages" would have helped that. As a $10 million indie, a return for a film like this would have been a triumph, but as a bloated, star-studded studio picture with a $50 million budget, that has to be seen as something of a disappointment. It's not sending Stone to director's jail or anything, but any hope of the film restoring him to former glories didn't come to pass either.
Finally, it wasn't a great few months for screenwriters making their feature debuts, with both Lorene Scafaria's "Seeking a Friend at the End of the World" and Alex Kurtzman's "People Like Us" pretty much disappearing immediately ($7 million and $12 million, respectively). In fairness, both were inexpensive and essentially buried by their studios, put into not-that-wide releases in the hope of making a quick buck, but lukewarm reviews mean that the 'Nick and Norah' and "Transformers" writers will probably be stuck behind their typewriters for a little while longer.