So, what do the other studios have lined up that can compete the Disney’s range of product? Not that much variety, I’m afraid. If there’s one thing we learned from the similarly over-crowded summer of 2013, it’s that audiences can only take so much of a ‘good thing’; in this case the ‘good thing’ is special effects and explosions and big bombastic music scores. Disney has more variety in 2015, with one fairy tale, one kids’ animated feature, 2 superhero films and one space opera. Between Fox, Paramount, Universal and Warner Bros., they have 2 superhero films, one reboot of a scifi classic, a fourth sequel to a scifi/ monster classic, a long-delayed sequel to a scifi/ alien invasion classic, an new animated feature about a ghost and a big-screen adaptation of a very successful, but creepy children’s story. Somehow, I get the feeling that audiences will be fed up with all that rehashed scifi by the end of the summer.
20th Century Fox gets a jump-start on the summer by releasing a reboot of its Marvel property The Fantastic Four in early March. Fox’s 2 FF movies released in 2005 and 2007 did middling business, but had terrible reviews. It did introduce movie goers to a certain Chris Evans who played the Human Torch and then went on to much greater fame with what will now be a long-term role as Captain America in the Disney movies. As per the complicated rights deals between Marvel and studios which were in place before its sale to Disney, these studios have to keep making movies at fixed intervals otherwise the rights revert to Marvel (which means Disney). So, Fox still holds the rights to the X-Men franchise which is ticking along very well, thank you…and will now attempt to give this beloved and long-lived Marvel superhero group another lease of life on the big screen. I am really looking forward to this one because the film is being directed by an exciting young talent named Josh Trank, who turned heads by writing and directing a low budget superhero film called Chronicle in early 2012. This ‘found footage’ film featured 3 college students who gain superpowers after they investigate a mysterious phenomenon in the woods. What follows is a very realistic depiction of how they attempt to deal with these powers…certainly the very antithesis of the ‘responsible teenage superheroes’ in Marvel’s universe like Spider-Man and Nova. Trank is expected to bring some degree of gravity to the FF reboot and he will be using his Chronicles experience to create some emotional tension for the characters after they return from their fateful outer space mission.
On the 3rd of July, Roland Emmerich will attempt to repeat his success from 19 years earlier when he owned the box office with the alien invasion flick Independence Day. That film catapulted Will Smith to super-stardom and earned about USD 800 million globally, an unbelievable number in those days. The film featured the now-iconic sequences of the Empire State Building and the White House being destroyed and also had a raft of interesting characters played by the likes of Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, Randy Quaid, Harry Connick Jr. and Bill Pullman. Mr. Emmerich has failed to recreate that level of success since then. His films Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow and 2012 all seem to feature a rehash of the same city-destroying scenes. He has been talking about a sequel to ID4 off and on for some years and this summer Fox finally announced it officially. No word yet on whether Will Smith will return, but no doubt the studio execs and agents are hard at work; with the failure of Smith’s After Earth this summer, he may be more open to a guaranteed big pay-day. The film will definitely generate a big opening due to its heritage and the release date, but long term box office receipts will depend on thrills and big visuals…and as I said, Mr. Emmerich hasn’t been particularly original or creative on that front for several years.
At the tail end of the summer on 31st July, Fox will release the movie adaptation of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, the debut novel by Riggs Ransom which spent 63 weeks on the NYT Best Sellers list for Children’s Chapter books in 2012. I intend to start reading this book soon; it is characterized by the creative use of spooky photographs to bring the narrative alive (the cover photo should give you some idea). News reports indicate that Tim Burton has signed on to direct the film. I feel that the appeal of the film may be limited, but given the setting of a lonely island and an abandoned orphanage, it shouldn’t be too expensive to produce and should have no problem making a profit.
In early June, Fox will release the animated film B.O.O.: Bureau of Otherworldly Operations. This is certainly an interesting premise, about a ghost who has to return to haunting school to upgrade his skills. While Fox also has The Penguins of Madagascar slated in late March, I haven’t listed that as a player in the 2015 summer wars, simply because these characters have plenty of exposure in the Madagascar movies and on their own TV show. Somehow i don’t think there will be that many paying customers to see the pesky avians in theatres.
