Last year, I had to start early, thanks to Warner Bros dumping Batman v Superman in March. 2017 is a bit more muted - I think we can safely place the starting line for the summer movie season on May 5th, with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
Granted, the entire concept of the "summer movie season" is outdated. This year's already given us Logan, LEGO Batman, Kong: Skull Island, and Beauty and the Beast - any or all of which could have qualified as "summer movies" if their release dates had been moved back. It took the industry fifteen years longer than it should have, but they seem to have realized they can release an interesting movie any time of the year and get "summer movie" level returns.
By rights, I should be writing this in December for the following year - dropping this whole "summer" thing altogether and just running through the biggest upcoming geek flicks on the horizon. But I'm busy in December, so we're stuck perpetuating the delusion that there's something special or unique about movies released between May and August.
For those of you new to this annual feature, here's how it works: I'm attempting to predict the Freshness score for every upcoming summer movie that looks geeky enough to be of interest. These predictions are essentially arbitrary guesses.
You are, of course, welcome to come back at the end of summer and mock me for things I get hilariously wrong (though I actually did pretty well last year).
Oh, I'll also subject you to what I'm looking for (i.e., what it will take to get me to seriously consider heading to the theater). And, just for the hell of it, a random prediction about the movie.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Projected Tomatometer: 78%
What I'm Looking For: I'll almost certainly see this regardless of what critics say
Random Prediction: This will make more in merchandising than any other summer movie, except Cars 3
The 78% is something of a hedged bet. The original Guardians is currently sitting at 91%, and it's entirely possible Gunn will manage to meet or exceed that. Possible, but unlikely: Guardians of the Galaxy was widely seen as quirky and unique, a fact that made critics somewhat generous. A sequel, regardless of whether it's good or bad, is naturally going to feel derivative, so it's going to have to clear a higher hurdle to get the same score.
On top of that, Gunn is facing raised expectations, a larger cast, and (in all likelihood) studio pressure to set up Infinity War. It starts to sound dangerously similar to the recipe that brought us the deeply flawed (but still fun) Age of Ultron.
All that said, of course I'll check it out. I'm a big fan of Marvel's movies, and the trailers look great.
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
Projected Tomatometer: 60%
What I'm Looking For: 85% and/or a substantial number of glowing reviews
Random Prediction: This will be extremely polarizing
This is one of those situations where I have very little idea what to expect. The trailers imply a bizarre genre-twisting approach to the Arthurian legend, but they're ambiguous to the point I can't tell what it is. Is this myth reinterpreted through the lens of modern genres partially descended from that myth? Is it a fun and quirky parody where we see the King Arthur story imagined as pulp fiction? Is it a worthless piece of crap, like the director's last Sherlock Holmes movie?
No. Goddamn. Clue.
I've like about as much of Guy Richie's work as I've disliked, so I'm holding out hope. The Tomatometer projection matches A Game of Shadows, incidentally, so that's actually a pessimistic appraisal (I hated A Game of Shadows). I hope I'm wrong, though - I'd love to see an interesting, alternative take on this story.
Projected Tomatometer: 68%
What I'm Looking For: 90% or higher, or some great recommendations
Random Prediction: This will be worse, not better, than Prometheus
I still haven't seen The Martian, the only movie Scott's directed in years that's actually supposed to be good, but I understand it proves he's still capable of producing quality work. That's reason to hold out a little hope, but the rest of Scott's filmography post 1991 is less promising.
The trailers don't fill me with confidence, either. Sure, the visuals look fine, but that's never been a problem for Scott. It's the premise that's leaving me underwhelmed.
First, it looks like his takeaway from Prometheus was that he needed to make the next one more like Alien. Which is fine, except we've already got Alien. We need something new. But the larger issue is how it resembles the last installment. I don't mind Fassbender's android - I'm fine seeing him make another appearance - but I'm less excited by the Garden of Eden metaphor and the fact Scott seems to have decided his xenomorphs need to have permeated every significant moment in humanity's future.
I think he's missing the point of Alien. They're not supposed to be a dark manifestation of our souls: they're supposed to be completely and utterly ALIEN. Come on - it's the name of the damn franchise for a reason.
I'm fine with incorporating Judeo-Christian mythology into SF horror (actually, that can be awesome). But the core of Alien is built around Lovecraft, not the Bible. Scott would do well to remember that.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
Projected Tomatometer: 41%
What I'm Looking For: 80% or some reason to believe this franchise returned to the quality of the first movie
Random Prediction: This will make less money than any other movie in the franchise
I never did get around to seeing On Stranger Tides, and honestly, I'm not sure I care. Given that I love the original, that's kind of sad. This franchise has fallen faster than my opinion of its star.
