What’s so different about this year’s summer blockbusters?

Marketplace Staff May 30, 2011

What’s so different about this year’s summer blockbusters?

Marketplace Staff May 30, 2011

Tess Vigeland: One hundred thirty-seven million dollars. That was the box office gross for the gross-out buddy comedy “The Hangover Part II.” And it helped vault Hollywood to record ticket sales for a Memorial holiday. “The Hangover” joined “Pirates of the Caribbean” as the first summer blockbusters. And apparently all these sequels spell something of a trend. Claude Brodesser-Akner is West Coast editor for Vulture, New York Magazine’s online entertainment site. And he joins us now. Welcome back to the program.

Claude Brodesser-Akner: Hey Tess. How’s it going?

Vigeland: Very well, thank you. So nine sequels in 12 weekends. No original material anymore, huh?

Brodesser-Akner: Well, it is summer.

Vigeland: Indeed it is. It is. So what is different about this year’s summer blockbusters?

Brodesser-Akner: Well every year everybody says, oh there’s so many sequels. What’s unique about this summer in particular is that of these nine sequels exactly one of them has what we would call a Movie Star. Capital “M.” Capital “S.” That is somebody who would make a picture go all by themselves and who is relied upon and compensated ridiculously for doing so.

Vigeland: Let me guess, Johnny Depp.

Brodesser-Akner: You’re correct.

Vigeland: Thank you very much.

Brodesser-Akner: Now “Rocky,” “The Terminator,” “Lethal Weapon,” “The Matrix,” these are all movies that were incredibly prolific. All their sequels came out in the summers and that’s when we expect to see stars. And what’s unusual about this summer is that we’re not.

Vigeland: Well certainly to my memory, I think even more recently, “Spiderman” was always the big blockbuster that came out in the summer of the sequels.

Brodesser-Akner: For sure. Which is, of course, being rebooted. But these stars usually guaranteed you something, which is to say that they guaranteed an audience would show and that the movie would open and play through the summer. And something happened sort of magical and terrible at the same time. And for that we can thank movies like “The Matrix,” where if the star was originally the brand, the next thing that usually happened was the special effects became the brand. So you recall Keanu Reeves sort of swimming around through time with bullets whizzing through his ears in slow motion, that bullet-time effect became sort of the new bar for the studios to hit. And so now the special effects were the star of the movie just as much as the movie star. Now you can see where we’re kind of on a collision course here because CGI is phenomenally expensive and making a sequel starring a movie star at the peak of their earning power, ridiculously expensive. So something had to give and in the end what seems to have given is the stars.

Vigeland: Well why not just use your power as a studio to change the way stars are compensated?

Brodesser-Akner: In point of fact that has begun and we can actually thank Universal. They really got it together on “Fast Five.” And that was sort of the dream, which is a franchise movie released just at the start of the summer and lo and behold, it has movie stars in it. And how do they do that? Something called the gross pool. With the pool, the cost of the movie — just what it costs to make the movie, not to make and market the movie and distribute it and pay everyone at Paramount a bonus and so on — just the cost of shooting the picture gets deducted from the gross and then this pool of gross is set aside and this rapaciously greed-headed, I mean highly talented actors, get to participate in that gross. So the studio is not, essentially, giving away the farm before it even makes a dime.

Vigeland: Well that sounds fair all around.

Brodesser-Akner: Well yeah. What’s wrong with being paid in success? Right?

Vigeland: I wouldn’t mind. In the mean time, we’ll be at the movies. Claude Brodesser-Akner, thanks so much.

Brodesser-Akner: It’s my pleasure.

Vigeland: We’ve got a list of top grossing summer movies of all time. Click here to find out which movies made the top 10.

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