As of the weekend of June 13-15, the summer movie season is virtually halfway over. In many summers, there are usually several disappointments, a bomb or two and a feeling of being worn out by explosions and sequels. But through the first seven weeks of summer 2014, the state of the season is very strong, even if the next seven weeks might be a different story.
After the June 13-15 weekend, the top 10 at the box office actually contained eight movies with a 73 percent or better fresh rating from Rotten Tomatoes. With only a few exceptions, most summer films so far – even sequels – have gotten positive reactions from fans and critics alike. There are only a slim handful of true disappointments and bombs to speak of, including Amazing Spider-Man 2, Blended and A Million Ways To Die In The West – and few can be that surprised that these movies tanked.
Otherwise, movies that shouldn’t have worked have defied expectations through the early part of summer. After Amazing Spider-Man 2 was a letdown in the box office and its fandom, Neighbors washed it out by putting a fresh take on the frat movie/Judd Apatow style genres. Following that, Godzilla destroyed the memories of its last American remake, as director Gareth Edwards made audiences awe at the giant lizard again – at least while he was on screen.
In the next weekend, X-Men: Days of Future Past got the best reviews and one of the biggest openings of the lengthy, embattled franchise. Compared to that, the critical and commercial bombing of Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore’s Blended was a drop in the bucket. There was less luck the next week, as Seth MacFarlane went too far with A Million Ways To Die In The West and critics and Disney purists were divided over Maleficent – but at least that film topped the box office and had some defenders.
While that weekend had two movies trounced by some critics, the next two were a far different matter. Although Edge of Tomorrow didn’t set the box office on fire, it defied the odds and poor trailers to become Tom Cruise’s most liked, non Mission Impossible movie as a headliner in years. But it was beaten out by the tearjerker The Fault In Our Stars, which earned it by being one of the rare non Hunger Games young adult adaptations that audiences and critics approved of.
If that wasn’t enough, the next weekend stood out by having not one, but two sequels that got rave reviews like to their originals. While not everyone may have liked How To Train Your Dragon 2 and 22 Jump Street quite as much as their hit predecessors, they were liked enough – more than many other sequels in the past. Not only did 22 Jump Street get to the mid 80’s and Dragon 2 get to the low 90’s on Rotten Tomatoes, they each opened with a $49+ million take, with Jump Street prevailing at over $57 million.
Only Maleficent and A Million Ways To Die In The West remained in the top 10 after June 15 with rotten or divisive reviews. With these big budget spectacles winning approval all around, and with the indie comedy Chef hanging around as well, this is becoming a summer worth remembering.
Putting more thought into these hits than the average summer movie has been the key. Amazing Spider-Man 2, Blended and A Million Ways To Die In The West merely followed their expected formulas, and promptly paid for it in the eyes of critics and fans. Meanwhile, the likes of Neighbors and Edge of Tomorrow were a hodgepodge of different genres, but found enough fresh ways to make themselves seem new. Godzilla took more time to establish dread and anticipation, a la the old Steven Spielberg films, even if the payoff wasn’t as lengthy as it could have been. And 22 Jump Street and How To Train Your Dragon 2 took the winning formula from their originals and built on it, without driving it into the ground like other sequels.
Yet while the first half of the summer movie season has defied expectations and won favor, there may not be enough left for the second half. The next few weeks have big question marks like Jersey Boys, Tammy and Transformers: Age of Extinction that may have a harder time overcoming skeptics. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has a real chance to become another sequel that sets a higher bar, but after that, the most many moviegoers might have to look forward to is Guardians of the Galaxy and Lucy. Meanwhile, fare like Hercules, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Expendables 3, Sin City: A Dame To Kill For and Step Up: All In will flood theaters for weeks to come.
Are there a few pleasant surprises in that group, like Neighbors and Edge of Tomorrow, that will help end summer with a bang? Or has this season already unveiled the best it has to offer, before the traditional overload of disappointing epics, bloated CGI and predictable rehashes take over later than usual? Regardless, a summer that has Neighbors, Godzilla, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Edge of Tomorrow, 22 Jump Street, The Fault In Our Stars and How To Train Your Dragon 2 might already be a winner, in both finances and quality.
But so many summer movies start off well enough in the first half before becoming predictable and disappointing in the second, to a point where the promise is easily forgotten and more like a missed opportunity. It would be a shame if the season as a whole turns out that same way, even if there aren’t many films left which seem positioned to change that – at first glance, anyway. But at first glance, a lot of this summer’s early hits seemed like nothing special either.