Yes, my dear readers, the time has come to bid farewell to the summer movie season: that most wonderful time of the year when Hollywood releases its biggest films in the hopes of making some of the highest profits of the year.
The biggest story of the summer was the success of “Avengers: Endgame” from Marvel Studios and Walt Disney Pictures. The three-hour epic made a staggering $2,796,139,816 worldwide, unseating James Cameron’s 2009 film “Avatar” as the highest-grossing movie of all time. This kind of hit was not an anomaly for Walt Disney Pictures, either. “The Lion King,” “Toy Story 4,” “Captain Marvel” and “Aladdin” all crossed the $1 billion threshold internationally this summer. In fact, the only money that Disney lost was on films inherited from the 20th Century-Fox merger, such as “Stuber” and “X-Men: Dark Phoenix.” However, the Fox Searchlight release “Ready or Not” is proving to be a surprise hit.
Sony Pictures had a good summer for the first time in recent years. “Spider-Man: Far From Home” (a co-production with Marvel/Disney) crossed the $1 billion threshold globally and is the highest-grossing Sony film to date. The low-budget superhero horror film “Brightburn” and Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” were successful as well, while the studio’s bigger tentpole film “Men in Black: International” flopped hard.
The biggest victory for Warner Bros. this summer was to finally break the video game movie curse. Their film “Pokémon: Detective Pikachu” turned out to be a surprise hit with both critics and audiences. Sadly, Warner’s other big summer films “Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” “Shaft” and “The Kitchen” were all flops.
This summer, Universal Studios played it relatively safe with mostly lower-budget fare: “A Dog’s Journey,” “Yesterday,” and “Good Boys” were all low-budgeted and big hits with audiences. The studio’s biggest film this summer was the “Fast & Furious” spinoff “Hobbs & Shaw,” which was saved by massive openings in China and Korea.
One of the biggest surprises was the return of Paramount. In previous years, the studio lost some of their most valuable intellectual properties and was rumored to be close to bankruptcy. This summer, however, saw parent company Viacom re-merger with CBS, and Paramount score two hit films: the survival horror film “Crawl” and the live-action “Dora the Explorer” movie “Dora & the Lost City of Gold.”
Both of United Artists summer offerings, the reboot of “Child’s Play” and the critical darling “Booksmart,” were modest hits as well. Lionsgate’s summer has been a profitable one, as their films “John Wick 3,” “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” and “Angel Has Fallen” have all been substantial hits with audiences and critics (except “Angel Has Fallen”). Smaller studio A24 also proved that this was the season for horror movies. Its hit film “Midsommar” was the sophomore effort from director Ari Aster, who directed “Hereditary.”
And now, some recommendations and favorites (with the understanding that I couldn’t see everything this summer, as much as I tried).
“Pokémon: Detective Pikachu” deserves a shoutout for surpassing all my expectations and engaging me much more than I thought it would. I am not a Pokémon fan, but I was drawn into “Detective Pikachu” by its well-realized world, humor and intriguing mystery. The movie even managed to throw in nerdy homages to classic film noir like “The Big Sleep” and “The Long Goodbye.”
This summer’s most underrated film was “Godzilla: King of the Monsters.” My biggest critique of Americanized Godzilla films has been that they tone down the more ‘out there’ elements of the Japanese films, like alien invasions or ancient lost civilizations. This is done to make these films more palatable to Americans, assuming that a giant fire-breathing lizard is outlandish enough. “King of Monsters,” on the other hand, not only embraces the wilder aspects of the original films, but it celebrates them.
One of my favorite films this summer was actually released in 1997. From director Martin Scorsese, “Kundun” follows the life of the 14th Dalai Lama up to his exile in India. Scorsese strikes a fine balance between telling a spiritually relevant and culturally sensitive story with the film’s more universal theme of peaceful resistance in the face of violent oppression. The end result is a deeply moving, very important but still very human piece of cinema. If you can find it, I highly recommend it.
My favorite film of the summer was “Avengers: Endgame,” taking the superhero genre and telling the kind of epic story reserved only for high-profile period pieces. All of this happened while never losing track of its characters and giving many the dignified conclusion they deserved.
With summer gone, we now have a few stragglers as we brace ourselves for Oscar season. Will Warner Bros.’ “The Joker” give comic book movies their third year in a row at the Oscars? Will Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” win Netflix the Oscar recognition it has been fighting so hard for? I don’t know yet, but I’d be happy to speculate over a cup of tea.