Late August is usually the time when Hollywood takes a break from the summer blockbuster bombardment and begins preening up for the fall award season. But this past weekend proved to be an exhilarating time. Box-office sales in the U.S. reached a record $4 billion, surpassing the industry’s previous record set in 2004.
And with its current fascination with three-quels, this summer blockbuster season could be best described as 2004: Redux. Spiderman, Shrek and Jason Bourne continued to rake in hundreds of millions of dollars with the blockbuster franchises they solidified three years ago. This record-breaking summer is just an ode to the summer of 2004, when American audiences learned that a sequel could be just as good (if not better) than the original.
Unfortunately, that tradition did not continue in 2007. Even though it is the highest grossing film of 2007 thus far with $336 million in its web, Spiderman 3 failed to capture the critical approval that the 2004 sequel did (it received an average of 60 on Metacritic.com whereas the previous installment was the franchise’s highest scoring film with 83).
But who is really surprised that Spiderman 3 made bank regardless of its cinematic quality? The hero of the season, the real life Peter Parker, is Judd Apatow for revenging the nerds in 2007. Apatow wrote and directed Knocked Up and produced Superbad, two of the most notable and profitable films of the season. Knocked Up has grossed over $147 million and Superbad has grossed over $68 million in its first ten days of release.
Both of the films follow in The 40 Year Old Virgin tradition–crude but with a heart–and have been embraced by audiences and critics alike, giving them the legs to compete with the robots, the pirates and the wizards of typical blockbuster fare.
The movie industry could not have made it to the $4 billion mark if it weren’t for the fan-fueled, underdog hits. If the studios had relied on their usual big guns, no brains, Michael Bay summer fodder, they might have faced the third consecutive year of box-office slump (even more so if you take into account the 30 cent increase in average movie ticket price).
Apatow’s films prove that when ticket sales are down and Hollywood is panicking about the death of the movie stadium experience, all it takes is a little bit of originality to save the summer.
Nice guys may finish last but with the biggest laugh. This summer, it paid to be friends with Apatow.