The projection this time is actually based on REAL NUMBERS. Check it out:
Mathematically, it appears that the critical consensus of the Pirates franchise has been decreasing towards a limit of approximately 40%. Unless, of course, this is parabolic, in which case it should eventually recover. Or if the trend has no meaningful predictive value, since a sequence of non-causal events forming a pattern is ultimately meaningless (spoiler alert - it's that one).
Still, I've got nothing better, so I'm sticking with the chart. Besides, the fact that this movie has three listed directors and none are experienced suggests even this guess could be generous.
Projected Tomatometer: 40%
What I'm Looking For: 90%
Random Prediction: This movie will have at least 2 sequels. Vin Diesel will appear in at least one of them.
Dwayne Johnson has presence. As far as I can tell, he's a solid comedic actor capable of good work. And if you've ever seen an interview with the guy, you know he's just all kinds of awesome. Like most people, I find myself rooting for him.
Unfortunately, his live-action filmography has been less than stellar. Less than lunar, actually. Street lights may be a stretch.
He just doesn't seem to pick the best projects (exempting Moana - that movie ruled). And before you get too hopeful this might be the movie that turns his career around, check out the director's background.
Seth Gordon's done some documentary and TV work that's decent, but his highest rated movie is Horrible Bosses, at 68%. His other two don't break 45%. Combined.
But maybe this one is different. The trailers were certainly more fun than they had any right to be.
Maybe. But one of the director's past projects was Four Christmases, a movie I sat through for Mainlining Christmas. And I don't do second chances.
Projected Tomatometer: Not a clue
What I'm Looking For: I'll see it unless I hear they completely failed the character
Random Prediction: This will make more money on its opening weekend than the upcoming Justice League movie
I am standing with my back turned at the edge of the table. My arms are crossed over my chest, and my eyes are closed. There are numerous bruises and scrapes across my back from the last times I fell. And I ask, pleading, "You're going to catch me, right? RIGHT?"
"Huh?" I hear the Warner Bros producers say. "Oh, yeah. Yeah, we totally got you this time, bro. No worries."
As I start leaning back and cross the point of no return I hear a sound, but I can't tell if it's them bracing to catch my weight or if they're snickering.
So. Here we are again.
It took DC about a decade longer than it should have to start working on a shared movie universe, and when they finally released an attempt... it was awful. God awful, in fact.
I say this as someone who likes Man of Steel. Hell, I even like Suicide Squad! But Batman v Superman was one of the worst superhero movies I've ever seen. Its one saving grace was Diana Prince - Wonder Woman, who clearly was in a better film than literally everyone else present.
So we should be excited, right? RIGHT? Because, after waiting ten years too long to work in a shared universe and - I don't even know how to calculate this - twenty? thirty? years too long to give one of comics' three most iconic characters her own movie, they couldn't possibly screw this up, could they?
Of course, they could. This is Warner Bros, the current poster child for screwing up franchises. But they did overhaul their DC team after Batman v Superman. And you can't fault their choice of directors. Plus, the trailers look pretty cool. So...
This is Patty Jenkins v Warner Bros. If she wins, we could be looking at a score in the 80's or 90's. If the studio manages to push her into making the movie they want, we'll be lucky to see something in the 40's.
Projected Tomatometer: 60%
What I'm Looking For: 85% and assurance the movie isn't as boring as its trailer
Random Prediction: Tom Cruise's character becomes a Mummy, and he'll be joining the Universal Monster Shared Universe in that capacity
Tough one to call. The Mummy's trailer is difficult to sit through - it's not a good sign they couldn't find more engaging footage than that. Likewise, the fact Alex Kurtzman ended up in the director's chair doesn't fill me with confidence.
However, the movie boasts a pair of promising writers, so I wouldn't be entirely surprised if it winds up including some major twists. The decision to build a shared monster-verse intrigues me, as well - keep in mind, Universal has been doing crossovers almost as long as Marvel's been making comics: theirs is the original shared cinematic universe. I'd be interested in seeing that relaunched well.
That said, I'm not convinced this is going to deliver on that promise. Everything about this screams "cash grab." Still, here's hoping for the best.
Projected Tomatometer: 74%
What I'm Looking For: 90% or higher, or some assurance the movie is at least interesting
Random Prediction: Good or bad, this will be the last Cars movie. Dear God, let this be last Cars movie. Unless they want to do one that verifies the fan theory this is all set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland populated by the descendants of the machines that wiped out the human race.
