Five years ago, Spiderman burst into movie theaters across the country an unpredented three weekends before Memorial day. Boasting a head start over the rest of the summer films, an unlikely choice for the lead in Tobey MaGuire, and a legion of comic book aficianados eager for the movie's release, the film made movie history by becoming the first film to make one hundred million dollars in its opening weekend.
Since then, Spiderman 3 enters theatered the same weekend, but in an era that's completeley dominated by summer blockbusters. At $151 million Spiderman 3 broke the weekend record once again and has become the eighth picture to do so. Thirty-three movies have grossed $200 million or more domestically and 23 of those came out during the summer whereas only 28 films hit the $200 million mark before this decade.
Ten years ago, there might have been one or two big budget projects like Men in Black, Batman Forever, or Independence Day that would generate water cooler buzz all summer, but nowadays, a big-event picture enters the theaters once every other week during the summer months, with sequels, prequels, remakes. Everything practically falls into this pattern even if it's not technically a sequel. The 2002 hit Signs and M. Night Shamylan's sophomore effort, was anticipated "the next M. Night Shamylan film," which was in essence The Sixth Sense II or we could have called Michael Moore's Farenheight 911, "Bowling for Columbine II."
"Why don't the studios care about originality?" you may ask. They do. In fact, it's because of their love of filmmaking and their desire to want to make innovative and original films that the studios put us through this cycle and it also benefits us as well. Here's how:
By expending a lot of money on these cash cow films and shamelessly plugging away at them until every person and their grandmother has seen the movie twice, studios are able to pay for all the more interesting films that might not be as sure of a commercial bet. These films usually appear in theaters from around the end of the summer to the end of the year, and you can often find many of them spilling over into January and February. The films that are released during this time of year in hopes of winning Oscars, which are little toy statues that the winners like to wave around to their peers in hopes of gaining respect, power, and priority seating at high-class Hollywood establishments. It's a strange culture they have out there.
Nevertheless, once Oscar season ends, we have a season of pretty-much nothing on the movie front. Movie fans can spend their time watching the NHL or college basketball or whatever else catches their fancy, because the state of movies is pretty much unchanged. Sure, there are movies in the theaters between February and April but these are films that are released just for the sake of having something new for the movie theaters to show. With a few exceptions, these movies are usually very forgettable (If films in this category like R.V., the Pacifier, Norbit, Epic Movie, Failure to Launch, The Shaggy Dog, Date Movie or Wild Hogs become classics 10 years down the road, than I will eat my words on this one). I think of it as a kind of absence-makes-the-heart-grow-fonder-type of process where we take a break from watching current releases and might even swear off movies as a whole considering the quality of the films that comes out during this period.
This is where the summer Blockbuster season comes to the rescue. It presents us with sequels, remakes and tentpoles which are virtually impossible to turn down. Anyone who's watched Pirates of the Carribean 2 and has even the slightest interest in the characters is going to feel compelled to watch the third one just to see what happens to the characters. This is why sequels are so profitable, although that's based on the cliffhanger element being done well enough. Personally, I thought one of the weaknesses of Spiderman 2 was that it closed off all the loose threads for me to be invested in the third: Spiderman's identity revealed to Harry, Spiderman's identity revealed to Mary Jane, Spiderman's confession to his aunt, Spiderman and Mary Jane getting together, etc.
Still, the people saw it in mass droves ignoring mixed reviews because that's the power of the sequel: It's a must-see and more than that, it's a must-see on opening weekend, which some of us (myself included) have not been able to make.
The tragedy of this summer is that if we mutually agree that Ocean's 12 ruined our good faith in the Ocean's 11 and that the Rush Hour series was never very good in the first place, than the three big trilogy back-ends this summer, Shrek 3, Pirates 3, and Spiderman 3, are all taking place by Memorial Day Weekend which was when the summer seasion is traditionally supposed to start. The Early Bird catches the worm is the philosophy. So if you haven't been able to make the big opening-weekend rushes, don't worry, there's still the actual summer to see them. I myself am a little behind on starting my summer. I just saw Spiderman 3 last weekend and will see Pirates this weekend.