Summer movies in '09 broke the rules - East Valley Tribune: Get Out

Summer movies in '09 broke the rules

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Posted: Saturday, August 29, 2009 4:10 pm | Updated: 1:39 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

In summer 2009, Hollywood and moviegoers tossed out the rule book, stomped on it and left it for dead at the side of the red carpet. After all, consider:

- Ed Asner, on the cusp of turning 80, was one of the biggest stars of summer thanks to “Up.”

In summer 2009, Hollywood and moviegoers tossed out the rule book, stomped on it and left it for dead at the side of the red carpet. After all, consider:

- Ed Asner, on the cusp of turning 80, was one of the biggest stars of summer thanks to “Up.”

- Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis (along with Mike Tyson, a tiger and a chicken) made “The Hangover” the top-grossing R-rated comedy of all time, breaking the record held by “Beverly Hills Cop,” when tickets admittedly were cheaper.

- An unknown named Sharlto Copley became a movie star with “District 9,” and the actor to emerge from “Inglourious Basterds” with Oscar buzz was not Brad Pitt but Christoph Waltz, who plays a charismatic, calculating Nazi colonel who fancies himself a detective.

“Two of the best performances of the year are from people we’ve never even heard of. Ever,” marvels box-office expert Paul Dergarabedian from

“In a way, it’s been a very democratic summer and by that, I mean, it’s all about the product and the marketing. It’s not about who do you know or who the star is, it’s about straight-up competing in the summer with concepts that thrill people, and if you don’t have that, people aren’t going to show up. I don’t care who’s in your movie.”

That was true earlier this year when Kevin James, Zac Efron and Miley Cyrus became movie stars and their films did better than “Duplicity” with Julia Roberts or “State of Play” with Russell Crowe and Ben Affleck.

“That’s a different kind of world we’re living in, but then you can plug a Sandra Bullock into 'The Proposal’ and she’s a big star, she picked the project and so the people followed her along,” Dergarabedian says. “They went with her on that ride, because the concept of that movie appealed to people and, also, Ryan Reynolds’ star is rising.”

Fifteen or 20 years ago, a studio might have cast two $20 million actors in “The Hangover,” but today, the whole movie cost $35 million. “The concept was so great, you didn’t have to plug in one major, A-list movie star into any of those roles to make it successful,” the analyst says.

It may not be the summer of the traditional movie star, but Johnny Depp drew moviegoers to “Public Enemies,” and “Julie & Julia” is being sold on Meryl Streep’s impersonation of Julia Child. For proof that Streep still rocks and rules, just look at “Mamma Mia!,” which outgrossed “Iron Man” on a worldwide basis.

Much has been made of movies as affordable entertainment in these recessionary times, but that’s just part of the big picture.

“I fell into this whole trap of thinking the recession is what made the box office go up, and to some small degree it has and historically we’ve seen that,” Dergarabedian says. But it’s about the emotional response to the marketing, the trailer, the poster and the chatter about the concept.

If the buzz turns bad, it won’t take long for the sour notes to reach moviegoers.

“A few years ago, distribution execs could calculate weekend grosses based on Friday’s numbers,” the trade publication Variety recently noted. “But with word of mouth via Twitter, Facebook and texting, a film can tumble more steeply than ever from Friday to Saturday,” as happened with “Bruno.”

The first thing some moviegoers did after seeing a 16-minute preview of “Avatar” recently was reach for their phones or handheld devices and shoot off a message, and that movie won’t open till Dec. 18.

As summer draws to a close, with a bonus week thanks to the lateness of Labor Day, here’s a look at how it shapes up:

MIA: Any of our favorite superheroes with “man” as part of their names were noticeably absent. Batman, Iron Man, Spider-Man and Superman, we missed you this summer.

By the numbers: The top 10 movies of the summer are, in order, “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” “Up,” “The Hangover,” “Star Trek,” “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs,” “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian,” “The Proposal” and “Angels and Demons.”

Best of the bunch: “Up” for families, “The Hurt Locker” and “Julie & Julia” for adults, “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” for franchise fans and “Star Trek,” “The Hangover” and “District 9” for far exceeding expectations.

Worst of the bunch: Even if Jeremy Piven had gone door-to-door asking people to see “The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard,” it still would have stunk. “Land of the Lost” once was Will Ferrell’s favorite TV show, but he couldn’t make it work as a movie, and equally disappointing given the talent involved: “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past,” “Imagine That,” “Year One,” “Bruno” and “Orphan.”

Guilty pleasures: “Drag Me to Hell,” starring Alison Lohman as a bank loan officer cursed by an old woman, and “(500) Days of Summer,” especially when Joseph Gordon-Levitt grooves to the Hall & Oates tune “You Make My Dreams.”

Doing it the hard way: Last summer, “The Dark Knight” debuted with $158 million while this summer’s biggest opener was “Transformers” with $109 million. Nevertheless, it looks like summer 2009 could produce a revenue record, thanks to a slight increase in ticket prices ($7.45 vs. 2008’s $7.18) and a robust August.

Winners: Anything “Transformers” related, from director Michael Bay and stars Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox to movie-related toys. Pixar made it 10 for 10 with “Up,” while “The Hangover” proved that an R-rated movie can crack the top 10 with the right funny formula. “Star Trek” did what “Land of the Lost” could not by cultivating new fans and (generally) tickling the old, and Ryan Reynolds did a romcom and laid the groundwork for a Deadpool spinoff with “Wolverine.”

Losers: In addition to the performers whose movies flopped, disappointed or who were overshadowed by co-stars, there were the “Bandslam” marketers who snatched defeat from the jaws of victory; movie critics who were shut out of previews or marginalized; and adults. The Washington Post characterized 2009 as “the year grown-ups and Hollywood finally agreed to call it quits.”

Got glasses? The message this summer was, when in doubt, go 3-D. Yes, it costs more, but it makes movies such as “G-Force” and the “Ice Age” sequel better and films such as “Up” richer.

Boarding the Oscar train: If justice prevails, Jeremy Renner should wade into battle for “The Hurt Locker,” Sam Rockwell for “Moon” and Christoph Waltz for “Inglourious Basterds.” Meryl Streep appears in line for nomination No. 16 (she hasn’t won since 1982’s “Sophie’s Choice”) for “Julie & Julia,” and Michelle Pfeiffer is deserving of attention for “Cheri.”

Timing is everything: In an apparent bid for counter-programming, “My Sister’s Keeper” opened the same week as “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.” But a movie about a bald girl gravely ill with leukemia, her sister who goes to court to avoid giving her a kidney and their poor parents doesn’t scream “summer movie!”

Loved it but ... club: Almost everyone who saw “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” couldn’t help but mention how favorite passages from the book were missing. Some readers of Julie Powell’s blog or book were surprised to see how actress Amy Adams, director-writer Nora Ephron and a PG-13 rating tamed her.

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