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As fun as we at PAM had with our top five movies of 2011 at the mid-way point, it's typically not the best time to begin assessing the year; most of the good stuff comes out July through December. It's a good time, however, for discussing what we thought we’d like that didn’t work out and what we didn’t think we’d care for that went above expectations.
Combining past success, early buzz, user ratings, what we at PAM thought, word of mouth and box-office receipts, this was not a tough list to put together. My early findings were this: March was a hotbed of activity in this area this year. Looking at March 2012 and 2013, March is shaping up to truly be a buzz-worthy month with films that have big hopes yet not enough confidence to go up against the titans of summer.
Anyway, take a look at this list and tell us what you think were the biggest letdowns and pleasant surprises of 2011 Part 1 at the movies.
The Five Biggest Disappointments of 2011
Not many people had high hopes for The Dilemma after the trailers came out. Ron Howard directing Vince Vaughn and Kevin James felt awkward and Vaughn has been losing steam as a comedian. Yet a box-office success would’ve been reasonable enough to predict. Of Vaughn’s last five releases, only one (Fred Claus) did not make $100 million in the United States. “Dilemma” finished about $25 million below that with $48.4 million. Perhaps a poor January release date with 21% on Rotten Tomatoes and negative word of mouth snuffed its life quickly with more adults interested in seeing well-reviewed Oscar fare. Moviegoers also react negatively when a film doesn’t come as advertised; “Dilemma” was pitched as hard comedy but had too many dramatic twists and turns.
4. Drive Angry
Exploitation films have never performed that well in theaters, but a 3-D movie focusing on cars and attractive ladies in the form of Amber Heard alongside Nicolas Cage seemed to be the perfect antidote to the winter doldrums of February. For any film not a comedy or drama in 2011, Drive Angry finished dead last with just more than $10 million domestically. I’m sure that they had to pay Cage at least that much. To be fair, however, the film earned mixed reviews (45% RT) and mostly satisfied those who indulged it, our own Simon Brookfield included. No question, however, that it constitutes one of the worst box-office performances for an action film maybe of all time.
3. Scream 4
Reunion films tend to make noise. We saw how well Toy Story 3 did more than 10 years after Toy Story 2, so why wouldn’t the highly successful “Scream” franchise from Wes Craven make bank about as many years later with stars Neve Campbell and Courtney Cox back (among others)? With good early buzz and a decent 57% RT score for a horror film, the movie seemed poised to lap up April audiences with nothing better to do and horror fans who helped the films make back production costs in nearly one weekend. Yet Scream 4's opening totaled $18.6 million, over $16 million less than Scream 3 and that’s with more than 10 years of inflation. The film made $38 million domestically and nearly hit $100 million worldwide. Not a total failure thanks to international audiences, but not a guaranteed start to a new trilogy as The Weinstein Co. hoped. This floppage has me most dumbfounded of all: Where did the fans go all these years later? Attendance was clearly down. Did Ghostface kill them? Seriously, when a critically berated Scream 3 can open with $34 million, that means it has a big fan base to patronize it no matter what, a la horror films such as “Saw” and “Resident Evil.” Something was lost in the last decade, even though most fans who showed up liked what they saw.
2. Green Lantern
Of all action genres, we hold our superhero films to the highest of standards, which means the ones that turn out to be average fall the hardest. We at PAM wouldn’t call Green Lantern a bad film as our collective score is a 6.1/10, but it left so much to be desired, especially for a superhero movie that takes us beyond the reaches of Earth (well, somewhat). The film’s lack of imagination was a tremendous letdown and it's paying dearly at the box office for it. Warner Bros. should have seen this film break $100 million in two weekends, but it’s taken three, with that third weekend totaling $6.5 million. Around the world no one cares, which has not been the trend in 2011, so that’s surprising. Just $33 million overseas so far. With such a tremendous lack in staying power, “Lantern” won’t even see $200 million worldwide most likely and that was the cost of the production budget alone. In this heated summer battle, you can’t come up lame in reviews (26% RT) just a couple weeks before the big July films, or you’ll get crushed. That’s what happened and you can’t imagine Warner Bros. is happy about it, even with the studio talking up the sequel.
