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Summer Begins: Iron Man, Speed Racer, and Superheroes

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood May 1, 2008 at 5:48AM

Let the summer games begin. The LAT's Ken Turan takes on summer blockbuster syndrome, while The Huffington Post addresses summer superheroes.
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Iron_man1Let the summer games begin. The LAT's Ken Turan takes on summer blockbuster syndrome, while The Huffington Post addresses summer superheroes.

The summer starts off with Thursday night's opening of Iron Man, which earned 95% fresh reviews on Rotten Tomatoes so far. The NYT's A.O. Scott calls it "an unusually good superhero picture." The New Yorker's David Denby calls it a "whooshing junk pile." Everybody likes Robert Downey. (Variety reviews the Iron Man viedeogame.)

The movie is expected to open well, between $65 and $100 million, depending on how seriously you take the tracking that shows young women are not interested in seeing the picture--only 19% first choice-- which makes it a "three quadrant" movie for starters. The biggest blockbusters, like Narnia, wind up pulling everybody. Young men under 25 have 95% awareness of Iron Man, 65% definite interest and 35% first choice. Women over 25 are more interested in Downey and Gwenyth Paltrow; they will spread the word that Downey is fun and Paltrow actually has a decent role. So the picture could hold well.

Luckily for Paramount, next weekend's Speed Racer (well-reviewed by Variety) is not pulling strong advance tracking numbers, so that might give Iron Man some room to breathe before they open Indiana Jones on May 22. Here's the weekend forecast from Fantasy Moguls and Variety.

I wasn't sure what to expect from Speed Racer from the advance marketing, so I was pleasantly surprised. First, it's really a little kids' movie, more like Pixar's Cars than anything else. Second, the Wachowskis have a solid story with a strong moral theme to hang their gorgeous stylized pyrotechnics on. I don't particularly care about car racing, but I cared about the characters and the family led by John Goodman and Susan Sarandon at the film's center. Speed Racer Emile Hirsch and gal pal Christina Ricci are fine (utterly sexless couples are a theme of the summer so far). And I was dazzled by the Wachowski's eye candy. You can read the movie as a parable of the filmmakers' experience in Hollywood--they're rooting for creative innocence and pure instinct over the corrupt vagaries of the marketplace.

Speed_racer27stealerxlarge1

The other movie opening this weekend that roots for innocent indie filmmaking over the compromises of the star system is Son of Rambow, a hit at Sundance 2007 that was fought over; Paramount Vantage grabbed it for $8 million. But the film was delayed by various rights legalities (having to do with Carolco's Rambo) and finally arrives late on the scene with its momentum lost. (It is a hit in the U.K.) And it follows in the wake of the similar Be Kind Rewind, which died at the boxoffice.

Sonoframbow

In this delightful and expertly executed 80s-set British comedy from Hammer and Tongs (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy), two unlikely schoolmate-collaborators pool their resources to shoot a short and suddenly find themselves hugely popular at school. One soaks up the attention, the other doesn't. Here's Variety's Speed Racer Blockbuster Page, with review, clips, trailers and a cool feature on VFX whiz John Gaeta.

The movie has played 27 fests since its Sundance debut, and Vantage hopes that means it has built up some good WOM. It opens in NY and LA this weekend, moves to 30-35 screens in the top 12 markets May 9, and expands to 70-80 screens in the top 25 markets on May 16. By the 23rd of May it should be on 200 screens in the top 60-65 markets. UPDATE: Rotten Tomatoes reviews so far are at 77%; I'm surprised they aren't even better. The genre seems to confuse people. That is, it's a smart movie set in the 80s about kids that's for adults.

[Originally appeared on Variety.com]

This article is related to: Summer Movies, Genres, Franchises, Box Office, Summer, Iron Man, Action, comedy, Independents


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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.