Does This Summer Movie Season Suck Worse Than Usual?

By Michael J. Legeros


Friday afternoon and yet another triumphantly terrible summer mov-
ie opens across the country.  This weekend, it was Nick Cage pass-
ing gas in GONE IN SIXTY SECONDS.  The weekend before, Martin Law-
rence dragged down BIG MOMMA'S HOUSE.  The weekend before *that*,
on the Wednesday prior, Tom Cruise hung himself with MISSION: IM-
POSSIBLE II.  And I haven't even *whispered* the name "Travolta."
Is something terribly wrong here?  Are the first summer movies of
the new century somehow cursed?  Do you suppose Nostradamus pre-
dicted the calamitous string that started with Ridley Scott's ov-
errated GLADIATOR??  Let's look at the data.  Let's see if, inde-
ed, the first five weeks of the Summer Movie 2000 have sucked any
worse than usual.

Here are the "wide" releases we've seen since May 5, with accom-
panying letter grade as assigned by Yours Truly:

   BATTLEFIELD EARTH  - D         I DREAMED OF AFRICA   - N/A
   BIG MOMMA'S HOUSE  - D         MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 2 - C
   CENTER STAGE       - N/A       ROAD TRIP             - C-
   DINOSAUR           - B         SCREWED               - D
   GLADIATOR          - C+        SHANGHAI NOON         - C
   GONE IN 60 SECONDS - D         SMALL-TIME CROOKS     - B-
   UP AT THE VILLA    - N/A


Yikes, what a dire crop.  Two "B's," four "C's", and four "D's".
Plus three abstentions ("N/A") and, oddly, no walk-outs.  Hmmmm.
The medication must be working.  Now let's compare those grades
with the first five week's of flicks from, say, the last three
years:

   1999

   AUSTIN POWERS 2         - B-    NOTTING HILL        - B+
   INSTINCT                - B     PHANTOM MENACE      - C
   THE LOVE LETTER         - C     THIRTEENTH FLOOR    - C-
   A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S...  - D     THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR - B
   THE MUMMY               - B-    TRIPPIN'            - N/A

   1998

   6 DAYS, 7 NIGHTS     - C+       GODZILLA            - C-
   ALMOST HEROES        - W/O      HOPE FLOATS         - W/O
   BULWORTH             - B-       THE HORSE WHISPERER - B+
   CAN'T HARDLY WAIT    - N/A      I GOT THE HOOK-UP   - N/A
   DEEP IMPACT          - C-       A PERFECT MURDER    - B-
   DIRTY WORK           - N/A      QUEST FOR CAMELOT   - N/A
   FEAR AND LOATHING... - D+       THE TRUMAN SHOW     - B+
                                   WOO                 - N/A
   1997

   ADDICTED TO LOVE     - C+     THE LOST WORLD           - A-
   BUDDY                - W/O    NIGHT FALLS ON MANHATTAN - B+
   CON AIR              - D+     SPEED 2: CRUISE CONTROL  - F
   FATHER'S DAY         - D+     SPRUNG                   - N/A
   THE FIFTH ELEMENT    - B+     TRIAL AND ERROR          - C+
   GONE FISHIN'         - C-


Okie-doke.  The first order of business is deleting any movies
that weren't screened, e.g. CENTER STAGE, I DREAMED OF AFRICA, UP
AT VILLA, TRIPPIN', CAN'T HARDLY WAIT, DIRTY WORK, I GOT THE HOOK-
UP, THE QUEST FOR CAMELOT, WOO, and SPRUNG.  (Can't confirm that
they sucked, but they sure *sound* lousy!)  Same with the walk-
outs, to be fair: ALMOST HEROES, HOPE FLOATS, and that dreadful
Rene Russo period pic BUDDY.  (Breath deeply...)  Snippety snip
and that's 10 films from 2000 alongside 9, 8, and 9 from the first
five weeks of summers '99, '98, and '97, respectively:

  2000

  BATTLEFIELD - D      BIG MOMMA   - D      DINOSAUR    - B
  GLADIATOR   - C+     GONE IN 60  - D      MI:2        - C
  ROAD TRIP   - C-     SCREWED     - D      SHANGHAI    - C
  SMALL-TIME  - B-

  1999

  AUSTIN POWERS - B-   INSTINCT      - B    LOVE LETTER   - C
  MIDSUMMER     - D    MUMMY         - B-   NOTTING HILL  - B+
  PHANTOM MEN.  - C    13TH FLOOR    - C-   THOMAS CROWN  - B

  1998

  6 DAYS         - C+   BULWORTH     - B-   DEEP IMPACT   - C-
  FEAR/LOATHING  - D+   GODZILLA     - C-   HORSE WHISP.  - B+
  PERFECT MURDER - B-   TRUMAN SHOW  - B+

  1997

  ADDICTED/LOVE - C+   CON AIR       - D+   FATHER'S DAY  - D+
  FIFTH ELEMENT - B+   GONE FISHIN'  - C-   LOST WORLD    - A-
  NIGHT FALLS   - B+   SPEED 2       - F    TRIAL/ERROR   - C+


For the next step, let's crunch some numbers.  First, how many
movies were worth recommending?  Meaning, how many received a
"B-" or higher?

