With year-round blockbusters, summertime fades
NEW YORK | Does the summer movie season still exist?
It was once an air-conditioned oasis that drew lines around the block of audiences eager for the roller-coaster ride of “Indiana Jones,” the shark bite of “Jaws” and the buzz of a lightsaber.
But in a time where the megamovie business is year-round, that once-hallowed season of moviegoing — maybe the quintessential big-screen, popcorn-eating experience — no longer means the same thing.
The summer blockbuster didn’t wilt away. It grew too big to content itself just with May through August. Studios, seeing open real estate elsewhere on the calendar, have in recent years begun spreading out their spectacles throughout the year. Like a King Kong that broke its chains, the summer movie now lumbers down every avenue. It’s blockbuster gentrification; there’s a Godzilla on every block.
This year already has seen one $1 billion movie (“Beauty and the Beast”), and “Fate of the Furious” isn’t far behind. Others await the cool, vaguely more “serious” breezes of fall, including “Thor: Ragnarok,” “Justice League” and “Blade Runner 2049.” Even “Star Wars,” as if saying goodbye to the kiddie table, has fled summer and taken up residence in December.
Notwithstanding some very anticipated movies, that’s left a summer movie season without the same sunny glow it once had.
“What’s missing this summer is something out of left field that blows people away,” said Jeff Bock, senior box-office analyst for Exhibitor Relations. “We haven’t had that for a few summers, to be honest — that true blockbuster that comes out of nowhere. What we get is pretty known commodities and huge franchises.”
For a great many of the summer’s biggest movies — “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2,” “Alien: Covenant,” the fifth installments in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Transformers” franchises, “Wonder Woman,” “Cars 3,” “Despicable Me 3,” “Spider-Man: Homecoming” — the main objective will be to satisfy fans of the franchises. Others are hoping for something fresher. Edgar Wright, the British writer-director of “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz,” is a battlescarred veteran of that machine, having spent years writing and developing Marvel’s “Ant-Man” before departing it over creative differences. This summer, he returns with “Baby Driver” (June 28), his “musical car chase movie” about a fresh-faced getaway driver who obsessively soundtracks his high-speed chases.
“It ended up being very fortuitous to come out of a heartbreaking experience and jump straight into something I had already written, I really wanted to do and was my dream movie,” said Mr. Wright. “Maybe the day after I left the other movie, literally one of the first emails I got from [production company] Working Title just said ‘Baby Driver next?’”
Following its enthusiastic reception at SXSW in March, “Baby Driver” was pushed by Sony Pictures from August into the heart of the summer.
“It won’t be like anything else that’s out in the cinema at that time,” said Mr. Wright. “It’s up against the behemoths like ‘Transformers,’ ‘Despicable Me’ and ‘Spider-Man,’ but it’s not like any of those movies.”
Others are trying to reorient the summer movie. Christopher Nolan, who, given his successes, enjoys a rarified position in Hollywood, will trot out his World War II tale “Dunkirk,” about the British evacuation in France. Largely shot with IMAX cameras, “Dunkirk” is the kind of grand historical epic that rarely appears in summer, let alone any other time of year.
Some films find reinvention in a shift in perspective. Sofia Coppola’s “The Beguiled” (June 30), adapted from the 1966 Civil War novel by Thomas P. Cullinan, takes a more female view of the story of a Union soldier who takes shelter in a Confederate girls boarding school than the 1971 version starring Clint Eastwood. Kumail Nanjiani’s “The Big Sick” (June 23) is a funny and tender rom-com, only told with more realism than usual in the genre and a less familiar cultural context. Mr. Nanjiani plays a Pakistani-American stand-up trying to evade an arranged marriage, and is inspired by Mr. Nanjiani’s meeting of his wife and collaborator, Emily Gordon.