Ever since Stephen Spielberg's 'Jaws' burst into theaters back in 1975, Hollywood has viewed summer as blockbuster season. That sweltering stretch from June through September has become the place for big-budget flicks with broad appeal, and the legacy endured to this day. The only real change to the whole "summer blockbuster" paradigm has been that "summer" now apparently starts in April.
Adding an entire extra month (or two) to the schedule has allowed studios to cram in more movies designed to lure bored teenagers and families on vacation into the theater. However, 2011's season is so packed with pictures that some pundits are worrying that this could be the year where box office gridlock has an adverse effect on the bottom line.
This year, The Wrap points out that studios are cramming 14 big-budget films into a 12-week season. It's a mixture of sequels, superhero films, and two totally new properties (the Stephen Spielberg–produced, J.J. Abrams–directed 'Super 8' and Universal's 'Cowboys & Aliens'), but even Hollywood executives are worried that there might not be enough money to go around given the current state of the American economy.
As one producer mentioned (the studio asked that he remain anonymous), "Kids aren't going to have $14 to spend at the movies every single week. Which one of the four big movies in June is going to earn that 14 bucks? Because it isn't going to be all of them."
June is shaping up to be the most crowded month of this year's campaign, but it's also the hardest one to predict in advance. 'Green Lantern,' 'Super 8,' 'X-Men: First Class' and 'Cars 2' comprise that month's releases, and three of the four are unproven box office commodities. It seems likely that 'Cars 2' will make big bucks with the kid crowd, but the rest of the month's field is wide open. That's something that's both intoxicating and terrifying to studios.
Other months may not be quite as crowded as June, but there are heavy hitters lurking nearly every weekend from the time 'Fast Five' debuts on April 29 through the 'Cowboys & Aliens' launch on July 29 -- and that's not even counting some of the smaller, but no less anticipated, films in the mix.
Some have posited that 2011 isn't any worse than 2009 was, a year that saw 'Star Trek,' 'Up,' 'Transformers 2' and a Harry Potter film (among others ...) all released in short order. The difference this year seems to be the emergence of 3D (and its relatively limited number of screens) and the frightening mixture of established franchises battling with upstart films looking to become franchises too.
'Cowboys & Aliens' director Jon Favreau has described this year's summer battle royale as a "bloodbath," and many are agreeing. How will films like Marvel's 'Thor' and 'Captain America' do against sequels to established hits, like 'Transformers 3' or 'Pirates of the Caribbean 4'? Only time will tell, but one thing seems certain: Several films that studios were betting on to become franchises will never get a sequel. Opening weekend figures will be more important than ever, because it seems highly unlikely that any one film will develop the legs to rule the box office roost for an extended period of time. That has to make every suit in the game nervous.
Of course, while the studios stand to lose from this financial fight to the death, the real winner could be the film fan. Summer 2011 is packed with big movies, but the mixture between the established and new intellectual properties should guarantee something for almost every taste. As we all decry Hollywood's lack of creative vision these days, there are at least attempts at launching new things. Granted, most of them are comic book movies, but at least it's a step in the right direction.
While there's an air of uncertainty surrounding how this summer's events will play out, one thing is for certain: It will be very interesting to watch the figures from each weekend roll in. Those numbers will have a definite effect on things moving forward for several more summers to come. Who do you think will be this year's big winners and losers? Has Marvel oversaturated the market with three films based on its properties? Does anyone besides hardcore comic nerds care about 'Green Lantern'? Will the star power of 'Cowboys & Aliens' be enough to lure in audiences unfamiliar with its source material?
We won't know until September, but until then, put on your prognosticator cap and make your predictions below.