News Column

Adventures in Barryood: The biggest winners of summer

September 3, 2013

YellowBrix

Shirley MacLaine may have a point.

The Oscar-winning actress once lectured me sternly while I sat in stunned silence in the living room of her Malibu home. I don't remember the line of questioning that irked her so much, but she chided me at length about my negativity.

And this was long before last week's list of the 10 biggest losers of the summer movie season.

But I want to prove to the actress that I am a partially changed man. I can go with the positive flow _ it just takes a week longer than coming up with a bunch of losers.

This summer movie season was unlike any other summer movie season. Never before have so many studios spent so much money to attract so few ticket buyers.

But it wasn't all bad. Are you listening, Shirley? There was plenty to cheer about this summer, particularly if you didn't waste money on "The Hangover Part III." It was a delightful summer if you didn't follow Ryan Reynolds into a movie theater or ride the trail with Johnny Depp's Tonto or download Ashton Kutcher's biopic on Apple founder Steve Jobs.

Come on, people. Stop being so negative. Let's celebrate the winners of summer.

1. Michael B. Jordan and "Fruitvale Station" _ The summer's most talked-about and thought-provoking film almost didn't make it to most theaters. The studio behind this real-life story of the last day in the life of 22-year-old Oscar Grant III, who was shot to death by a transit cop on a Bay Area train platform, planned to release the film in urban areas only. But the movie and its star (Jordan) got so much Academy Awards buzz, and made so much money, that it was expanded into suburban areas.

2. "The Conjuring" _ One of the scariest movies in years was made on a paltry $20 million budget (paltry by Hollywood standards) and has collected more than $130 million at the box office, which is huge for horror movies that do not have a chainsaw in them.

3. Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy _ There seems to be this media-fueled belief that the female cop buddy movie "The Heat" didn't do well, but the reality is that it has almost quadrupled its $43 million price tag. Perhaps the Hollywood boys club is spreading rumors?

4. "Now You See Me" _ Magic movies never make money. Nobody likes magic movies. Why bother making a magic movie? But this movie about a gang of young illusionists who steal from the rich crossed the magical $100 million mark at the office, and the doubts about magic movies simply disappeared.

5. Kevin Hart _ The stand-up comic spent his own money (rumored to be in the $3 million neighborhood) to film a sold-out performance at Madison Square Garden from his 2012 "Let Me Explain" concert tour. The movie has made $32 million. You do the math. No, let Kevin's accountant to the math.

6. "The Purge" _ This silly movie was budgeted at $3 million, and has made $64 million. How did your retirement fund do this summer?

7. Justin Lin _ Orange County's pride and joy directed the sixth "Fast & Furious" movie, which made enough money to put a muscle car in every garage.

8. Oprah _ The talk-show queen put her reputation on the line with a promotional blitzkrieg surrounding her film "Lee Daniels' The Butler." It turns out that the butler wasn't the only one who did it.

9. Robert Downey Jr. _ The "Iron Man" franchise is a license for this actor to print money. The third one has made more than $400 million in this country alone.

10. Adam Sandler _ Nobody wanted Sandler to appear on last week's list of summer losers more than I, but the stupid sequel to the stupid "Grown Ups" movie actually made some serious cash. Of course, someone needs to explain to me how the sequel could have cost $80 million to make. I assume Sandler paid himself and his buddies way too much money to inflate the budget. They certainly didn't spend it at Industrial Light & Magic. Regardless, the movie made almost $130 million, so I have no choice but to tip my hat to the enduring popularity of Sandler's juvenile brand of humor. My greatest regret is that he dragged Salma Hayak's reputation down with him. She played his wife for what I can only assume was a great deal of money.

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HONORABLE MENTION:

10a. "We're the Millers" _ What could be easier than to predict failure for a movie comedy starring Jason Sudeikis and Jennifer Aniston? He's another in a long line of faceless "Saturday Night Live" alums who disappear in the glare of Hollywood, and she's got the worst track record in film. Well, "We're the Millers" has been an unexpected success, proving that the great screenwriter William Goldman was right when he declared that "Nobody knows anything." Apparently, I know less than most.

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Barry Koltnow: bkoltnow@ocregister.com

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(c)2013 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.)

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