The big summer box office winner turns out to be a surprise

A look back at the highs and lows of the summer and thoughts about Robin Williams.
TNS Regional News
Aug 30, 2014

 

Talk about being hooked on a feeling. And a film.

"Guardians of the Galaxy," set to a literal and figurative "Awesome Mix Vol. 1," improbably nudged aside "X-Men," "Transformers," "Turtles" and "Maleficent" to emerge as the top movie of the summer of 2014, which officially ends Labor Day.

Who would or could have predicted that on May 2 when "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" rang the ceremonial opening bell and launched the season?

"GotG" was a latecomer to the multiplex, arriving Aug. 1 and speeding past $253 million in North America, helped by 3-D in many locations and a fizzy, fun soundtrack that transports moviegoers back to the late '60s and 1970s with such tunes as "Hooked on a Feeling," "Escape (The Pina Colada Song)" and "Spirit in the Sky."

Yes, the blockbuster starring Chris Pratt as Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord, springs from the magical, money-making Marvel Comics universe, but the characters were considered fourth-tier until now. Even as "Star Wars: Episode VII" is underway, "Galaxy" could be seen as a "Star Wars" for a new generation, with a sequel planned for July 28, 2017.

Some other snapshots as summer winds down:

Drum roll, please: And the top movies of the season in North America are, in order: "Guardians of the Galaxy," "Transformers: Age of Extinction," "Maleficent," "X-Men: Days of Future Past," "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes," "Amazing Spider-Man 2," "Godzilla," "22 Jump Street," "How to Train Your Dragon 2" and "Neighbors." Two were rated PG, six PG-13 and two R.

Beyond borders: If you look at the global picture, "Transformers" rules while "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," released April 4, has grossed more than any other 2014 movie.

A very good year: "Maleficent" might just be the 2014 warm-up act for Angelina Jolie, whose "Unbroken" will be released Christmas Day and could be nominated for a best picture Oscar. She directs and produces the story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner who survived 47 days adrift on a lifeboat during World War II and two years as a POW. He died in July at age 97.

Oscar bait: A year ago, "Blue Jasmine" star Cate Blanchett seemed a given for best actress contender, and she rode that wave of approval to the 86th Academy Awards. This summer, if you don't count the special effects categories, just "Boyhood" and the animated "How to Train Your Dragon 2" seem bound for nomination glory.

More Godzilla, please: The big guy's name was the title of "Godzilla," but the king of monsters didn't get enough screen time and neither did Bryan Cranston as a scientist. Maybe the sequel announced for June 2018 will remedy that first slight.

Starry, starry night: "The Fault in Our Stars" was a success with critical and audience response to the tearjerker starring Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort and Nat Wolff. Made for a reported $12 million, it grossed $125 million in North America, and the DVD is still to come.

Good title, bad movie: "Sex Tape."

Good movie, bad science: "Lucy." The concept that we use just 10 percent of our brain is dramatically over-exaggerated, experts have said. The sci-fi action thriller stars Scarlett Johansson as an unwilling drug mule whose brain power explodes along with leaking pouches of illegal crystals in her abdomen.

Bad news, worse news: A stolen digital copy of "The Expendables 3" was illegally shared on the Internet 5 million times, Variety reported, citing a piracy-tracking firm. The leak was especially damaging because it happened before the movie arrived in theaters, where it has grossed just $28 million despite a gaggle of go-to geezers.

Breakout stars: It's not as if Chris Pratt and Chadwick Boseman were unknowns before "Guardians of the Galaxy" and the James Brown biopic "Get on Up," but they distinguished themselves. Pratt became even more likable, especially as images of him visiting LA's Children's Hospital and allowing patients to try on his Star-Lord costume surfaced, while Boseman talked about executing those splits and got an abbreviated chance to sing in his own voice on the "Late Show With David Letterman."

Weaklings: Dwayne Johnson certainly looked the part in "Hercules," but he seemed too contemporary alongside British castmates such as Ian McShane, Rufus Sewell and John Hurt. A bigger misfire, unless it rallies in a record way this weekend, was "Frank Miller's Sin City: A Dame to Kill For."

Happy "Mad Men" Day: Actor Jon Hamm came to Pittsburgh on Mother's Day to promote "Million Dollar Arm" and appear on ESPN, televising the game between the Pirates and his team, the St. Louis Cardinals. He did not disappoint as he and pitcher Rinku Singh did brief interviews on the field at PNC Park as did J.B. Bernstein, the real-life sports agent Hamm plays in the movie, due on DVD Oct. 7 in case you missed it.

Familiarity breeds success: A half-dozen of the top summer releases _ "Transformers: Age of Extinction," "X-Men: Days of Future Past," "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes," "The Amazing Spider-Man 2," "22 Jump Street" and "How to Train Your Dragon 2" _ were sequels, and others sprang from familiar material such as "Godzilla" and "Maleficent," featuring the malevolent fairy from "Sleeping Beauty." When it came to R-rated comedies, "Neighbors" made itself at home, thanks to Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Rose Byrne and Dave Franco.

Food frenzy: "Chef" and "The Hundred-Foot Journey."

Box-office bottom line: Ticket sales for the year to date are down 5 percent compared with the same period (Jan. 1 through Aug. 27) in 2013, according to Rentrak Corp. Domestic box office for the summer is down 15 percent.

The greatest loss of the summer: No matter where you went the week of Aug. 11, strangers and friends felt the need to talk about the suicide of Robin Williams. The details about his depression, anxiety, early Parkinson's disease and previous struggles with substance abuse reminded us that money, fame, family, good friends and an Oscar sometimes are not enough, even for a genius who brought joy to generations.

And while this might be journalistic heresy, maybe we didn't need to know all those details about the manner of suicide that came out at the press conference. It was enough to know he ended his life.

Billy Crystal did right by him with his tribute during the Emmys. He introduced clips of Williams cracking up Johnny Carson and Jay Leno, turning an audience member's scarf into a comic prop, and proving, as his pal said, that "for almost 40 years, he was the brightest star in the comedy galaxy." And long may he continue to shimmer.

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By Barbara Vancheri - Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (MCT)

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