The last day of summer hits Sept. 21. But for most folks, the season has a Memorial-Day-to-Labor-Day symmetry to it: 15 glorious weekends to luxuriate in swimming pools, ice cream trucks and air-conditioned movie theaters. For the box office, however, summer petered out weeks ago, coming to a dead stop the weekend after The Bourne Legacy got released and limping forward for another three weeks on cheap-ass horror movies (The Apparition, The Possession). So, now that it’s all over, who triumphed and what got marked as a tragedy in the dog days of 2012?
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel—While the kids were eating up stuff like The Avengers and Brave over in the megaplex, senior-ticket-buyers were quietly turning director John Madden’s enchanting retirees-go-to-India dramedy The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel into a massive hit. It pulled in $45 million—which isn’t exactly superhero-sized money, but it’s a hell of a return on the film’s less than $10 million budget. We probably won’t see a sequel (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: The Second Story?), but it might signal a trend of adult-oriented entertainment hitting theaters over summer.
Dinesh D’Souza—2016: Obama’s America snuck into theaters the weekend before Labor Day with no advance word and no advertising. Shockingly, it beat out big-ticket films like Premium Rush and Hit & Run to steal a jaw-dropping $13 million at the box office. In the bigger picture, that’s chump change. But for D’Souza, who directed, produced and starred in the film (based on his book The Roots of Obama’s Rage), it was a major coup. The film advances—with little evidence, skill, style or believability—D’Souza’s theory that President Barrack Obama is a Manchurian Candidate-style zombie puppet clone of the America-hating father he never really met. Paranoid conservatives, hopped up on RNC convention fumes, turned up in droves. The film does no favors for anyone, other than D’Souza—but this guy is laughing all the way to the bank (probably one that Obama bailed out).
Tom Cruise—Lots of people thought Tom Cruise’s gonzo turn as an ’80s hair-metal music star in Rock of Ages would be huge. Unfortunately, the ridiculous jukebox musical had no legs off the Broadway stage, pulling in a pathetic $14 million. (It cost $54 million to make.) The bomb put a major kink in Cruise’s comeback plans. Then, of course, his wife Katie Holmes filed for divorce. Let’s just say it was a bad summer to be Tom Cruise.
Battleship—Despite the fact that most sane-thinking people thought a movie based on a board game was a bad idea, Universal Pictures dumped $209 million into this sci-fi stinker. By summer’s end, the film had barely scraped together $65 million at the box office. And you thought Wall Street was good at losing money! The film also did no favors to the career of star Taylor Kitsch, whose previous film John Carter had the distinction of being the biggest bomb of 2012—at least until Battleship came along. The only good thing to come of this economic and artistic fiasco is the fact that we might not have to endure the horror of Monopoly, Risk and Candy Land movies (all of which were actually in preproduction). Guess we’ll have to move on to soft-drink-based movies.
Total Recall—Much as we’d like to call all reboots losers, we can’t really. Nonetheless, the $51 million take from director Len Wiseman’s $125 million remake certainly doesn’t bode well for the future of pillaging Arnold Schwarzenegger’s oeuvre. The original flick was beautifully over-the-top. The remake tries to be more realistic. Although, how a tunnel through the center of the Earth is “more realistic” than a trip to Mars is something Mr. Wiseman would have to explain.