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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"

But you know what they say about the best-laid plans. What ended up being laid in 2013 were a lot of eggs.

Take “After Earth,” a Will Smith movie that grossed just $60 million domestically. “It sold Will Smith but it was really his son, and his son doesn’t have a following,” says Obst.

Or take “White House Down,” which — despite an allegedly surefire cast led by Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx — had the misfortune of coming out just three months after “Olympus Has Fallen,” another story about an attack on the White House. “Olympus” made almost $100 million; “White House Down,” with a much bigger budget, made just $70 million.

“We’ve just seen the White House blow up too many times,” says Obst. “It just felt incredibly familiar.”

Indeed, that explosive repetition may be playing a role in the fatigue audiences felt as the summer wore on. CGI is an amazing technology, but there’s only so much destruction audiences can watch before it all starts to blend together. “Man of Steel” destroyed New York — OK, Metropolis — yet again, right down to the fancy filigree on the sides of its skyscrapers. “Star Trek” ripped up San Francisco. “World War Z,” “Pacific Rim,” “After Earth,” “Elysium” — all featured massive, dystopian chaos.

“I think that this is a big problem with the whole summer and with the tentpoles that were made for this summer,” says Obst. “There was a sense that we’ve seen it all before. How many times can you see the same cities being blown up? They all seem to mirror the same sensibility.”

It’s not a sensibility that’s going away anytime soon, however.

For one thing, points out IMDb’s Simanton, audiences like seeing things blow up: in a video-game society, it’s a way to attract the loyal teenage boy demographic. For another, it’s expected. Screenwriter and producer Damon Lindelof (“Prometheus,” “World War Z”) gave an interview to New York magazine in which he confessed being “slightly turned off” by what he called “destruction porn.”

At the same time, he cautioned, “Once you spend more than $100 million on a movie, you have to save the world.”

Mixed messages

And then there’s the overseas market, which has become a huge player in the box office game.

It’s not just action movies, which are supposed to travel well. Simanton points out that “Despicable Me 2” has done better overseas than in the United States. So has “Now You See Me” and “The Great Gatsby.” The international box office, he says, “will continue to grow as a multiplier.”

In the overseas success of those unlikely films may be a sign that Hollywood’s current blow-’em-up summer strategy may change. Right now international audiences still love the action films — as Obst notes in her book, China and Russia built all these movie theaters, and they like to fill them with the latest 3-D bells and whistles — but even non-U.S. audiences may be growing weary of so much destruction, she says.