The Winners and Losers of Summer 2016

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Big surprises, big disappointments, and everything in between.

Who won the Summer? Who lost the Summer? These are important questions that have been rattling around the Slack channels of Film School Rejects all week. In any season of pop culture, it’s important to identify winners and losers. It’s our mandate as Americans. Or something like that.

In what has felt like a lackluster summer of entertainment overshadowed by growing unrest from other areas of culture, there have been a number of bright spots. Many people found refuge Stranger Things on Netflix. Others watched the Olympics. When the rest of the world gives us anxiety and gloom, there are places we can turn. Below you will find our assessment of the people, places, things, demographics, genres, and concepts that either contributed positively to our enjoyment of summer or failed mightily. Either way, we appreciate all of them giving it a good ole’ college try.

The Winners

Taika Waititi

Matthew Monagle: I don’t care where you come from: any time you break your country’s box office record you deserve to be acknowledged as having a pretty damn good year. Director Taika Waititi may be better known to American audiences as the guy who directed (past tense) What We Do in the Shadows or will direct (future tense) Thor: Ragnarok, but right now, he’s known to his countrymen as the man who directed the movie with the biggest opening in New Zealand history. “I’m a Kiwi,” Waititi told Fairfax Media, “so I’ll pretend it’s not really a big deal and just stand around looking embarrassed by the achievement.”

Of course, setting the New Zealand box office record wouldn’t be enough for American audiences if Waititi weren’t also set to direct one of the biggest comic book movies in an already crowded field of comic book movies and co-write Disney’s newest animated feature, Maona. The former not only reunites Chris Hemsworth with Tom Hiddleston, it also brings in well-regarded actors Cate Blanchett and Jeff Goldblum into the Marvel family. And Waititi has been pulling in big headlines for all the right reasons: exciting fans with a series of hilarious Instagram photos and ensuring that the Thor: Ragnarok shoot brings in Aborigonal crew members while on location in Australia. We can’t ask for much more than a talented filmmaker who also uses his position of authority for good causes.

Leslie Jones

Neil Miller: Considering what has transpired over the last week, it might appear to be a hard argument for Leslie Jones to be a big winner in the summer of 2016. This week, her website and iCloud account were hacked and personal information, nude photos, and even her damn passport were published online. It was a disgusting, criminal act by a group of people online who have found joy in harassing a successful, self-assured black actress. But here’s why she’s still a winner: we know that she’s strong enough to move past this. And in her own steadfast way, Jones not only fought back against harassers and took Twitter to task for its inconsistent standards for the removal of content and users, she also kicked a lot of ass this summer.

Ghostbusters won’t be the top grossing movie of the summer, but it was a lot of fun thanks in large part to Jones’ unfiltered joy and bombast. She taught us all how to watch Game of Thrones at an elite level. She closed the summer as the walking, shouting personification of American pride to the extent that NBC sent her down to Rio just to hang out, meet athletes, and send enthusiastic Snapchats back to the States. Leslie Jones is living her life to the fullest. She’s enjoying her moment. And by all accounts, there’s nothing that can stop her. Not even a bunch of social terrorists who think their humor will cover up their gross racism.

Horror Movies and The Studios That Release Them

Rob Hunter: Everyone knows that the best time to release horror films into theaters is October, but good things can happen with smart counter-programming so every year sees a handful of titles unleashed during the high heats of summer. This year’s batch of summer frights weren’t all winners in the qualitative sense, but enough were – and better yet for the studios and horror fans hoping to see more in the future, most of them delivered at the box-office.

Hollywood accounting is a murky business, but the genre delivered some undeniably impressive multiples this summer. James Wan’s terrifically fun The Conjuring 2 earned $320 million worldwide on a $40m (plus marketing) budget, while another sequel, The Purge: Election Year, brought in $100m against a $10m plus budget. The Shallows, a far better than expected shark-attack thriller from director Jaume Collet-Serra, made waves with an $85m gross on a $17m plus budget. The summer’s biggest success though was the horror film with the lowest expectations, Lights Out, which banked $110m against a $5m plus investment. Only one wide-release horror film failed to find an audience – sorry The Darkness – but the rest of these successes bode well for those of us who love thrills and chills all year round.

