Best of the Best: Summer Boxoffice
EmptyStudio distribution executives should be forgiven if they desperately need manicures. Nail-biting was far too common this summer, as a star-driven films with everyone from Will Ferrell to Denzel Washington to Jack Black failed to pack multiplexes. Instead, as summer 2009 winds down, many improbable boxoffice heroes have emerged, from a middle-aged prestige actress (Meryl Streep) to a trio of previously under-the-radar actors (the "Hangover" guys). Along with the usual lineup of proven franchises ("Transformers," "Harry Potter," "Ice Age"), this summer's Best of the Best reflects the new boxoffice reality: hits can come from anywhere, and nothing is a sure thing.
-- Matthew Belloni
Director: Michael Bay
If 2009 goes into the history books as the summer when critics stopped mattering, Bay's "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" will be Exhibit A. The Rotten Tomato-meter might be a chilly 20% but as the $825 million-and-counting worldwide haul proves, Bay is as close to a boxoffice sure-thing as any director working today. With his next project not yet revealed and Paramount/DreamWorks clamoring for a third round of Autobots, Bay continues his lucrative side gig producing reliable horror remakes ("The Unborn," "Friday the 13th"). He might not have Christopher Nolan's artistic ambition, Steven Spielberg's industry clout or J.J. Abrams' geek cred, but dammit, his megaphone is far bigger than theirs.
Writers: Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci
Got an old toy or TV show you need refurbished? Kurtzman and Orci can polish them into a shiny new film franchise. This summer the writer-producer pair had three blockbusters in theaters in two months ("Star Trek," "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" and "The Proposal," which they produced). Together the films grossed more than $1.4 billion worldwide. Now the new DreamWorks is counting on the duo to provide the backbone of the studio's summers for years to come, with the untitled View-Master project, "Atlantis Rising," "Deep Sea Cowboy" and "Cowboys and Aliens" resting in K/O's capable, tinkering hands.
Actors: The men of "The Hangover"
Producer: David Heyman
It's easy to consider the global success of the "Harry Potter" films as something of a given. After all, the J.K. Rowling book series was phenomenally popular before the first film debuted in 2001. But credit must go to London-based Heyman for making the shrewd production choices that have come to define the most lucrative series in Warner Bros.' history. Things like changing directors, filling out the cast with a who's-who of British acting royalty, and allowing a darker tone as the characters have matured. The result: Potter and pals have grown smoothly into what might have been awkward teenage years, and the sixth film in the series, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," has grossed more than $860 million worldwide.
Hot horror: "Drag Me to Hell"
Drag Me to Hell
Little indie that could: "The Hurt Locker"
The Hurt Locker
Executive: Ryan Kavanaugh
Most producer-financiers would be happy with one film per summer. Kavanaugh's Relativity Media helped fund half a dozen of this year's warm-weather releases: Universal's "Funny People," "Bruno," "Land of the Lost" and "Public Enemies"; Sony's "The Taking of Pelham 123" and "The Ugly Truth" (plus Relativity's Universal-distributed horror thriller "A Perfect Getaway"). None saw sizzling grosses but win or lose, Relativity has done its job once the film is in the can. "I'd like to think we're more than some people who just write a check for the studio," Kavanaugh says. "Every step of the way the studios do treat us like partners. But at the end of the day, it is the studio's marketing and distribution machine." In most cases, Relativity and its backers hold a 50% stake in films it finances. "Fifty% would be our norm, but we certainly take more and also take less," Kavanaugh adds.
Actress: Meryl Streep
Meryl Streep in Julie & Julia
Animation gurus (international): Carlos Saldanha and Mike Thurmeier
A shade shy of $200 million in domestic gross is nothing for "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs" to be ashamed of. But when compared with the astounding $600 million the threequel has grossed internationally, it's a downright paltry sum. The secret to the film's global appeal? "I have all these theories but I don't really know," says Saldanha, the Brazil native who directed with co-director Thurmeier at Fox's Blue Sky Studios in Connecticut. Family-friendly themes and cute dinosaurs helped, but casting well-known voices in each territory was key. "Locally, people identify with the voices. It's a big factor."
Animation gurus (domestic): Pete Docter
Effects mavens: Dan Deleeuw and Ellen Somers
Deleeuw was in-house at VFX house Rhythm & Hues for 2006's "Night at the Museum," seamlessly integrating angry dinosaurs with Ben Stiller. "He so impressed me on the first movie that I made him a visual effects supervisor on the sequel," director Shawn Levy says. That meant Deleeuw (and VFX producer Somers) were charged with upping the ante on this summer's "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian," which ended up grossing just shy of $400 million worldwide. Deleeuw began mapping out effects sequences even before the script was locked. "He made it his business to get inside my head," Levy jokes.
-- Profiles reported and written by Matthew Belloni, Taylor Callobre, Carl DiOrio, Jay Fernandez and Borys Kit.