The movie box office receipts for 2012 are looking good so far.
Unless you subtract the phenomenal performance of one movie.
We’re talking about “The Avengers,” of course, which finally was knocked off its No. 1 perch last weekend by “Men in Black III” after a record-shattering three-week run.
While domestic box office receipts for the summer season are up 18 percent over last year so far, and the year overall is up 13 percent, “The Avengers” accounts for the bulk of the increase.
In just three weeks, the movie featuring seven Marvel Comics heroes had hauled in a whopping $1.305 billion globally. That ranks it fourth on the all-time global box office list behind “Avatar,” $2.78 billion; “Titanic, $2.18 billion; and “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2,” $1.328 billion.
Harry soon will be bumped to No. 4.
“The Avengers” also is fourth on the all-time list of domestic (North American) hits, with $523 million in receipts. Ahead of it are “Avatar” at $760.5 million; “Titanic,” at $658.5 million; and “The Dark Knight,” at $533 million. Once again, it’s a safe bet “The Avengers” will rise to at least No. 3 before it’s done playing in first-run theaters.
Put in historical perspective by adjusting for inflation, “The Avengers” currently ranks a mere 43rd as a domestic box office hit. The top five, according to Box Office Mojo, which keeps meticulous track of these things, are “Gone With the Wind,” “Star Wars,” “The Sound of Music,” “E.T.” and “Titanic.”
Without “The Avengers,” this year’s box office tally so far would be just slightly ahead of last year, which had the lowest attendance since 1995.
Now, here’s asking for trouble. Without exception, I would rank every other movie named so far in this column above “The Avengers” in substance, story and repeat watchability.
My prediction: When it comes to all-time-greats, “The Avengers” won’t show up on the lists of future movie historians — other than as a box office marvel.
Nobody’s talking Oscar nominations, beyond the technical categories.
More disappointing is the thought that “The Avengers” is a much better movie than the next five summer box office finishers so far.
“Dark Shadows,” at $64.9 million domestic, was fun only because of Johnny Depp’s campy performance and some artfully composed images.
“Battleship,” at $47.3 million, sank almost before it sailed. Even fans of digital spectacle didn’t think much of this movie based on a board game.
“The Dictator,” at $43.6 million, is a movie I have no desire to see. Sacha Baron Cohen’s squirm-inducing comedy is clever but also crude.
“Men in Black III,” which took in an impressive $70 million during its opening weekend, is watchable primarily because Josh Brolin is so good at mimicking Tommy Lee Jones, and because Jones and Smith are fun to watch as a feuding odd couple.
And “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” while a passable comedy, also is forgettable. Two weeks after seeing it, I wish I could take away half a star from the 3-star rating I gave it.
It’s perhaps inevitable as we age that we grow less fond of the summer movie season, which is dominated by pictures aimed at teens and twentysomethings. I admit to being some years beyond the average moviegoing age.
But one month in, this particular summer season has been a bit of a bust for me, as far as the big openers are concerned.
Pure popcorn movies, full of action and digital effects and comic-book heroes, are great escape — which is often what moviegoers are after. And not just young ones. Sometimes, particularly after a busy week, that’s what I’m after, too. “The Avengers” and “Men in Black III” are just fine for that.
Beyond exhiliaration, though, they don’t make you feel much. Or think much, for that matter.
If you’re looking for a little more substance, I can recommend “Monsieur Lazhar,” a Canadian film nominated for the best foreign-language Oscar, about a new teacher helping kids get through the trauma of a teacher who killed herself in their classroom. It’s at Film Streams. “Marley,” an excellent documentary about reggae superstar Bob Marley, also continues there.
Not up for subtitles? Last weekend I finally got to “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” about British pensioners who end up at a rundown hotel in India. For me, it was well worth the time and a ticket.
Or you can take a chance on this weekend’s popcorn picture: “Snow White and the Huntsman,” starring Kristen Stewart and Charlize Theron.