Among the more promising trends of the summer was the flooding of R-rated comedies into the marketplace. Bridesmaids got most of the press, for reasons I'll get to later, but we had a nearly non-stop deluge of such fare. I've speculated that R-rated comedies are more logical in today's marketplace, both because comedies are cheaper than comic book action films and because the verbal vulgarity can theoretically be altered depending on national standards in a given overseas market. Bridesmaids was the first, best, and second-highest grossing of this list, opening with $26 million and ending up with a whopping $168 million domestic and $281 million (thus far) worldwide. Domestically, that made it the biggest-grossing Judd Apatow-related film ever, the tenth-biggest grosser to never be number 01 at the weekend box office, the seventeenth-biggest R-rated grosser of all-time, and the seventh-biggest R-rated comedy of all-time.
The biggest-grossing of the pack was of course The Hangover part II. We critics carped about the bland rehash of the first film, but audiences apparently just wanted more of the same. Following a $137 million five-day debut, the film ended up with $254 million domestic and $581 million worldwide. That's about $120 million more than the first one worldwide but (to the extent that it matters) $23 million less than The Hangover domestically. It ended its run (domestically) as the fourth-biggest R-rated film ever and the second-highest R-rated comedy of all-time. It also, in just two films, became the second-biggest R-rated franchise of all-time, behind only The Matrix trilogy. The other R-rated comedies of note varied in quality and box office success, but there were enough of them that did well to likely continue this trend. Horrible Bosses ended up with $115 million thanks to an appealing concept and a group of 'weak alone but strong together' stars (Jason Bateman, Jennifer Aniston, Kevin Spacey, Colin Farrell, etc). Bad Teacher proved that in the right concept, the movie star is alive and well, as Cameron Diaz powered this one to nearly $100 million (it may yet get there) all-by herself.
I'd argue that Iron Man's success was a fluke, a perfect storm of the right star, a stellar marketing campaign, the all-powerful summer kick-off date, and a certain real-world plausibility that was appealing to more than just the comic fans. The numbers posted by Thor and Captain America should be treated as 'the new normal' and comic book films should be budgeted accordingly. X-Men: First Class was arguably the best in the franchise, but it still did the usual 'X-Men crash' after its comparatively low $54 million opening weekend. Lesson - Wolverine is a BIG part of why casual audiences like the X-Men universe. Still, with $146 million domestic and $350 million worldwide, Fox earns credit for rolling the dice and reviving yet-another imperiled franchise. The notoriously micromanaging 20th Century Fox seems to have turned over a new leaf post-Avatar and their seemingly hands-off approach allowed Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goodman to craft one of the best comic book films in history.
Cowboys and Aliens was an unknown property which starred Daniel Craig, who aside from his two 007 films is relatively hit-less. The film looked bad, it WAS bad (lifeless, dull, without any sense of purpose or relevancy), and there was no reason the film should have cost $160 million. At $90 million, the Jon Favreau sci-fi/western mash-up would have been a disappointment with $150 million worldwide thus far. But at $160 million, it was yet-another disaster for Universal, the one studio that's made a genuine effort to try out somewhat original properties and concepts (although the $209 million domestic/$606 million worldwide gross of the shockingly good Fast Five smoothed helped things over). Cowboys and Aliens was merely a vicious blow to Jon Favreau, but Green Lantern may have threatened the entire DC Comics franchise, which was to take the place of the Harry Potter saga as Warner Bros's main tentpole cash-cow. And Ryan Reynolds unfairly went down with the ship, ripped apart by the media because his first real box office test opened with 'just' $53 million (because Ryan Gosling as Hal Jordan would have certainly opened with $75 million, right?). The blame for Green Lantern's failure lies with the movie itself. Even as someone who kinda liked it, it just wasn't expansive enough to justify its cost, or different enough to separate it from its genre in a time when the best comic book adaptations where genre films (crime dramas, 60s spy capers, 40s World War II adventures, etc) first and comic book movies second. And I still believe in Martin Campbell, but it's probably best if he stays away from green screens for the near future.
The two big animated films slightly disappointed domestically but caught fire overseas. Cars 2 may be the first Pixar film to not reach $200 million since 1998, but it's powering towards $550 million worldwide. Kunf Fu Panda 2 (my favorite film of the year... you read that right!) was written off as a domestic disappointment to the point where Dreamworks stock dropped after its opening weekend. But while the film 'only' grossed $165 million domestically, it has earned a mammoth $650 million worldwide, more than any other Dreamworks cartoon other than the three Shrek sequels and more than any Disney/Pixar cartoon other than Toy Story 3, Finding Nemo, The Lion King, and Up. Toss in the last two Ice Age movies, and Kung Fu Panda 2 is the tenth-biggest animated film of all-time worldwide, and it will soon surpass Ice Age: The Meltdown's $655 million to become ninth. Some flop...
Note - for The Moments That Mattered and The Summer of 3D, click accordingly.