It’s tough to say which of the 4 films will be the winner for Fox; frankly I have my doubts if the ID4 sequel will actually see the light of day, and Peregrine seems too niche to become a big hit. So, I guess it all rests on the shoulders of 29-year-old Josh Trank to save the summer for Fox with The Fantastic Four.
The Terminator franchise has changed ownership over the years and consequently the movies have been released by different studios as well. Somehow, all the companies that have owned rights to Terminator have declared bankruptcy one by one – Hemdale Film Corporation, Carolco Pictures and The Halcyon Company! The rights are now owned by the Ellison siblings, Megan and David through their respective production companies Annapurna and Skydance. Larry’s kids (yes, that Ellison) have been making waves for the past couple of years, co-producing a slate of movies including Zero Dark Thirty, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Star Trek into Darkness and World War Z. Megan Ellison tends to go for the indie award-contenders while David backs the big tentpoles. With Paramount now confirmed to distribute the film (titled Terminator) and Alan Taylor (Game of Thrones and Thor: The Dark World) set to direct, they just have to sort out the small matter of having a working screenplay and casting the main parts. It is expected that 66-year-old Arnold Schwarzenegger will somehow be incorporated into the storyline!
I am pretty sure that Paramount will announce some other big projects for the summer of 2015, perhaps a sequel to World War Z or G.I. Joe or the next Tintin film to be directed by Peter Jackson.
Univeral’s Jurassic Park franchise has seen declining grosses since the first film broke box office records and redefined CGI special effects in the summer of 1993. The movies have had writers of the caliber of David Koepp and Alexander Payne writing the screenplays but the thrill of seeing live dinosaurs has worn off due to an overabundance of TV shows like Walking with Dinosaurs (which is getting its own movie this Christmas) and cheap movie knock-offs.
It will be a gap of 14 years from the last film by the time Jurassic World is released in June 2015 and while the brand name is very well known due to the popularity of the original film and numerous theme park rides, the filmmakers will have to put together a really interesting screenplay and characters to squeeze any more dough out of this series. New director Colin Trevorrow has only directed one other movie, the quirky comedy Safety Not Guaranteed in 2012. He is updating an earlier draft of the screenplay, so this one is going to be a real unknown until more news filters through next year.
Warner Brothers re-launched the Superman franchise this year with Man of Steel…yet another attempt to replicate the phenomenal success of Marvel’s comic book properties. Unfortunately, Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy which ran from 2005-12 is firmly set in a different universe/ continuity, so they could not hook it up with Zack Synder’s film. Therefore, the sequel to Man of Steel will now feature a new Batman, which WB hopes will lead to the expansion of the DC Universe and a Justice League movie sometime soon. I am sure that with the recent announcement of a new film franchise set in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter universe, WB execs are breathing a bit easier and don’t need to stress so much about when Flash and Wonder Woman will hit the big screen.
Getting back to Snyder’s Man of Steel sequel, it created a firestorm of controversy with the recent announcement of Ben Affleck in the role of Bruce Wayne/ Batman. While Mr. Affleck has gained widespread respect as a director recently (Gone Baby Gone, The Town and his Oscar-winner Argo), comic book fanboys have still not forgiven him for his disastrous turn as Marvel superhero Daredevil in 2003. No doubt, he has the chin for playing Batman, and in movies where he directs himself (especially in Argo) he has shown that he can throw off his ‘aw shucks’ persona and play the grim, determined protagonist very convincingly. So I’m willing to give him a shot (although frankly I too would have preferred someone else in the role). Certainly in a Superman vs. Batman film, we can expect to be relieved from the kind of city-wide destruction which became so difficult for audiences to stomach in Man of Steel. Of great interest will be the choice of villain for the movie; I am desperately hoping it will not be Lex Luthor, as I have disliked both cinematic iterations played by Gene Hackman and Kevin Spacey. Since there is no continuity with Chris Nolan’s films, they could bring back the Joker, but I suspect that the producers will not want to compete with Heath Ledger’s iconic performance.
Whichever the villain, it is likely that Superman vs. Batman is the only film that can give Disney a run for its money as the top grossing film of the ‘Super Summer of 2015’.