Monday, August 29, 2016

Summer Movie Blues: 2016 vs 1986

It's official: summer is gone, baby, gone. With Labor Day weekend mere days away, students and adults alike are relishing the memories of tropical vacations and languid afternoons spent poolside over the past three months and are already counting the days until the next extended holiday break.
Those fond memories most likely do not include that other popular summer activity: seeing big blockbuster movies at the neighborhood moviehouse. The summer movie season of 2016 is sure to go down as one of the worst in recent memory. With the exception of two megahits (CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR and FINDING DORY) that were predestined to be cash cows long before their actual release dates, the remainder of this summer's offering were disappointing either in terms of content (SUICIDE SQUAD, JASON BOURNE, X-MEN: APOCALYPSE, the female-centric GHOSTBUSTERS reboot) or box office (ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS, THE BFG, THE LEGEND OF TARZAN, STAR TREK BEYOND) and on several dubious occasions, both (see INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE, or rather, don't.) There were a few gems to be found in this box of rocks but the year's normally bounteous season of theatrical event flicks turned up a lackluster pile of fool's gold.
Upon realizing that this summer also marked the 30th anniversary of two all-time movie classics: the guiltiest of all guilty pleasure movies TOP GUN and James Cameron's spectacular sequel game-changer ALIENS, I decided to compare 2016's paltry summer slate to that of 1986 and the results could not be more depressing. To quote ALIENS' own Corporal Hudson (Bill Paxton) "We just got our asses kicked."
Summer Movies released in 2016 (listed in order of release from May through August)
Note: CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR opened on April 12th so technically it counts as a spring release as was THE JUNGLE BOOK which also played well into the summer.
The Angry Birds Movie
X-Men: Apocalypse
Alice Through the Looking Glass
Café Society
The Darkness
Money Monster
The Nice Guys
Maggie's Plan
Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising
The Neon Demon
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows
Me Before You
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
Now You See Me 2
The Conjuring 2
Central Intelligence
Warcraft
Free State of Jones
Finding Dory
Independence Day: Resurgence
The Shallows
The BFG
The Legend of Tarzan
The Purge: Election Year
Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates
The Secret Life of Pets
The Infiltrator
Ghostbusters
Ice Age: Collision Course
Lights Out
Star Trek Beyond
Nerve
Bad Moms
Jason Bourne
Nine Lives
Suicide Squad
Pete's Dragon
Sausage Party
Ben-Hur
Kubo and the Two Strings
War Dogs
Don't Breathe
Hands of Stone
Mechanic: Resurrection
Talk about diminishing returns. By my count the only film on that list could be considered a smash hit was FINDING DORY while other sequels such as X-MEN:APOCALYPSE and STAR TREK BEYOND opened big then sputtered out fairly quickly. Not that the non-tentpole movies didn't make any money - CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE scored surprisingly well as did THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS and SAUSAGE PARTY which goes to show that comedies and animated films are generally safe bets during the summer months (sorry ICE AGE 4. Now please become extinct already.)
However we're discussing quality more than profitability and the only ones that stood out for this popcorn consumer were THE NICE GUYS, THE CONJURING 2, THE BFG, STAR TREK BEYOND, THE SHALLOWS and SUICIDE SQUAD though only two of them are contenders for my Best of 2016 list (think bumbling 70s era detectives and a very large fellow with a penchant for flatulence.)
Summer Movies released in 1986
Short Circuit
Top Gun
Cobra
Poltergeist II: The Other Side
Invaders from Mars
Raw Deal
SpaceCamp
Ferris Bueller's Day Off
Back to School
The Manhattan Project
Mona Lisa
Never Too Young to Die
Legal Eagles
The Karate Kid, Part II
My Little Pony: The Movie
American Anthem
Labyrinth
Running Scared
Ruthless People
About Last Night
Big Trouble in Little China
Psycho III
The Great Mouse Detective
Under the Cherry Moon
Club Paradise
Aliens
Vamp
Echo Park
Haunted Honeymoon
Heartburn
Maximum Overdrive
Nothing in Common
Flight of the Navigator
Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives
Howard the Duck
One Crazy Summer
She's Gotta Have It
Stand by Me
The Transformers: The Movie
Half Moon Street
Armed and Dangerous
The Fly
Manhunter
Extremities
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2
Shanghai Surprise
Ok so any list that includes both HOWARD THE DUCK and SHANGHAI SURPRISE is already a tough sell but friggin' FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF, people. But wait there's more! BACK TO SCHOOL, LABYRINTH, RUNNING SCARED, RUTHLESS PEOPLE, ABOUT LAST NIGHT, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, STAND BY ME, THE FLY, and MANHUNTER are all classics in their own right and still appear on most movie fans' all time best lists. Sure 1986 had plenty of dreck as well - POLTERGEIST II, AMERICAN ANTHEM, UNDER THE CHERRY MOON, VAMP, and HAUNTED HONEYMOON were all notoriously terrible. HOWARD THE DUCK at least had Lea Thompson and Tim Robbins even though you spent most of the movie feeling sorry for them. COBRA, RAW DEAL, MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE, FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VI, ONE CRAZY SUMMER, and even TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 were B movies to be sure but also goofy fun. SHORT CIRCUIT still has its admirers as does FLIGHT OF THE NAVIGATOR. The adult-oriented dramas STAND BY ME, NOTHING IN COMMON, and SHE'S GOTTA HAVE IT gave parents something to enjoy while the kids were seeing SPACECAMP, however, it is interesting to note that animated films were yet to become the blockbusters of tomorrow as evident in the tepid response to THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE, TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE, and the feature length movie of the unkillable MY LITTLE PONY franchise. And lest we forget the thrilling aerodynamic (and homoerotic) adventures of Maverick, Ghostrider, Iceman, and Goose in Jerry Bruckheimer's pre-PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN box office phenomenon that took us all into the danger zone.
Still, it all comes back to that all-time high summer movie watermark ALIENS. What could have been another forgettable sequel in a summer filled with them (PSYCHO III anyone?) instead gave audiences exactly what summer blockbusters are meant to provide: unforgettable out-of-body experiences with memorable, iconic, characters, eternally quotable dialogue ("Game over, man. Game over!") to stratospheric crescendos of spontaneous cheers. Who could forget the first time they saw the movie in a packed theater and the collective eruption that ensued at the movie's climax when Ripley shouted at the alien queen "Get away from her you bitch!!"
My personal favorite moment from the summer movie season of 1986 actually occurred offscreen at a suburban Chicago cinemaplex when, at my behest, my dad went to see ALIENS while myself and some friends saw TOP GUN a second time. I was waiting in the lobby when my father emerged from the theater clearly exhausted but laughing as he wiped tears from his beet-red face like a kid who just came off the greatest rollercoaster ride of his life.
That's the kind of experience we all look for when we go to movies in the summertime. As theatergoers we are much like the flyboys in TOP GUN. We have a need. A need for speed.
This summer, sadly, all the big rides were closed for repairs.

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