1. Sucker Punch
When the trailer debuted just after Comic-Con last summer, roars of excitement came from cinephiles everywhere for Zack Snyder’s impossibly cool-looking femme fatale action fantasy. We at PAM even named it the best 2010 trailer for a 2011 movie. But what was one the most highlighted weekends of March on most movie calendars quickly came and went. Most could have predicted Sucker Punch would make less than $20 million considering the mediocre openings of most films targeted at males 13 to 30 such as Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and Kick-Ass, but what those films had that Sucker Punch didn’t was a Rotten Tomatoes score higher than 22%. We currently have it an unassuring 4.8/10 collective score. Snyder, the man who made an unprecedented $456 million worldwide with 300 in 2007, came up with $89 million across the globe. Perhaps the real disappointment is Snyder, whose films have gotten worse and worse reviews since 300 and made less and less each time.
The Five Biggest Surprises of 2011
The first of four March releases on this list, Rango surprises the least, only because animation has been so good. This was Gore Verbinski and this animation studio’s first attempt at the medium, however, and it looked stunning. The heart and humorous nature of the story and Johnny Depp’s performance as the out-of-water lizard helped matters as well, but normally you don’t expect a first effort to be so excellent. Rango ended up as 2011′s first big hit both critically and at the box office, grossing a respectable but not earth-shattering $242 million worldwide and an 89% on Rotten Tomatoes. With Paramount just announcing Paramount Animation, a sequel could well be in order for 2014 once director Gore Verbinski and star Johnny Depp finish The Lone Ranger.
4. The Adjustment Bureau
Many of us had become deeply interested in this film a little over a year ago, but that all dwindled when Universal moved it from late July 2010 until this past March. As it turns out, the move was likely in response to Inception, which would’ve completely crushed it thanks to a few similarities and similar release dates — quality had nothing to do with it. So few action films or sci-fi films in this case get the characters right, but George Nolfi’s directorial debut did and more people than ever expected made plans to see this film. It would certainly not have opened with $21 million going up against the summer tentpoles, so props to Universal for realizing that. Modestly budgeted at an estimated $50 million, the international gross more than doubled that with about $125 million.
3. The Lincoln Lawyer
I would not have pegged an early-year film starring Matthew McConaughey as a favorite for one of the first best-reviewed films, yet The Lincoln Lawyer managed to do just that. With an 83% on Rotten Tomatoes and an identical audience approval rating via Flixster, audiences really liked this legal thriller. For a drama, the film opened reasonably with $13 million, but hung on week after week to make an unusual $57 million (and it’s still playing in 30-some theaters across the country). The strong supporting cast seemed to bolster this one a bit, with Ryan Phillippe, Marisa Tomei and William H. Macy among others. Director Brad Furman has two credits: this film and The Take, both with greater than 80% on Rotten Tomatoes. Our own Julian Stark felt there were some areas for improvement, but people are by and large enjoying it.
2. BridesmaidsPersonally, ever since I heard about Kristen Wiig's comedy, word of it being terrific came attached. Still, so few doubted that it could really redefine chick-flick, let alone make a dent in the summer box office. Yet that's precisely what Bridesmaids has done. With $154 million domestic at this point, the adult comedy is poised to enter the Top 20 highest-grossing R-rated films of all time in the States and will likely finish around No. 15. It has been in the top 10 at the box office for all of its two months in release, making it the summer's most impressive film, especially considering it was made for about $35 million. It has an 89% on Rotten Tomatoes and Julian Stark and Dinah Galley gave it an 8/10.
Marketing gave you little reason to believe Insidious would be anything other than a film trying to capitalize on the Paranormal Activity phenomenon. After all, “Activity” director Oren Peli produced the film. Yet that’s precisely why we should’ve been interested and Insidious turned out to be one of the best-reviewed horror films in recent memory. With Saw director James Wan at the helm and some talents who took pay cuts in Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne, distributor FilmDistrict found themselves with an absolute dream film. Fans loved it, RT critics gave it 67% (anything above 50% is a victory for horror), we put it in our collective five best of the year so far, and it made $53 million domestically after opening with just $13 million. The clincher? A budget below $2 million. That, folks, is how you make a good movie on all cylinders.