  2000 - 2 ("B-" or higher)
  1999 - 5
  1998 - 4
  1997 - 3


Not good.  This year is *clearly* not as recommendable as recent
previous ones.  Let's look at the reverse, then.  How many movies
were rated as "crap," "slightly higher than crap," or "slightly
even higher than crap?"  (e.g., "F", "D-", or "D")

  2000 - 4 ("D" or lower)
  1999 - 1
  1998 - 1
  1997 - 3


Again, not good.  At least when compared with '98 and '99.  In
fact, all that's missing are a quartet of toilet chains to flush
these turds.  But... what about UGI?  You know, Unintended Grade
Inflation?  For example, was THE LOST WORLD *really* deserving of
an "A" minus?  Same for THE FIFTH ELEMENT, another summer '97 re-
lease, which rated a "B" plus?  Hmmmm.  We'd better count the num-
ber of "gushy" grades, those "B+" or higher:

2000 - 0 ("B+" or higher)
1999 - 1
1998 - 2
1997 - 3


Now we're getting somewhere.  Looks like a trend, no?  Could it be
that a certain critic is becoming more discriminating as the years
pass?  In '97, some three- or four-hundred movies ago, was he more
forgiving and easier to please?  Perhaps.  Let's check the overall
averages for all graded movies:

  2000 - C- (average)
  1999 - C+
  1998 - C+
  1997 - C


If we presume that the earlier years-- '97 and '98-- were a bit on
the lenient side, then we can "curve" the higher grades according-
ly.  Let's reduce each "A-", "B+", and "B" by one *full* letter
grade for 1997 and by one *half* letter grade for 1998.  Thus, ar-
riving at:

  1998

  6 DAYS         - C+   BULWORTH     - B-   DEEP IMPACT   - C-
  FEAR/LOATHING  - D+   GODZILLA     - C-   HORSE WHISP.  - B
  PERFECT MURDER - B-   TRUMAN SHOW  - B

  1997

  ADDICTED/LOVE - C+   CON AIR       - D+   FATHER'S DAY  - D+
  FIFTH ELEMENT - B-   GONE FISHIN'  - C-   LOST WORLD    - B
  NIGHT FALLS   - B-   SPEED 2       - F    TRIAL/ERROR   - C+


Now, with the Unintended Grade Inflation (UGI) accounted for, a
final tallying of each year's average should solve the mystery.
Have the first five weeks of the Summer Movie 2000 sucked worse
than those first five weeks of years past?  Particularly with re-
gard to the last *three* years.  Here are the final results:

  2000 - C- (average with curving)
  1999 - C+
  1998 - C+
  1997 - C


So, no, this summer isn't significantly suckier than the rest of
'em.  Why, then, does everything seem so crappy?  Why does watch-
ing a waste of celluloid like GONE IN SIXTY SECONDS induce such a-
cute symptoms as Butt Numbing, Eye Rolling, and Bruckheimer Hat-
ing?  (Other documented effects include Early Leaving, Refund Ask-
ing, and Bad Word of Mouth Passing.)  And more importantly, why do
*seasoned* moviegoers feel such deep disappointment.  They, of all
cinema schleps, know full well and then some that the summer stock
is, and always has been, catch as catch can?  (In France, is the
expression "catch as catch Can Can?")  To both conclude and end
this exercise, I offer three explanations; summary statements, if
you will and even if you don't, as computed by the vast resources
of my near-empty intellect.  Please handle the following theories
with care:

  (a.) More hype equals more brainwashing.  You *know* it'll
       suck.  You just don't think it'll suck that *badly*.

  (b.) Most movies suck.  Period.  First five weeks of Sum-
       mer.  Last five weeks of Winter.  All of April.  Half
       of May.  However you slice it or dice it.

  (c.) Most critics suck more than most movies do.  If you
       didn't read a single review between May and September,
       you'd swear you'd seen some pretty good flicks.  After
       all, you *did* pay seven bucks a seat...

Copyright 2000 Michael J. Legeros
 

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