Just before last year's May box-office took off with Iron Man and Indiana Jones, there was the colossal flop of the Wachowski brother's Speed Racer. Though we're not expecting anything quite so resounding as that clunk, we think you can count on X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the first big summer release of 2009, releasing today, to be forgotten by the time Memorial Day weekend rolls around.
Last year it took one guy, Robert Downey, Jr., flying around in a metal suit. This May it will be a young cast in a starship. Oddly, it will also be an "origins" movie of sorts, restarting the Star Trek franchise that will dominate the first big weekends of summer. It's our bet that the reengineered and recast Star Trek will also be the first big release to reach out toward the magic 300 million mark at the box-office.
For the record, both Iron Man and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls reached over 300 million last year, two of only three to hit that high mark, the third being the mega hit The Dark Knight that wasn't released until July. Speed Racer stalled out at 43 million in the US and never reached the 100 million mark, even counting world wide receipts. OK for mere mortal films, but Racer's production budget, not to mention marketing and distribution costs, was 120 million on it's own. Tough to put a movie on your resume that would have left people richer had they never touched the project. And in the case of Speed Racer, unfortunately, that would include the audience.
By the end of the month (Memorial Day weekend), Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian and Terminator Salvation (with Christian Bale starring as a battle worn John Connor) will be released, and the sumer will have its second and third 300 million mark contenders. If you don't think that that's enough to declaw Wolverine, Angels and Demons (from Ron Howard, Tom Hanks and the author of The Da Vinci Code) arrives only one week after Star Trek and Pixar's tenth animated release, Up (showing in Disney Digital 3D, by the way), will be in theaters for the last Friday release of the month. All that should make for Wolverine becoming a distant memory and the X-Men franchise falling back on a flat performance and a questionable future.
And that's just May. The very first weekend of June will present some comedic competition for Ben Stiller's Smithsonian outing with Will Ferrel venturing into the Land of the Lost. A week later Travolta and Denzel will refresh the crime action 70's flick The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, set in the New York subway system and claiming one of the most exciting trailers of the season. Take a breath and try to make up ground fast if you've missed anything because Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen will morph onto screens just two weeks later and promises a popcorn ride more sophisticated and more fun than its original from 2 years ago.
The hits keep coming.
There's Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince, finally opening in July after a deliberate delay from last November. This is the sixth outing for Harry and only one story (but 2 movies) away from the end of the saga. Public Enemies, with both Johnny Depp and Christian Bale, as depression era gangster and G-man respectively, team for a re-telling of the John Dillinger story. Brüno, is the return of Sacha Baron Cohen to his personal take on broad satire, this time set in the world of fashion design (tagline: "Borat is so 2006"). Ice Age: The Age of the Dinosaurs opens in July. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra storms screens in August. Even Tarantino is back, directing Brad Pitt in Inglorious Bastards, opening August 21st.
Of course, there are smaller films too, and many of those may offer even more promise of great stories and special performances. Some titles to watch for include...
• My Sister's Keeper - with Cameron Diaz deep in drama. (June 26)
• Moon - Sci-Fi with a nearly solo performance by Sam Rockwell. (June 12)
• 500 Days of Summer - a quirky light romance with Zooey Deschanel. (July 17)
• Funny People - with Adam Sandler as a successful comedian, layering comedy with serious drama. (July )
• Julie and Julia - with Meryl Streep and Amy Adams, Streep in a brilliant turn as the happily eccentric television chef Julia Child. (August 7)
• Taking Woodstock - a Woodstock music festival back story of sorts and a possible breakthrough for the marginally talented Demetri Martin. (August 14)
• The Time Traveler's Wife - from the magical Audrey Niffenegger's novel with stars Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams. (August 14)
You just have to love summers at the movies. Whenever you're not holed up in a dark air conditioned theater, we hope you'll be checking back with us to follow the box-office and the new releases and let us know about what you're seeing. We'll be keeping up each month with what's new and what's worth seeing, both here and on Moviedozer.com. Enjoy the box-office heat and have a blast all summer long.