The Tomatometer projection is based on the first movie's score: the trailer - along with the released plot synopsis - implies this is more in the mold of part one than part 2. Pity - I think I'd actually prefer to watch Finn McMissile execute more enemy agents. Oh well, he'll probably get a cameo or something.
It looks like this is going to be somewhat darker than part one, based on Disney's dramatic teaser. When I first saw that, I was hoping they were going to have McQueen retire to train the next generation of race cars - sort of step into Doc Hudson's shoes... er... tires?
But it looks like this is going to be another story of him building himself back up again. Whatever: maybe they'll do something interesting. Pixar's been known to pull off miracles before.
My best guess, though, is it'll be a slightly darker rehash of part one punctuated with some lesson about... something. I figure that'll be good for another low-to-mid-seventies rating.
Transformers: The Last Knight
Projected Tomatometer: 18%
What I'm Looking For: You know what? If Michael Bay pulls a score of 60%, I will go see this in the theater. Swear to Primus.
Random Prediction: I will not see this in a theater.
There aren't a lot of people who still defend the first movie, but I'll step up. It was deeply flawed and the designs weren't what I'd have liked, but it was stupid fun. And the opportunity to see a big screen adaptation of the show, complete with Peter Cullen reprising Prime, was enjoyable enough.
But it was all downhill from there. I've see every one of these, but only bothered to watch the first two in the theater. If you want to know why that was a wise choice, just read a few reviews of the later installments.
I'm assuming this will be about on par with Age of Extinction, the last entry in the series. But, given Bay's generally been getting worse reviews over time, that may actually be a generous assessment.
Projected Tomatometer: Currently at 100% (guessing it'll drop to around 90%)
What I'm Looking For: 90% should warrant a trip to the theater
Random Prediction: Best movie of the summer
The vast majority of movies in this list are ones I've been aware of for a year or more. But, every once in a while, something slips through the cracks and I discover the trailer looking for things to include.
This is one of those. I clicked through because it's directed by Edgar Wright. The trailer has an irresistible energy to it, and the cast looks great. I was pretty much sold before swinging by Rotten Tomatoes in the off chance it had already opened at a festival.
...Which it has. 21 critics have weighed in, and every last one of them gave it a pass. Skim the summaries and you get the impression these aren't tepid endorsements, either.
Okay. Let's ground these expectations a bit.
Wright's done some great work, and I haven't seen a single movie he's made that was awful, but he's done a few I thought were mixed. As for that 100%, it's not uncommon for movies to play well to the first round of critics, only to falter when more see it. There's a chance this isn't going to be as good as it looks.
But there's a chance it will be. This is the guy who made Shaun of the Dead, after all.
Projected Tomatometer: 88%
What I'm Looking For: Basically anything north of 20%. Hell, I'll probably still see it if it's lower.
Random Prediction: This will break Marvel's timeline.
I'm extremely excited for this one. Spider-Man was one of the nine hundred and fourteen best elements of Captain America: Civil War, which is pretty high praise (damn, I love that movie). After his introduction, everyone's expecting a lot from this, which does mean there's room for disappointment. But I can't help it: the trailer was great, the casting was inspired, and Vulture looks awesome.
There's no real science to that score - mostly, I'm just assuming Marvel and Sony put in the effort and got this one right. Besides, critics tend to be kind to the webslinger, provided his movie doesn't suck (looking at you, Spider-Man 3 / Amazing Spider-Man 2).
But I really don't think they'd have made those mistakes again. Everything I've seen looks good - I'm betting this will be one of the summer's standout blockbusters.
War for the Planet of the Apes
Projected Tomatometer: 80%
What I'm Looking For: 70% or higher
Random Prediction: Andy Serkis will, once again, be snubbed at the Oscars.
I'm being cautious with that prediction - Dawn scored a solid 90% with the same director. But I suspect critics will be a little stricter this time around: if the movie isn't appreciably better, they'll likely rate it lower. And, honestly, I'm not convinced this franchise could get much better. That's not a slight against the premise; it's a compliment to the last installment. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was absolutely fantastic.
Whether it's better or not, I'm really looking forward to this. I'm a fan for talking apes in almost any capacity (there was a time a younger, naive version of me spoke favorably of Tim Burton's botched attempt).
I was shocked when Rise came out and was actually good, and even more so when Dawn exceeded it. I'd love to be surprised a third time, but I'm not getting my hopes up quite that high: like I said, Dawn sets a really high bar.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
Projected Tomatometer: 35%
What I'm Looking For: Forget the average - I'll be looking for a handful of glowing recommendations.
Random Prediction: The first two-thirds will be fun, then it will fall apart in the third act.