The Shadowy Figure Blackmailing Kevin Spacey

Jacob Oller: For some, the abysmal box office of Nine Lives — combined with its critical thrashing and laughable premise – would be the death knell of its stars’ careers and a serious point of worry for a company that thought that maybe this would be a good idea.

But look closer, wait – just there out of view.

If you were quick, you may have caught a glimpse of the shadowy figure blackmailing Kevin Spacey. Aside from his (critically-slipping) House of Cards role on Netflix, Spacey’s recent box office offerings have been Horrible Bosses 2, Elvis & Nixon, and a movie where he becomes a cat. Someone is trying to take this man down and they’re frighteningly competent. The man weathered K-PAX relatively unscathed and yet over the past few years, Spacey’s been spiraling.

Perhaps this is all a ploy by a PR team gearing him for a comeback or perhaps the jilted lover pulling his strings since 2014 has reached their peak.

Margot Robbie The Superstar

Christopher Campbell: They say there are no more movie stars, but the truth is they’re just a rarity, and when a new one comes along, she’s all the more special. Margot Robbie is such a star, and while it’s no big news that she’s a popular and talented actress, this summer she proved that she’s also an unbreakable one. In a season void of real front and center Hollywood icons of note, excluding the characters themselves, Robbie still managed to rise in her stardom while appearing in two blockbusters that disappointed critics and moviegoers.

She may have even helped draw a lot of the audiences to The Legend of Tarzan and Suicide Squad, and then she stole the show away from her male leads and pretty much everything else. In the former, her Jane is an empowered 19th century woman and can hold her own even when filling the traditional damsel in distress role. With the latter, she made Harley Quinn into one of the most memorable characters of the year, let alone the movie, and all but saved the DC Extended Universe with much needed charm. We may not have liked her latest movies, but we loved her in them, and she no doubt came out of the summer with even more fans than she had before.

The Ghostbusters Team

Tomris Laffly: It didn’t kill at the Box Office and perhaps it was imperfect in ways, but I still think the team behind Ghostbusters –which includes Paul Feig and the cast– won this summer. Has a movie ever endured this much irrational hatred before it even opened? They collectively stood tall and united against all the misogyny aimed at the film and gracefully fought back.

Every Film That Involved Kevin Hart

Max Covill: Few had a better summer than Kevin Hart. Hart has been an unstoppable force at the box office, appearing in two of the biggest movies of the summer, The Secret Life of Pets and Central Intelligence. If you want a successful feature, Kevin Hart needs to be involved.

Illumination Studios had the wise idea of casting Kevin Hart as Snowball the rabbit. Seeing an adorable animal deliver some wise-cracking jokes was the perfect idea. Central Intelligence had him playing opposite Dwayne Johnson in one of the highest grossing original movie franchises of the summer. The other? Secret Life of Pets. Of course, Summer 2016 isn’t the beginning of Hart’s winning streak since all of 2016 has been good to him. He has a new concert special opening this fall and it’s very likely we will start seeing him more often. Kevin Hart is a must have ingredient to box office success.

The Losers

Jared Leto

Matthew Monagle: Twelve months ago, Jared Leto was an Academy Award-winning actor who made a point of seeking out challenging movies and was willing to add his own dash of method acting to the DC Extended Universe in Suicide Squad. Now, Leto is the guy who went too method, was cut from his own movie, and has already pissed everyone off by doing nothing more than being cast in the long-awaited Blade Runner sequel. I cannot help but feel a little sorry for the guy; for as much time as most film fans spend pretending like the only thing that matters is the work on the screen, we are often very quick to turn on an actor or filmmaker who seems just a little too entitled or out there in their press junkets. Would Leto be garnering more sympathy if he’d just kept his mouth shut during post-production? Probably. But hey, at least he has that adorable outfit to keep him warm at night.

Mean Green Murder Machines

Jacob Oller: In a summer of bummer blockbusters, the CGI-driven non-humans have fared even worse than usual. The unexpectedly improved turtles of TMNT 2, the orcs of Warcraft, and the aliens of Independence Day: Resurgence all failed to bring their targeted adolescents away from Pokemon Go and into the theaters in the masses to make up for their inflated green tinting budgets.

Let this be a lesson to studios like the generic troll-like superhero villain should be: one unique creature beats hundreds of video game rejects. The most profitable villain of the year was nothing more than a fluffy bunny voiced by one of our winners, Kevin Hart.

