Summer movies 2013: Fantastic or fatiguing?

CNN News Wire | 8/30/2013, 5:55 p.m.
What did Leonard Maltin think of the 2013 summer movie season? “I’m glad it’s almost over,” the longtime reviewer and ...
"Despicable Me"

What did Leonard Maltin think of the 2013 summer movie season?

“I’m glad it’s almost over,” the longtime reviewer and “Movie Guide” author tells CNN in a phone interview. “The movies get bigger and dumber every year, and we’re subjected to more remakes and sequels. None of which means that they can’t be good — and occasionally they are — but this has not been a very fortuitous season.”

He wasn’t alone in this belief. Audiences felt the same way: Many of this summer’s big-budget franchise flicks — the so-called “tentpoles” — fell like redwood trees toppling in a forest, earning generally poor reviews and equally mediocre box office despite their blockbuster costs and wall-to-wall marketing efforts.

You know the list: “After Earth,” “Pacific Rim,” “White House Down,” “Elysium,” “R.I.P.D.” and, particularly, “The Lone Ranger,” which grossed $88 million domestically (through August 25) on its $200 million-plus budget and could cost Disney a $190 million writedown.

But wait a minute.

This summer wasn’t actually so bad, says Keith Simanton, managing editor of the Internet Movie Database (IMDb.com). Domestic box office was actually up by a double-digit percentage over last summer, and thanks to the strength of such films as “Iron Man 3,” “Despicable Me 2,” the divisive but successful “Man of Steel” and “Fast & Furious 6,” 2013 as a whole is now even with last year.

IMDb’s editors say that 2013 could be better, domestically, than 2012, which was the biggest box-office year in movie history.

“Every year we complain about the same thing,” says Simanton. “We were complaining about this back in the ‘80s, when there was ‘Ghostbusters 2’ and ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom’ — my God, there are no new ideas in Hollywood. No, and there never have been. Everyone looks at their own era and thinks they’re going to hell in a handbasket.”

Can Maltin and Simanton both be right? Was the summer of 2013 both the best of times and the worst of times?

Perhaps, suggests producer Lynda Obst, it was indeed a tale of two summers. It started out well, with both good reviews and good business for the May and June releases, and then quickly fell apart under the weight of all those wannabe blockbusters.

Obst, the author of the recently published industry chronicle “Sleepless in Hollywood,” has a term for it: “tentpole fatigue.”

“Movies that come out in May and June are hotly anticipated because people look forward to the summer movies in the very beginning,” she says.

And then, well, the wreckage starts piling up.

The best-laid plans ...

On paper, summer 2013 looked rather well-balanced. There were the fanboy favorites, including “Iron Man 3,” “Star Trek Into Darkness” and “Man of Steel.” There were a few family films, such as “Despicable Me 2” and “Monsters University.”

Throw in comedies such as “The Heat” and “Hangover Part III,” a high-octane Western in “Lone Ranger,” another of the ubiquitous “Fast & Furious” crime-and-car adventures and even a new version of “Great Gatsby,” and there appeared to be something for everyone.