Transformers is a case in point: Finke notes that pretty much everyone on the planet expects the film to gross $125 million this weekend -- now stop a moment and ponder how many butts you have to put in seats to gross $125 million -- except for Paramount, which, according to Finke has back-pedaled to predicting a mere $100-125 million take.
That's a whole lot of moolah for a film about robots that disguise themselves as cars. To be fair, in spite of the fact that Cinematical's James Rocchi and Scott Weinberg thought the film was utterly wretched, it is sitting relatively pretty with a 60% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes (a surprising 69% from the Cream of the Crop), which isn't going to hurt the film's box office any, especially for those folks who are inclined to actually take a look at what critics are saying about a film before plunking down their cash for a $10 movie ticket and some snacks.
But really, when it comes to summer popcorn fare, audiences' expectations are already pretty low, and who cares what a critic thinks about a film about robot cars anyhow, as long as it has hot-actor-du-jour Shia LeBouf and plenty of explosions and nifty special effects? Someone could probably cobble together 90 minutes of NASCAR races with lots of crash scenes and a few exploding gas tanks, weave in a "plot" involving a guy who likes a girl he can't get, whose father thinks he's a loser until he becomes a hero by winning the big race and saving the girl's family business with the money he wins, thereby proving the girl's father wrong and winning his lady love -- all while foiling the nefarious plot to stop him by a generic bad guy -- and rake in $100 million.
To be fair, if you actually read the full reviews, not all the "fresh" reviews of Transformers are completely positive, but for the most part, the gist, even among critics, seems to be: sure, it's silly and campy, but hey, it's a summer movie, what do you expect? It's a film designed to appeal to the kid in us (or at least, the kid in all those now-adult guys like my brother who fondly remember collecting and playing with their Transformers toys in the glory days of their youth -- well, that and the appeal of the obligatory scantily-clad hot chick). And as James Rocchi noted in his review, a film like Transformers isn't just about making money at the box office, it's about raking in bucks at the toy store cash register as well, as kids harass their parents mercilessly for action figures so they can reenact Michael Bay's action sequences in their own homes.
In another piece a couple days before this one, Finke pointed out that six summer movies have already topped $100 million at the box office (she also notes that this doesn't necessarily equate to profitability). The big six are Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, Shrek 3, Spider-Man 3, Ocean's Thirteen, Knocked Up, and Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer -- and the latest Harry Potter hasn't even opened yet. All of these except Knocked Up were pretty much no-brainers, especially as summer releases; Apatow's success with 40-Year-Old Virgin could have been a fluke, and everyone was waiting to see if his follow-up effort would show he really has the stuff to be a consistent performer (seems like he does, so far).
It seems like just yesterday that Hollywood was moaning and wailing about how no one was going to the theaters anymore, but that sure doesn't seem to be true this summer. What is it about summer that lower's expectations of what we expect at the multiplex? Whenever a critic blasts a summer film like Transformers, it's a given that there will be a slew of comments along the lines of "Dude, lighten up, it's a summer popcorn flick."
Maybe we need the cooler weather of fall and winter to want our brain cells stimulated, or maybe it's just so hot in the summer that for the relief of chilling for a couple hours in a nicely air-conditioned, pleasantly dark movie theater, we'll watch anything they give us. Do you really prefer mindless, fun, action-packed films for your own summer moviegoing? Or do you just go to see what's there no matter how bad it might be, because there's nothing better being offered ... and hey, it's only summer, right?