For moviegoers and moviemakers, it’s been a year that defied predictions | The Star
All movie years have hits and misses, most of which are usually spotted in advance by critics, pundits and other industry know-it-alls.
But 2018 has been a particularly strange one. Many of the hits have been surprises, and ditto for the misses. Few critics predicted that Solo: A Star Wars Story would bomb at the box office while the problem-plagued Bohemian Rhapsody and the critically reviled Venom would soar.
Letitia Wright in Black Panther, one of the biggest hits of 2018. (Marvel Studios-Walt Disney)
As we head into the final weeks of the year, and with most of the big releases having already been seen thanks to TIFF and other festivals, here are a few early takeaways on an odd annum:
1. Disney is both winner and loser
The Mouse House and its subsidiaries have the three top movies of the year in box-office terms: Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War and Incredibles 2.
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Disney execs and their creative teams must be feeling pleased, but also a little disoriented. They’re also responsible for three of the year’s biggest duds, critically and financially: A Wrinkle in Time, Solo: A Star Wars Story and The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, none of which lived up to grand expectations.
Is there a lesson to be learned here, apart from the clichéd observation that you win some, you lose some? Maybe there is in the case of Solo, which proved to be a clear message that it is possible to have too many Star Wars movies. We should probably consider the on-again, off-again spinoff movie about Boba Fett, the mysterious Star Wars bounty hunter, to be well and truly dead, or at least encased in carbonite.
2. Franchise revivals work, except when they don’t
Everybody figured that a Halloween rematch between Jamie Lee Curtis’s scrappy babysitter character Laurie Strode and serial slasher Michael Myers would probably do at least okay business, since the fan base is loyal. The film was well received at its Midnight Madness world premiere at TIFF 2018.
But few people bet on it blowing the haunted house doors off. David Gordon Green’s Halloween opened to $77.5 million in the U.S. and Canada last month, making it the second-biggest horror movie opening ever — and the biggest ever with a female lead. It’s also the most successful film in the Halloween franchise, dating back to the 1978 John Carpenter original of the same name.
Meanwhile, Shane Black’s rekindling of The Predator crash-landed a few weeks earlier, despite a similarly loyal fandom and an enthusiastic Midnight Madness bow at TIFF. Among its many deficits was the MIA status of original Predator star Arnold Schwarzenegger. Could star allure (or the lack thereof) have accounted for the disparity of success between Halloween and The Predator? Sure seems that way.
3. Music movies can find an audience
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It’s often said in the movie biz that the music biz is tough to transfer to the screen. Musical biopics often tend to draw just the fans of the musicians the story is about. But recent weeks have seen Bradley Cooper’s A Star is Born and Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody earn stellar box office, drawing in many people who aren’t necessarily fans of the former’s Lady Gaga and the latter’s Queen/Freddie Mercury.
Bohemian Rhapsody’s success is all the more surprising, since the film had been dogged with problems: original lead Sacha Baron Cohen left over creative differences and director Singer was bounced late in the game due to an ongoing sex scandal.
These films are doing great business and pleasing fans old and new — just try to not sing along when “Bohemian Rhapsody” comes on your car radio — and you can bet that Hollywood is starting to dust off some long-shelved musical biopics.
4. A good film works with any colour
The racist Hollywood delusion that only a predominately Caucasian cast could do blockbuster business at home and abroad was finally shattered this year. Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther took an almost all-Black cast to new box-office and critical highs, doing so well that it’s now a hot Oscars prospect, from Best Picture on down.
John M. Chu’s Crazy Rich Asians did crazy business with an all-Asian cast, an absolute rarity at North American multiplexes. It created an instant film franchise out of the novels by author Kevin Kwan — expect the inevitable sequels China Rich Girlfriend and Rich People Problems — while also reviving the big-screen romantic comedy, a genre that has become an endangered species as most rom-coms gravitate to Netflix and other streamers.
5. Critics are stupid
Yeah, I know you’re thinking this, so we might as well just say it. Sometimes we know-it-alls really know nothing. But it certainly keeps the job interesting.
Peter Howell is the Star’s movie critic based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @peterhowellfilm