Studios always block out their launch weekends 2-3 years in advance, partly as a signal to other studios to ‘get out of the way’. This also creates a lot of buzz in advance which is always good for the studios. After all, it’s never too early to get excited about upcoming movies; and observers are certainly getting worked up about the ‘Super Summer of 2015’. The period from March to July will feature 4 superhero films, a creepy new film from Tim Burton, new entries in the Jurassic Park, Terminator and Star Wars franchises, a live-action re-telling of an animated classic and a risky sequel to a mega-hit after a gap of 20 years. As was the case with this summer, with so many big names ready to duke it out at the multiplexes, there will surely be some high-profile casualties.
I’ve decided to break this down by studio, just to get a sense of how each of them is managing its portfolio for that summer. Part 1 will have the Disney releases and Part 2 will have all the rest.
There is no such thing as a sure thing in the movie industry, but at the moment, the smart money is on Disney winning the summer crown in 2015, having clearly emerged as THE industry powerhouse over the past few years. Their current status can trace its roots back to their acquisition of Pixar in 2006, followed by Marvel in 2009 and Lucasfilm last year. This breadth of product has allowed them to take big risks and win big; this also means Disney can bear the impact of big budget failures like John Carter and Lone Ranger in the last 2 summers.
2015 is the year when it all comes together with each of their divisions having something big to flaunt.
Disney’s summer begins very early; in fact it begins in early spring with the release of their big budget live action remake of Cinderella, directed by Shakespeare thesp turned director Kenneth Branagh. This would be Disney’s 2nd live action remake/ update of an animation classic in two years. In 2014, the Mouse House releases Maleficent with Angelina Jolie in the title role as Sleeping Beauty’s nemesis. Both Maleficent and Cinderella are being put together as tentpole family entertainment films (market research executives would say that they tick ‘all four quadrants’ – male, female, under- and over-25); both lead and supporting roles are filled with actors who have both box-office drawing power and acting chops. For example, Cinderella features Cate Blanchett as the evil stepmother and Helena Bonham Carter as the Fairy Godmother. Sparks will certainly fly!
The summer then really kicks off with the release of The Avengers: Age of Ultron, which brings back all the big Marvel superheroes, this time fighting the criminally insane, sentient robot Utron, voiced by James Spader. Joss Whedon is back in the director’s chair and I am excited to see 2 new superheroes, Magneto’s twin children Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch.
Disney started building this franchise in 2008 by creating an unexpected monster hit with Iron Man, who was essentially a Tier 2 character in the Marvel universe. Their magic formula consisted of the following ingredients – the superhero is played by a charismatic actor who can also act, the heavy action is leavened with doses of humour, the smart but low-key female love interest is played by an accomplished actress who generates lots of chemistry with the hero and finally, the fanboys are kept happy with cameos and post-credit sequences that give them glimpses into the larger Marvel universe. After Iron Man’s success, this formula was successfully replicated from 2010 to 2013 and looks set to continue for the next couple of years into 2015, which will mark the culmination of their ‘Phase 2’ movies.
The summer will also end with a Marvel-Disney release, this one being the launch of potential new franchise with Ant-Man. This character is one of the more complex superheroes in the Marvel Universe. In the original comics, Ant-Man is the alter ego of a brilliant scientist named Henry Pym, who figures out how to shrink himself and use a special helmet to communicate with ants. He is one of the founding members of the Avengers group. The same technology allows him to increase his size and become the superhero Giant-Man/ Goliath. He later suffers a nervous breakdown and takes on a new insect-themed identity – Yellowjacket – with no memory of his association with the Avengers. He is also the creator of Ultron (yes, he is clearly as disturbed as he is brilliant). Clearly, the comic book continuity is going to be thrown aside in the movie world, as Ultron will have a different origin earlier in the summer before Ant-Man is introduced to audiences. I am really curious to see how Ant-Man is brought to life on the big screen, as the movie is being directed and co-written by Edgar Wright, who is better known as the man behind bizarro-comedies like Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and this year’s The World’s End. Marvel is taking a calculated risk by working with Mr. Wright, but why not? They will need to bring in some variety of characterization and tone into their movie portfolio if they don’t want to bore audiences with a sea of sameness. The industry is expecting casting announcements for Ant-Man to be made soon.
But the real jewel in Disney’s 2015 summer crown, the film which is expected to top the box office, is J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: Episode VII. Naturally, speculation has been rife about the storyline of the next installment, but it is a given that it will include the next generation of Jedi in the Skywalker family, as well as feature the return of actors Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher to reprise their roles. Although the second trilogy released from 1999-2005 made lots of moolah, it is commonly considered to be a critical disappointment for several reasons – overuse of digital backgrounds and props, poor casting choices, generally wooden acting and the lack of chemistry between Hayden Christiansen and Natalie Portman. However, there is hope for the new trilogy. Lucasfilm is now headed by Kathleen Kennedy, who for years has been the producing partner behind all Steven Spielberg’s successful films, besides working with other giants like Martin Scorsese and Clint Eastwood (she has been co-nominated for 8 Best Picture Oscars, including ET, The Sixth Sense and Lincoln). Mr. Abrams certainly knows how to keep the action going and how to generate lots of tension among the characters. He works with elaborate sets, so no fake-looking digital landscapes hopefully. However, I we will have to put up with lens flare.
In mid-June, we get to see an interesting new project from Pixar called Inside Out. This is the story of the 5 personified emotions (Fear, Sadness, Joy, Disgust and Anger) that live inside the head of a 11-year old girl. Pixar released this concept art last month.
There was to have been a 6th Disney blockbuster that summer, but thankfully they have pushed Pirates of the Caribbean 5 to 2016 or beyond.
The other 4 studios are releasing 7-8 big movies between them and hoping that they can survive the Disney onslaught. I will cover those in Part 2.