Last time, Michael discussed the merits of having a summer movie season. Now, there are some counter arguments to all the points enumerated thus far that deserve mentioning. For one, I am presupposing in all this that the summer of 2010 is distinctive in as much as that it is not, which is to say, that every other summer before it has been memorable for its cinematic output, regardless of the quality, and conversely that this summer will be remembered for its lack thereof. It may be stated, therefore, that there never were good summers but those which, in our fickle memories, we have generalized. To those who think this, I suggest they look at the movies that were released in the summer of 2008 alone — one of the most successful seasons on record. There were movies there appealing to all sorts of groups, and many of them, like Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, were hyped up literally years in advance. The level of excitement made going to the movies something more than itself; and it is a sentiment that is noticeably lacking this time around. Another counter argument is that as I get older the sort of adolescent excitement derived from comic book movies no longer appeals to me. This objection presumes that one must be somehow immature to enjoy summer movies, or that summer movies are entirely immature, and that furthermore the audiences who do enjoy those particular movies are not diverse. While it is the case that many summer movies, particularly Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, display that very level of classlessness, the fact remains that to paint all films released in that time frame as being equally immature is illogical. All I can say is that you should see the opening night line-ups for some of these movies yourself, and then try to tell me I am somehow mistaken for thinking they are not as diverse as the sections of society from which they pull.
With all these things thus established, I move now to the purpose of it all — the series for which this article is but the springboard. As I have stated earlier, the feelings I have described thus far of disappointment in the summer movie season have a local, Torontonian peculiarity to them, being that our city prides itself so much on its erudite and productive cinema culture. It is therefore in response to the tepidity this season that I look back to older ones in search of what is missing. To do this, I shall rank the top ten highest grossing summer movies of all time, and write weekly reviews, one for one, until I have completed the list. I do this not because there is so much to say about this summer, but rather because there is not; the movies being released and passed through the box office are not very bad or very good, but rather, quite bland and not altogether deserving of anyone’s attention — which is, of course, one of the reasons why they are performing so poorly. As each weekend of this summer passes by, the potential for any movies to really amaze an audience diminishes; and now we have only a couple of movies, Toy Story 3 and Inception among them, to anticipate. Their quality remains unforseen. The movies on this list, however, are all great, but what really unites them is not only their demonstably wide appeal, at least financially, but also the fact that within the context of the years in which they were released there is something worth discussing. As such, the criteria for the movies are as follows:
1) that they were released between May 1st and August 31st of their year;
2) that they were made concurrent with, or after, Jaws, which has been considered by many to be the first summer movie;
3) that no franchise or series is represented any more than once on the list;
4) that none of these movies are released in 2010;
5) that the movie displays some emphasis either on action scenes, or on a grandiose sweep, or on similar themes typical of other such movies; and,
6) that the profits on which these movies are judged have been adjusted to inflation rates from 2009, and that the depict only those profits made domestically, which is to say, in Canada and the United States alone.
These criteria are designed to not only give perspective on the evolution of summer movies and the season in which they play, but also to be as diverse and interesting as possible. To that extent they can be somewhat misleading, for in only representing one movie from each franchise, movies such as The Empire Strikes Back will not even chart. In response to this, I shall mention sequels wherever they are relevant. The fourth criterion may be construed as enforcing a bias, but it has in fact a very practical purpose: by the time the movies released this year are accounted for in profits, the summer season will be over, thus making any reckoning of their impact a late and possible irrelevant affair. Taking into account all these factors, this list appears thus, with inflated profits put beside each:
1. Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977): $1, 416, 050, 800.
2. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (Steven Spielberg, 1982): $1, 127, 742, 000.
3. Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975): $1, 018, 226, 600.
4. Raiders of the Lost Ark (Steven Spielberg, 1981): $700, 727, 700.
5. Jurassic Park (Steven Spielberg, 1993): $685, 336, 400.
6. The Lion King (Roger Allens & Rob Minkoff, 1994): $613, 992, 700.
7. The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008): $590, 542, 600.
8. Shrek 2 (Andrew Adamson, Kelly Asbury, & Conrad Vernon, 2004): $564, 854, 900.
9. Ghostbusters (Ivan Reitman, 1984): $562, 308, 400.
10. Spiderman (Sam Raimi, 2002): $552, 403, 700.
Among other themes that will be explored is the preponderance of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, and of Industrial Light and Magic technologies in general, on this list. Another shall be the somewhat surprising lack of movies from the previous decade, including those ones created by Pixar. With so much attention being given thus far to this year’s flops, it is interesting that even the most successful of movies throughout the previous decade fare so poorly against older ones. What does this say about movies in our time, and how people watch them? As yet, I do not want to give away too much of what I am thinking. That will be saved for the articles ahead. On that note, I will be moving through the list bottom to top, from least successful to most, starting with Spiderman. I will be updating each Wednesday of every week until this list is done. I hope that this has piqued your interests. It excites me to be able to take part in this, and I cannot wait to hear what you have to say in response to the upcoming articles. I would start the reviews right now, but I have to go water the grass.
Check back next Wednesday for more in Michael Hyer’s journey through summer movies. Click here to see all posts in this fascinating series.