I think it’s fair to say that 2013 has been less than impressive when it comes to cinematic offerings. Understandably, the start of every year is slow when it comes to movies, but this year it feels more noticeable. With the exception of things I saw in 2012 (John Dies at the End, Warm Bodies, Maniac), I haven’t seen a “fresh” 2013 movie when I normally can find something new worth making a trip to the theater.
And apparently, I’m not alone according to Box Office Mojo. At around $313 million, January 2013 had the month’s lowest gross since 2007 (January 2012 hit $433.5 million). This month’s total of slightly more than $380 million will easily be the poorest February of the past decade. Also, when your biggest contribution to the film world is making Live Free or Die Hard look good, something is obviously wrong.
Heading into March, it would be nice to believe we could hope for better. The month is known for moving us out of the year’s marshlands with several high profile features and even some decent, smaller movies thrown in for good measure. Over the past five years, we’ve seen The Raid: Redemption, Rango, 21 Jump Street, Limitless, Watchmen, the American remake of Funny Games, and the original The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Last year’s The Hunger Games (March 23) was the third highest grossing movie of 2012. And 2010’s Alice in Wonderland broke $1 billion worldwide despite being one of the worst movies ever made.
Unfortunately, March 2013 doesn’t seem to offer us much promise.
Its biggest movies are March 1’s Jack the Giant Slayer, March 8’s Oz: The Great and Powerful, and March 29’s G.I. Joe: Retaliation. Admittedly, it’s too early to judge G.I. Joe 2, but pushing back its release by about a year, having Dwayne Johnson as its star, and being the sequel to a movie nobody seemed to like are not good signs. Mere days away from Jack the Giant Slayer, and it’s difficult to say that that movie’s promotional campaign has left much of an impression, for good or ill. Even with a legitimate director (Bryan Singer) behind it, Jack, based solely on the trailers and ads, suffers from horrible CGI (especially noticeable this soon after The Hobbit) and an uncertain focus. In subject matter and style, it seems more child-oriented, but if it is for kids like last year’s Mirror Mirror (another March release which it seems close in spirit to), it should have a PG rating. For a PG-13er, it should have more of an edge.
Alternatively, Sam Raimi’s Oz: The Great and Powerful looks more like a PG-13 movie but carries with it a bothersome PG. Although I am a fan of Raimi- much more than I am of either Tim Burton or Bryan Singer- the advertisements for his latest feature can’t help but recall Burton’s hideous Alice in Wonderland. With its March date plus the “From the Producer of Alice in Wonderland” title card, the comparisons grow even more obvious. While it looks better than the bastardization of Lewis Carroll’s classics, the overuse of CGI sets and creatures hinders excitement. Seeing Emerald City as Generic CGI Landscape eliminates the surrealistic whimsy and wonder present in both The Wizard of Oz and Return to Oz. A more serious looking movie than Jack the Giant Slayer with its adult themes and characters, Oz appears to warrant a PG-13, and its absence gives the impression of a toned down affair. I also wonder if the success of Les Miserables makes whatever studio owns the rights to Wicked disappointed that they didn’t green light that musical earlier. Whether Oz: The Great and Powerful succeeds or fails, and especially if it fails, I think producers would shy away from doing something that could be seen as a copy so soon.
Outside of the super-wide releases, there are several other predictable categories being filled. We have this year’s bawdy teenish comedy (21 and Over; last year Project X), the more adult comedy/drama with at least one Apatow crew member (Admission with Paul Rudd; 2009’s I Love You, Man), the animated feature of the month (The Croods; Rango, The Lorax, and How to Train Your Dragon were all March), and the cheap horror movie (The Last Exorcism Part II; 2012’s Silent House, 2009’s The Haunting in Connecticut and The Last House on the Left remake). The Call marks the return of the “Why isn’t this on Lifetime:” genre- the poster even has a version of “this time it’s personal!”- while White House hostage tale Olympus Has Fallen may satisfy basic action fans (i.e. those not looking for a superhero or franchise).
The PG-13 character comedy The Incredible Burt Wonderstone seems a “Wait for DVD/Netflix/Redbox/On Demand” movie- and that’s even if it got good reviews. Wonderstone gives me the impression of a movie that will teeter between good and just okay. Not bad, but lacking the spark to make it a must or even a want to see. However, I have been pleasantly surprised by movies that gave me that initial reaction before, such as March 2011’s Win Win. The end of the month will bring us The Host– Stephenie Meyer’s take on Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It is written and directed by Andrew Niccol, whose In Time didn’t think about its concept one iota beyond “time=money,” and adapted from the works of the Twilight auteur. While it looks more impressive than the vampire love story, we must never forget the mind that birthed it.
Finally, there are the limiteds. Movies such as Oldboy director’s Chan-wook Park’s first American film, Stoker; the multi-director horror anthology ABC’s of Death; and Harmony Korine’s Disney-Princesses-Abdicating-Their-Thrones Spring Breakers interest me to varying degrees, but none have a must see quality about them. Disappointingly, the best looking film of the month, Blue Valentine‘s Derek Cianfance’s second feature The Place Beyond the Pines doesn’t hit until March 29. A long way to go to finally make a pointed trip to the theater.
But something needs to come out on top, so let me close with some predictions.
Oz: The Great And Powerful will be the highest grossing movie of this month and possibly breach $200 million. It will have nothing to do with its quality, but from people starving for a lavish movie to occupy their time. There’s a reason why every once in a while smaller movies will come from nowhere and gross $30, $40 million on their opening weekends- it’s because people want something to watch in theaters, tune out their brains, and get away from their lives. It’s the basic escapism on which Hollywood was built. Oz, with its overly safe PG rating, mind-numbing colors, known actors, and ability to leech off of one of the most popular films in the history of pop culture, has a lower threshold to cross than any other film on the list. The Croods will probably be number 2.
Jack the Giant Slayer‘s success will be based primarily on its opening weekend. By virtue of being the “first” biggish movie of the year, it might attract people simply by being a tiny puddle of water in a two-month long drought. However, I see it more likely to be the John Carter of 2013. I’m guessing it will be lucky to hit $70 million throughout its entire run, or it’ll make close to that by this Monday.
I also think Olympus Has Fallen will prove a surprise hit. Not a huge one, but somewhere between $90 million and $115 million. This will give Gerard Butler a second career boost, which he will promptly squander with more horrible romantic comedies, third tier actioners, and movies where he helps kids.