Sum­mer block­busters: Turn off your brain

Chattanooga Times Free Press - ChattanoogaNow - - VOICES - Con­tact Shawn Ryan at mshawn­ryan@gmail.com.

Another year of ed­u­ca­tion is over and sum­mer va­ca­tion be­gins. It’s the time for “sum­mer block­busters,” movies whose shoul­ders carry much of the weight for a stu­dio’s an­nual prof­its. Make a gajil­lion bucks, like “Avengers: In­fin­ity War,” and ev­ery­one keeps their jobs. Re­lease a gar­gan­tuan stinker like Dis­ney’s “The Lone Ranger” in 2013, which lost an es­ti­mated $190 mil­lion, and some­one’s mow­ing lawns to make ends meet.

It’s gen­er­ally ac­cepted that the term “sum­mer block­buster” be­gan in 1975 with the re­lease of Steven Spiel­berg’s “Jaws.” Al­ways on the look­out for ways to copy suc­cess, film stu­dios be­gan plan­ning their sched­ules based on sum­mer, re­leas­ing their so-called “tent poles” in those months.

Ap­par­ently, no one wants to think much over sum­mer, so stu­dios lean to­ward es­capist fan­tasies, films that don’t re­quire a lot of IQ to fig­ure out. Look no fur­ther than the three “Trans­form­ers” films that are among the big­gest sum­mer mon­ey­mak­ers in the past 40 years. You don’t even need a brain for those.

While plots can be dark — “The Ami­tyville Hor­ror,” “Sav­ing Pri­vate Ryan” and “The Dark Knight” — most hot-weather block­busters over the past 40 years have been thrill rides, not deep­think, meta­phys­i­cal ru­mi­na­tions on life.

Some of the big­gest sum­mer mon­ey­mak­ers are a bit on the “Huh?” side:

› “Grease” was 1978’s big­gest mon­ey­maker, and has grossed $395 mil­lion in the years since. I know fully grown adults who still think it’s one of the most won­der­ful movies ever.

› “Toy Shawn Ryan Story 3” grossed $415 mil­lion in 2010, and is the first an­i­mated film to gross more than $1 bil­lion in ticket sales. A bit un­usual since the third film in a tril­ogy of­ten shows a down­turn in sales be­cause au­di­ences have a been-there, seen-that feel­ing.

› “Trans­form­ers” (2007), “Trans­form­ers: Re­venge of the Fallen” (2009), “Trans­form­ers: Dark of the Moon” (2011) have brought in just over $1 bil­lion world­wide. Add “Trans­form­ers: Age of Ex­tinc­tion” from 2014 and “Trans­form­ers: The Last Knight” in 2017 and that fig­ure jumps to $1.4 bil­lion. C’mon y’all, it’s a bunch of ro­bots that can turn into cars.

› “Sav­ing Pri­vate Ryan” from 1998 is a great film (los­ing the Best Pic­ture Os­car to “Shake­speare in Love” is a trav­esty), but it’s in no way a fun romp. Still, it made $481 mil­lion world­wide and was the high­est-gross­ing film of the year.

› “The Ami­tyville Hor­ror” from 1979 is just a Re­ally. Bad. Movie. But it was based on the best-sell­ing novel, so it had a lot of its ground­work al­ready in place. It has spanned another 14 films since. The work of demons, I say.

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