Children

Rob Hunter: But Rob, you’re thinking to yourself with a vaguely condescending tilt of your head, how can children be the losers when three of the summer’s top grossing films are kids movies? It’s a fair question, but the arguable value of Finding Dory aside I’d answer with a list of the summer’s films for kids in descending order of box-office intake.

The Secret Life of Pets > The Angry Birds Movie > Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2 > Ice Age Collision Course > The BFG > Pete’s Dragon > Kubo and the Two Strings > Hunt for the Wilderpeople

It’s not perfect, but that listing of films from the highest to lowest grossing almost mirrors a ranking from lowest to highest quality. It’s no accident that CG animated films fared better than live-action or stop-motion – our kids’ ADD-riddled brains have been trained to crave the loud, fast-moving products churned out by big animation studios and marketed to them in hundreds of unnecessary product tie-ins. Try showing a film like The Dark Crystal or The Black Stallion to kid today, and they’ll most likely be bored out of their tiny, ignorant skulls. Films that take time to explore character, story, and mood are now anathema to our youngest consumers, and it doesn’t bode well for their futures or for the world in general.

The Apocalypse

Neil Miller: If we look at the best-reviewed movies of the summer, there’s something the Top 20 all have in common: none of them revolved around someone or something trying to destroy the world. You have to get all the way down to #24 (Ghostbusters) before you even sniff a story that’s about stopping the apocalypse. Star Trek Beyond is in the Top 20, but even that is really just about a villain trying to take out an large outpost. Somehow even that franchise resisted the urge to take a swipe at ole’ Terra.

Way down the list you have movies like Ice Age: Collision Course, Independence Day: Resurgence, X-Men: Apocalypse, and Suicide Squad. All movies that tried trafficked in the ultimate doom and gloom. Critics rejected them and for the most part, audiences did, as well. With the exception of Suicide Squad, each of these movies underperformed at the box office. X-Men: Apocalypse is in the top 5 for this year, but it’s well behind even X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Same for ID:R, which earned about 1/3 of what the original Independence Day earned in 1996. What does this tell us? That we’re all a little tired of seeing someone try to destroy the world. The best reviewed and best performing movies of the summer told stories with more local threats. Whether it’s a personal handicap, a shark, a heroic rivalry, the CIA, or green pigs, anything was better than total annihilation this year.

Jeff Goldblum The Star

Christopher Campbell: Everyone loves Jeff Goldblum. He’s one of those veteran character actors who is more famous than a “that guy” and has even had a number of lead roles but is really best as an ensemble man. It doesn’t even have to be a team player on the level of The Big Chill or The Life Aquatic. He can be a co-lead as he is in Jurassic Park. He’s not the guy to take over a giant franchise as the primary hero, and we already know that from The Lost World: Jurassic Park. And yet Fox tried to pivot him as the star of Independence Day: Resurgence.

Yes, ID: R is an ensemble movie, though not in the same way the original Independence Day is. This time, Goldblum’s role is much more significant to any one else’s, especially in terms of star billing – Liam Hemsworth may have first credit, but he hardly deserves it. And it showed in the way he was the face of certain marketing materials that he was the one meant to hold up the sequel on his shoulders. He’s just not that guy, any more than Simon Pegg should suddenly be the lead of Star Trek or Mission: Impossible or C-3PO should have been the main hero of a Star Wars sequel. He was set up to fail, and he did. It shouldn’t be a huge blow to his career, but it still hurts.

Paramount Pictures and Biblical Epics

Max Covill: There’s bad and then there is Paramount Pictures. The studio had four movies for the summer and those four movies aren’t going to keep the lights on. Star Trek Beyond was their highest grossing film of the summer, but brought in far less than original projections. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, Florence Foster Jenkins, and Ben-Hur also failed to set the box office ablaze.

Adding some perspective of how much Ben-Hur flopped, the film was giving a budget of $100 million and only managed to do $12 million in its first weekend. That’s quite a few dollars on a remake that no one asked for. Things aren’t dire for Paramount, but it shows how much they rely on the success of Transformers to keep things going. Don’t worry, there will be another one of those next summer.

Who were your winners and losers of summer 2016?

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