Luc Besson's filmography looks like a scattershot of random scores, and as often as not I think the critics are nuts. I remember really enjoying The Messenger (30%), while I found The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec (83%) more than a little disappointing (though still enjoyable).
I'm not turning to his past for my prediction: rather, I'm looking at the brutally unfair 26% slapped on the Wachowski sisters' fascinating SF romance, Jupiter Ascending. Granted, that was a flawed film, but what a ride.
The trailers for Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets remind me of that, even more than they remind me of The Fifth Element. The unbridled, unapologetic SF/fantasy on display is just beautiful. I'm hoping this delivers a similar degree of weird-ass excitement.
I'm sure I'll go see it if it's critically acclaimed, but a low score - even if it's below 20% - won't be a deal breaker. What I'll really be looking for are critics, even if they're a small minority, who just love the hell out of this film. We saw that with Jupiter Ascending, Speed Racer, Chronicles of Riddick, and Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters - all wonderful films that deviated from the norm.
That's what I'm hoping for with this one, something weird and imaginative.
The Dark Tower
Projected Tomatometer: 60%
What I'm Looking For: A trailer, for starters. 60% if visually interesting; 90% if not
Random Prediction: This gets moved to a later date
Annual release schedule's a wheel, do ya ken? Summer comes round, and with it the movies. But there's other plans than this, and other times this might be released.
Sorry. I'll stop now.
The Dark Tower is a massive story with a lot of potential for adaptation. Only if the rumors are true, this isn't technically an adaptation, but instead a continuation of the story from the books. Well, it's sort of both, but... if you've read the books, just know that Roland's supposedly carrying the Horn of Eld at the start of the movie.
So, that's cool.
Also, Elba is a damned good pick for Roland, and the movie poster looks like unofficial fan art. No, no - that's good, too. Fan art is almost always better than the cookie-cutter Hollywood posters getting churned out.
What has me a little concerned is the budget - $60 million is certainly nothing to sneeze at, but it's going to limit just how much they can squeeze in. This is Steven King's epic - I'd love to see it budgeted accordingly.
We've yet to see a trailer, which has me a little skeptical this is going to materialize this summer. I half expect it will get pulled at the last minute and released in the fall or next spring. But that's just a guess, as is the projected Tomatometer and my own expectations - until we get a trailer, I honestly have no idea what to think.
Projected Tomatometer: Currently at 71%
What I'm Looking For: Good recommendations from people with similar opinions
Random Prediction: This will be way better than Spectre
Okay, that Spectre jab was a low blow, but what's 007 going to do about it? Let me torture him, stop me from destroying London, then NOT KILL ME because after more than 50 years of making movies he suddenly decides that killing is wrong?
Basically, Bond's era is over. Oh, I'm sure there'll be more movies, but after the tedious mess that was Spectre, I honestly don't think I care.
The trailer for Atomic Blonde, on the other hand, I love - it's everything a James Bond movie should be and isn't: a period film, unafraid to be violent, stylish, and starring Charlize Theron, who is arguably the most promising star in Hollywood.
Okay, okay. I probably misstated that last part. Theron is unarguably the most promising star in Hollywood.
There. That checks out.
The only thing that has me a little worried are the reviews. They're certainly not bad, but they're not as glowingly positive as I'd expect after watching the trailer. Worse, they imply the movie is too slow, save for a handful of cool sequences. It's not hard to wonder if those sequences might comprise the trailer.
Let's hope that's not the case. Theron deserves a major franchise, and the world deserves a decent set of spy movies.
Huh. I guess that's it.
To be fair, August is still something of an unknown. My guess is several big movies will get dropped in that month that either haven't been announced or aren't things I recognize. Something called "The Hitman's Bodyguard" is opening on August the 18th - it's labeled action/comedy and includes some big names. But I don't see a trailer, so I have no clue if it's worth including.
I'm also being a little more selective in what I discuss. I've omitted Captain Underpants and The Nut Job 2. In the past, I've included most animated features in the off chance they turned out to be relevant... but that hardly ever happens unexpectedly.
But overall... not a lot compared with prior years. I think we're seeing the aftereffects of a year-round blockbuster season, along with studios cutting back on things like Tarzan and the BFG. That's probably for the best.
Here's the final breakdown for how I expect my summer to look:
Movies I will Almost Certainly See, Good or Bad:
Guardians of the Galaxy
Movie's I'm Anticipating Seeing, but I'll Lose Interest if the Reviews are Poor:
War for the Planet of the Apes
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
The Dark Tower
King Arthur Legend of the Sword
As for everything else, I really doubt I'll bother.