Summer’s just starting to bring the heat, but there’s already been some delightful surprises at the movie theater: The Fault in Our Stars was a runaway hit, 22 Jump Street and How to Train Your Dragon 2 reminded us that sequels can be smart, and Kevin Hart emerged as a major star. It’s actually shaping up to be a pretty good season…unless you’re Adam Sandler, Seth MacFarlane, or Gary Oldman. Here are the summer cinema’s biggest winners and losers, from Scarlett Johansson to Jersey Boys.
WINNER: Kevin Hart
The newly-minted A-lister is a classic Hollywood success story, working his way up from comedy clubs to bit parts to starring roles. His ascent was so slow and steady that you’d be forgiven for not noticing that he’s one of Hollywood’s biggest stars. But after his three successive 2014 hits (Ride Along, About Last Night, and summer’s Think Like a Man Too), you have no longer have an excuse.
WINNER: John Green
Low-budget weepie The Fault In Our Stars trounced Edge of Tomorrow on the films' opening weekend, meaning YA author John Green is, by the numbers, a bigger box-office draw than Tom Cruise (Stars recently passed the $100 million mark, making it the most profitable film of the year so far). With film adaptations of his novels Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns in the works, Green may be the youngest author who can sell films on his name alone. Move over, Nicholas Sparks.
Jersey Boys is one of the longest-running shows in Broadway history, but the Clint Eastwood-directed movie struck a sour note. We’ll have to wait until Christmas to see if Annie and Into the Woods salvage Broadway’s 2014 box office.
WINNER: Jon Favreau
The Iron Man director returned to his indie roots with Chef, widely seen as a metaphor for his career: Favreau plays a chef who rediscovers his passion for work when he ditches the fancy restaurant and opens a food truck. The low-budget, feel-good movie has been holding steady in theaters for almost two months now, a nice palate cleanser before Favreau starts work on Disney’s live-action Jungle Book.
WINNER: The X-Men
Summer’s No. 1 movie so far, X-Men: Days of Future Past, starred Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, and Ian McKellen, the same actors who played the core mutants 14 years ago in X-Men. Thanks to time-hopping storylines, Marvel’s longest continuous film franchise is having its cake and eating it too, keeping around the original stars and replenishing itself with young bloods like Jennifer Lawrence; as a result, Past is the most successful entry in the series so far, earning more than $500 million worldwide in just two weekends. The new film may have retconned the X-Men’s past, but their future is wide open.
How do you make a franchise last forever? Just keep starting over. And over and over. Godzilla made a killing this summer by rebooting a 60-year-old franchise from scratch. The second round of Spider-Man films also continued with The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which took in a respectable $200 million – though it failed to outperform its 2004 predecessor Spider-Man 2.
WINNER: Revamped Fairy Tales
The genre has had hits (Alice in Wonderland) and misses (Jack the Giant Slayer), but Maleficent’s $500 million worldwide box office proved that audiences are still hungry for high-budget happily-ever-afters.
LOSER: Women Behind the Camera
In June, an infographic from Indiewire’s Women and Hollywood blog went viral, illustrating how few major studio films are helmed by women (despite women making up half or more of movie audiences). This summer’s slate of movies drives the point home: Of the 39 major studio releases, only one of them – Step Up All In – has a female director.
WINNER: Rose Byrne
Byrne is a solid comedy actress, but has been upstaged by her co-stars in films like Bridesmaids and I Give It A Year. That changed with Neighbors, in which her suburban-mom-turned-frat-house-antagonist garnered more buzz than Zac Efron and Seth Rogen put together.
LOSER: Adam Sandler
Blended, Sandler’s much-hyped romantic-comedy reunion with Drew Barrymore, should have been a slam dunk. Alas, the world has changed since The Wedding Singer, but Sandler’s perennial man-child shtick has not. Whether it was boredom with Sandler or the bad reviews, audiences stayed away in droves.
The economic hardships that plague Motor City are significant, but for Michigan movie fans, there’s a silver lining: the state is keeping Detroit filmmakers employed by offering tax incentives to Hollywood productions. Detroit sets appear prominently in Transformers: Age of Extinction, Batman vs. Superman is shooting in Detroit now, and the Detroit-based Beverly Hills Cop sequel was just announced. (Not to mention that the city kicked off the summer by celebrating RoboCop Day.)
WINNER: The Lucas Brothers and Jillian Bell
The ridiculously fun 22 Jump Street managed to improve on the original, not least of all because of its scene-stealing supporting cast. Breakout stars the Lucas Brothers, who play college stoners the Yang Twins, and Jillian Bell, who plays deadpan student Mercedes, are getting a well-deserved boost from the comedy smash.
LOSER: Gary Oldman
Used to be, movie stars could say stupid things in magazine interviews without hugely affecting their reputation. As Oldman learned the hard way, this is no longer the case.
WINNER: Scarlett Johansson
With her it-girl phase behind her, Johansson has become something much more interesting: An actress who can transition from a surrealist horror film (Under the Skin) to a superhero blockbuster (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) to a feel-good comedy (Chef) without missing a beat. And she’s not done yet. Later in July, Johansson plays a woman who develops superhuman powers in Luc Besson’s sci-fi adventure Lucy — perhaps a subtle message to Marvel that she can handle her own Black Widow franchise.
LOSER: Seth MacFarlane’s Ego
Here’s the harsh truth: Everybody loved Ted, everybody loves Baby Stewie, but not everyone loves Seth MacFarlane. The prolific comedy writer, director, animator, and voice actor created a star vehicle for himself with A Million Ways to Die in the West. The movie did little more than break even, and MacFarlane’s unimpressive leading-man act left him riding into the sunset alone.
JURY’S STILL OUT: Tom Cruise
On the one hand, Edge of Tomorrow wasn’t the blockbuster that Warner Brothers was expecting. On the other hand, it got terrific reviews and excellent word of mouth. Where does this leave Tom Cruise? He’s not the bulletproof movie star he once was. And yet, playing the underdog works for him; on a personal level, Cruise is more appealing than he has been in years. If the actor plays his cards right, Edge of Tomorrow could be a new start — and thematically, isn’t that perfect?
Photo credits: 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros.