By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com August 22, 2012 at 1:00PM
Having taken a $200 million bath on "John Carter," Disney could have used some good luck, and that's exactly what they got. Some had questioned whether they'd overpaid for Marvel when they bought the comics company for $4 billion a few years back, but the $1.5 billion success of "The Avengers" (the first Marvel film distributed by the Mouse House) already makes it look like a smart purchase. Paramount takes some of the profits as a hangover from their original Marvel deal, but it bodes well for much more money to come down the line. Pixar delivered as usual; while "Brave" doesn't rank among the top grossing of the company's films, it's comfortably taken more than "Wall-E," "Ratatouille" and last year's "Cars 2" domestically, and while the $400 million worldwide gross is on the low side for the company, it's still rolling out in much of the world, so there's certainly no reason to panic.
On the indie side of the spectrum, Fox Searchlight had the best summer of anyone. "Lola Versus" was a huge disappointment, taking a mere $250,000, but they had the biggest runaway indie success of the summer with "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," and "Beasts of the Southern Wild" was critically adored, has performed strongly, and is likely to stay in theaters into awards season where it could become a contender.
No one's had a worse few months than Paramount, in large part because they barely released any movies. "The Dictator," their major live-action release, disappointed, "Katy Perry: Part of Me" did OK, but took less than half of what the "Hannah Montana" concert movie took, and their only real hit was "Madagascar 3," which they only take a distribution fee on. But the bigger problems weren't so much with what they were releasing than with what they weren't; big summer hope "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" was delayed at the last minute, proving to be something of an albatross for the company for the next few months (and high-profile problems on "World War Z" haven't helped either). And while they got money for nothing on "The Avengers," they lost out on even more money by letting Marvel go to Disney. Plus Paramount just lost DreamWorks Animation to 20th Century Fox as well. Beyond "Star Trek," the company badly needs a hit and a direction going into the future.
Lionsgate/Summit didn't have a particularly great few months. Regular golden goose Tyler Perry delivered in a surprising way, but the 'Step Up' franchise (which they've just taken over from Disney) seems to have run out of steam a bit. Their cynical attempt at a "Valentine's Day"-type picture with "What To Expect When You're Expecting" also fell pretty flat, particularly given that it had the same slot that "Bridesmaids" proved so successful in last year. Still, "The Expendables 2" looks like it's performing decently, if under the original film.
In general, movie studios have to take the hits with the misses, and a year where you do particularly badly or particularly well tends to be the exception. And indeed, most of the big companies had to take the rough with the smooth this summer. Universal had a big hit with "Ted," and "Snow White and the Huntsman," and "The Bourne Legacy" is performing respectably so far, but the flop of "Battleship" likely eats up much of the profits from the films that did work. Warner Bros. were better off. "The Dark Knight Rises" was, as expected, huge, and their cheap acquisition of "Magic Mike" (for less than eight figures) was the smartest buy of the year, the film taking more than ten times what they paid for it. But "Dark Shadows" and "Rock of Ages" were both over-expensive star-driven flops that tainted the past few months a little for the company.
Sony managed to restart two major franchises reasonably well with "Men In Black 3" and "The Amazing Spider-Man," but they must have been a little disappointed that they didn't build on the previous films so much. 'MIB3' was the biggest grossing entry internationally, but the lowest domestically, while 'Spider-Man' lags behind earlier films in the franchise by $60 million domestically, and $90 million internationally, despite a 3D bump. No one's losing their shirts on the film at all, and they were as much investments in the future of the franchises than anything else, but given that "Total Recall" and "That's My Boy" were near-disastrous, it would have been comforting for one or the other to go supernova.
The star of 20th Century Fox's summer was "Ice Age: Continental Drift." The animation franchise is increasingly seeing diminishing returns at home but does gangbusters abroad, closing in on $800 million worldwide (making it the third-highest grossing picture of the year globally so far). Given that the films are less expensive than most animated pictures, that's a huge victory. "Prometheus" wasn't a total home run, but performed very well for R-rated fare, and pretty much launches a new franchise that's likely to gain traction the next time around, so it could have been a lot worse. But the company also took a bath on both "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" and "The Watch." Neither were wildly expensive, so it's not the end of the world, but neither probably should have been given the greenlight in the first place. Finally, Focus Features had a big year with "Moonrise Kingdom," but "Seeking a Friend at the End of the World" pretty much sunk, so it wasn't a total success. Though come Oscar time, if 'Moonrise' enters the picture (and it might), none of their losses will matter.
Ultimately, this was a year when studios took a fair few risks, for better or worse. With directors (Joss Whedon on "The Avengers"), unknown leads (Taylor Kitsch, Jeremy Renner, Benjamin Walker, even the cast of "Prometheus," for the most part) and potentially risky reboots ('Spider-Man'). And as ever, some paid off, some didn't. Next summer should be about the same; no fewer than thirteen sequels, a handful of reboots, but also some original properties ("Pacific Rim," "After Earth," "White House Down" "World War Z," "Pacific Rim," "The Lone Ranger," "R.I.P.D.") that could either pay off in a big way, or see some people get fired. There'll be plenty of money to be made and lost, but we're just glad that the summer movie season is taking a rest for a few months...