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Summer movies: 6 fearless predictions

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Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
Stephen Vaughan

Summer movies: 6 fearless predictions

Looking ahead to summer movie season in April is a tricky business. Last year was supposed to be the summer of the towering threequels (Shrek, Pirates, and Spider-Man), and it was, sort of, except if you define the summer by movies people actually liked. This year, I’m staying away from guesswork about quality or box office performance, and instead offering predictions about something that’s much easier to forecast: the hype, the spin, the second-guessing, the Monday-morning quarterbacking, and the gun-jumping. Here are my hunches about what the summer of 2008 has in store:

A furious controversy will arise over whether Heath Ledger deserves a posthumous Best Supporting Actor nomination for The Dark Knight. This will begin when an anonymous informant on morbidlyobesefilmgeek.com pronounces Ledger’s performance brilliant. Three days later a flurry of chat-room postings on iwannabefirst.com will say that Ledger’s work is being overpraised. A week after that, a major film blogger will pronounce him a shoo-in for the Academy Award. A couple of days later another blogger will write that he senses that the movie is basically over and the public has rejected it. Three weeks after that, the movie will open.

Not a single major summer movie will fail at the box office because it’s bad. Instead, disappointing grosses for certain movies will be blamed on one or more of the following factors: Warm weather. Cold weather. Rainy weather. The recession. Bad marketing. The war. Film festival fever. Unfairly high expectations. Theaters that are filled with just too darn many good movies at once. An unexpected ”backlash.” Tom Cruise (because that just never gets old). Intense national interest in TV’s riveting gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Republican National Convention. Movie piracy. Actual pirates. Fear of avian flu. And Hillary. In cases in which a movie’s performance is so exceptionally poor that it cannot be excused by anything on the above list, we will be sternly reminded that everyone knows the real money these days comes from DVDs. The movie will then fail on DVD. But quietly.

NEXT PAGE: The three most coveted words at the top of a summer 2008 movie advertisement will be ”This year’s Juno.”

The three most coveted words at the top of a summer 2008 movie advertisement will be ”This year’s Juno.” By May 1, a race will begin to see who can be the first to use this phrase. It may be a publicist or it may be a critic for a publication that nobody is certain actually exists. Any movie that costs under $150 million to make and market will be eligible for this designation as long as everyone involved agrees to politely ignore the fact that this year’s Juno is actually Juno. With the realization that ”This year’s Little Miss Sunshine” is no longer of any use because it’s so one year ago, disappointment will set in, and other movies will settle for the runner-up trophy, ”This year’s Enchanted,” or, purely in cases of extreme need, ”The little movie that could.”

At some point this summer, a modestly budgeted movie that features a woman in a major role will make money. This will puzzle, confuse, and anger studio executives, who will spend several days wondering if there is some way to explain how it happened. They will distantly recall that it may have happened before, although they won’t be able to remember the name of the movie or of the actress. After several days of tension, they will decide that it is probably nothing to worry about and just let it go.

There will be many, many dull discussions about how we are now living in the ”post-movie star era.” As you may recall, a recent TIME magazine cover story pronounced George Clooney ”The Last Movie Star.” But that was before Leatherheads, so now, apparently, the species is completely extinct. (”Movie star,” if you’re not familiar with technical Hollywood jargon, means ”an actor who is so popular that people will buy tickets to his movies even if they’re unbelievably awful.” Now you know why Hollywood makes so many unbelievably awful movies: It’s the only way movie stars can be positively identified.) A great sorrow will hang over the industry, as executives throughout Los Angeles pray for someone to lead them out of the darkness while they stare with intense concentration at photographs of Will Smith. If the shortage persists, every TV actor between 17 and 45 will be hired to star in at least one movie, leading to 700 bad movies starring people who turn out not to be the next Katherine Heigl.

Somebody, at some point, is going to pitch a studio production chief a motion picture based on The Hills. If that production chief says no, we will all live happily in good health and eventually prosper. If that production chief says yes, the skies will rain blood for a thousand years. You make the call.

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