Underdogs in summer movies include originality, opportunity


New York (AP) – Hollywood’s summer, which kicks off with the fittingly combative “Captain America: Civil War,” will be a season of struggle: for box office, for originality and for opportunity.

More than ever, the big tent of summer moviegoing is held up by a forest of tentpoles stretching from May to August.  The swelling size of the summer movie has turned the season into a game of survival.  The possibility of bombing lurks as an ever-present threat, testosterone often dominates in front of and (especially) behind the camera, and few non-sequel, non-reboot films dare to compete.

Box office and stress levels run high in equal measure.

Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter (left) and Mia Wasikowska as Alice are shown in a scene from “Alice Through the Looking Glass”. (Peter Mountain/Disney via AP)

“It’s a different landscape than 2002 when the first ‘Bourne’ movie came out,” says Matt Damon, who returns to the franchise in Paul Greengrass’ “Jason Bourne”.  “It’s like a high-stakes poker game that I don’t want to be in.  The swings are just so brutal.

This season is particularly risk-adverse.  Out of the 33 films coming from the major studios, only 12 aren’t a sequel, reboot or based on an already popular property, such as a videogame or best-seller.  Take comedy and horror out of the equation and you’re left with just a handful of originals.  One of them is Jodie Foster’s “Money Monster”, a thriller about a brash financial news pundit taken hostage on the air, starring George Clooney and Julia Roberts.

Matt Damon appears in a scene from “Jason Bourne”. (Jasin Boland/Universal Pictures via AP)

Foster’s film is doubly rare.  She’s one of only two female filmmakers helming major studio releases this summer.  Though equality remains a year-round issue for the movie business, the constricted summer months can reveal Hollywood at its most retrograde.

Paul Feig’s “Ghostbusters” reboot was met by a backlash from some corners of the Internet that took offense to a new, female-led version starring four of the funniest comedic performers around: Melissa McCarthy, Kristin Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones.  With that lineup, Feig relishes heading into “the big guns of summer.”

“To put out a movie like this in the heart of tentpole season when it’s all these big movies out there, I find it very exciting because a lot of these movies are very male driven, even though they have some great female characters in them,” Feig says.

This summer includes a number of anticipated sequels (“Finding Dory,” ‘’Star Trek Beyond,” ‘’Alice Through the Looking Glass”), the expected superhero films (“Civil War,” ‘’Suicide Squad,” ‘’X-Men: Apocalypse”) and some less likely resurrections (“The Legend of Tarzan,” ‘’Ben-Hur,” ‘’Independence Day: Resurgence”).

Recent history is clear: These will be among the summer’s biggest hits.  Last summer, seven of the top 10 movies were remakes, sequels or came from a comic book.  Ditto for four of the top five movies so far in 2016.

One of the fathers of the summer movie season, Steven Spielberg, will also be in the mix with “The BFG”, his Roald Dahl adaptation that reteams the director with Mark Rylance.  The recent Oscar-winner plays the titular giant in a motion capture performance.

“The exciting thing about ‘The BFG’ is the combination of Roald Dahl, who’s just a superb storyteller, with Steven and (late screenwriter) Melissa Mathison,” says Rylance.  “It took five years to get made because of course initially many studios said: ‘Giants eating kids?  I don’t think so!’  That edge of Roald Dahl, that frightening edge, I hope is still in there.  There’s a kind of marvelous, frightening aspect to the fantasy as there is in the Tolkien books or the Grimm fairy tales that children can handle.”

Family audiences also will be especially sought after by the likes of “The Secret Life of Pets,” ‘’Ice Age: Collision Course” and “Pete’s Dragon.”