Gone is the winter of movie discontent, made worse by the slackening attendance of spring. Or so Hollywood hopes.
Now that everything from Drive Angry to Mars Needs Moms, Sucker Punch to Arthur has tanked, the studios lay their best cards on the table, and the punch-drunk theater owners hope for the best.
The fact that Hollywood and movie theaters are in open warfare over video-on-demand schemes sets the tone for this summer. It's a Darwinian donnybrook, with each side determined to toss the other under the bus.
There will be blood. And price gouging. And with so many similar movies crowded into so few weekends, there will be stark winners and losers.
The brawls will be brutal, from a Horror Hate-Off (Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, Aug. 12, versus Fright Night, Aug. 19) to the Battle of Seemingly Really Bad Ideas (Cowboys and Aliens versus The Smurfs in 3-D, both July 29). But those are the undercard fights. What are the main bouts on this season's fight card?Battling Brides (and grooms)
Jumping the Broom (last Friday) versus Something Borrowed (last Friday) versus Bridesmaids (Friday): Who gets married in May? Everybody, according to the movies. These three competing wedding comedies are trying three different tacks — feuding families (Broom), marrying Mr. Wrong (Something Borrowed) and a bachelorette event gone horribly awry (Bridesmaids). Look for Bridesmaids, the Kristen Wiig Hangover-style farce, to wipe up the floor with the other two. Then again, it might be a MacGruber-style bust. Broom has a funny African-American cast and a not-Tyler Perry polish. Borrowed feels like a bomb.
Clash of the Comic Books
Thor (last Friday) vs. X-Men: First Class (June 3) versus Captain America: The First Avenger (July 22) versus Green Lantern (June 17): There are too many comic-book adaptations this summer, and some are certain to pay for that overkill. Will Thor steal all the (ahem) thunder by opening first (it already topped last weekend's box office), or will the hotly anticipated teen X-Men movie, starring Louisville native Jennifer Lawrence, hold sway? Either way, expect comic-book fatigue to set in around the end of June. The latest special-effects-happy trailer for Green Lantern makes it look like a cartoon. And not in a good way.
Kung Fu Panda 2 (May 27) versus Cars 2 (June 24): A glib, goofy surprise hit from DreamWorks earns a sequel, and a rare yawner from Pixar does as well. Will Kung Fu Panda's Master Po and Co. sucker punch the chatty automobiles of Cars 2? Will anybody dare to sass Pixar boss John Lasseter for insisting on making a second movie on his "stop and smell the Valvoline" vanity project? The merchandising alone will make Kung Fu Panda 2 and Cars 2 blockbusters.
Kid Film Kerfuffles
Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer (June 10) versus Mr. Popper's Penguins (June 17): The first is based on a best-selling series of children's books about a mischievous kid, and the second is based on a best-selling children's book about a gent and his penguins. The first has Heather Graham in a supporting role. The second stars Jim Carrey and a bunch of adorable penguins. The smart money is on the fellow who has to keep his apartment ever-so-frigid.Seemingly Superfluous Sequel Showdown
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (May 20) versus Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon (June 24) versus The Hangover: Part II (May 26): Johnny Depp couldn't turn down a fourth outing as Capt. Jack Sparrow, but trailers for On Stranger Tides don't inspire confidence. The Transformers novelty wore off about 50 minutes into the first film, but the third installment spends time in space. And one shudders to think what pharma-sexual high jinks the Hangover folks will spring on us to match the shock and awe of the original comedy. Transformers looks like the big winner.
Fracas of the Funny Folks
Zookeeper (July 8) versus Horrible Bosses (July 8) versus The Change-Up (Aug. 5) versus One for the Money (June 3) versus Our Idiot Brother (Aug. 26): Kevin James as a guy who works in a zoo where the animals help him "get the girl"? Jason Bateman, Jennifer Aniston, Charlie Day and Jason Sudekis conspiring to kill one another's bosses? Bateman and Ryan Reynolds switch bodies and lives (swinging single vs. married drudge)? Katherine Heigl as a bail bondswoman tracking down an ex-beau? Paul Rudd as a stoner who visits his three sisters, played by Zooey Deschanel, Emily Mortimer and Elizabeth Banks? Zookeeper will almost certainly take the box-office prize. Idiot Brother has been shuffled off to the movie equivalent of the Island of Lost Toys: the dead weekend at the end of August. Not a good sign.
The Main Event
Super 8 (June 10) versus Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (July 15): It's J.J. Abrams doing his Spielbergian aliens-invade suburbia epic against the finale of J.K. Rowling's saga of a boy and his wand. One has the potential to be the big-action sleeper of the summer, the other a fond, tearful farewell to a staggeringly popular film series based on ridiculously popular fantasy novels. Abrams is due for a stumble, but in any event, Potter almost certainly will be one of the three biggest hits of the summer.