My look back at the cinematic summers of 30, 20, and 10 years ago culminates with 2012. A decade ago, the Marvel Cinematic Universe went from a successful franchise to the phenomenal juggernaut that it remains today. That’s due to the release of a little something called The Avengers. On a side note, it’s worth mentioning that the biggest grosser 30 years ago (Batman Returns), two decades ago (Spider-Man), and in this post all share comic book roots.
Before we get to Iron Man and company, I’ll recount the other features in the top ten moneymakers before covering additional notable titles and some flops. If you missed my write-ups about the seasons of 1992 and 2002, you can find them here:
Summer 1992: The Top 10 Hits and More
Summer 2002: The Top 10 Hits and More
Domestic Gross: $126 million
Some three decades after Alien terrified audiences, Ridley Scott returned to the franchise. However, this was more of a mixed bag in terms of critical and audience reaction. The production design and Michael Fassbender’s performance were praised while the script drew its share of critics. Nevertheless Scott would be back in the mix five years later with Alien: Covenant.
9. Snow White and the Huntsman
Domestic Gross: $155 million
Hot off the Twilight franchise and hot off playing Thor in The Avengers, Kristen Stewart and Chris Hemsworth battled Prometheus costar Charlize Theron’s evil stepmom in this fantasy adventure. Reviews were so-so but it performed well enough to warrant a less appreciated prequel The Huntsman: Winter’s War in 2016.
8. Ice Age: Continental Drift
Domestic Gross: $161 million
The fourth entry in the animated franchise featuring the vocal stylings of Ray Romano and John Leguizamo kept the grosses hot. Sequel Collision Course would follow four years later.
7. Men in Black 3
Domestic Gross: $179 million
The third teaming of Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones (with Josh Brolin playing a convincing younger version of him) earned $11 million less than 2002’s part II. That sequel made less than the 1997 original. The series was revamped in 2019 with Men in Black: International with none other than Chris Hemsworth, but audiences tuned out.
6. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted
Domestic Gross: $216 million
Ben Stiller and Chris Rock returned for the third time voicing their respective lion and zebra. Spin-off Penguins of Madagascar came out two years later while a proper fourth entry never materialized from DreamWorks.
Domestic Gross: $218 million
Moving from Fox’s hugely successful animated sitcom Family Guy the big screen, Seth MacFarlane’s story of Mark Wahlberg and his crude talking bear Ted was the breakout comedy of the season. Follow-ups A Million Ways to Die in the West and the Ted sequel were not as well received.
Domestic Gross: $237 million
The first Pixar film led by a female hero is also the inaugural studio entry (co)directed by a woman. It would go on to win Best Animated Feature at the Oscars.
3. The Amazing Spider-Man
Domestic Gross: $262 million
After not moving forward with a fourth title directed by Sam Raimi and starring Tobey Maguire, the Spidey franchise was rebooted with Marc Webb behind the camera and Andrew Garfield donning the red. The dollars followed although reviews were mixed and a 2014 sequel was widely considered a disappointment.
2. The Dark Knight Rises
Domestic Gross: $448 million
While perhaps not quite reaching the heights of 2008’s The Dark Knight, the culmination to Christopher Nolan’s trilogy sent Christian Bale’s Caped Crusader off in stirring fashion and with hugely profitable earnings.
1. The Avengers
Domestic Gross: $623 million
Setting record after record upon release, the melding of Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Hulk, Black Widow, and Hawkeye transfixed filmgoers. It’s been Marvel’s world and we’ve been living in it ever since.
And now for some other pics worthy of discussion:
Domestic Gross: $113 million
Steven Soderbergh’s saga of male exotic dancers was based loosely on Channing Tatum’s real life experiences. It turned him into a superstar while giving Matthew McConaughey a memorable showcase. The micro budgeted pic (a reported $7 million) spawned a 2015 sequel and there’s a third scheduled to hit HBO Max next year.
The Bourne Legacy
Domestic Gross: $113 million
Audiences weren’t clamoring for Jeremy Renner to replace Matt Damon in this franchise, but the stateside and overseas grosses were still pretty acceptable. That said, Renner’s tenure lasted this pic and this pic only.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Domestic Gross: $46 million
While it performed even better overseas, this British import with Judi Dench was a sleeper hit stateside that begat a 2015 sequel.
Domestic Gross: $45 million
Wes Anderson scored with critics and crowds with this coming-of-age dramedy that premiered at Cannes and then found an audience in the weeks that followed.
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Domestic Gross: $12 million
This indie drama from Benh Zeitlin was truly a little movie that could. Shot for under $2 million, it eventually nabbed Oscar nods for Picture, Director, Actress (Quvanzhane Wallis at age 9), and Adapted Screenplay.
They’re not all winners so let’s get into some critical and/or commercial failures from the period:
Domestic Gross: $79 million
Johnny Depp’s box office happy days were beginning to fade as his 8th collaboration with Tim Burton was perhaps the least memorable. This horror comedy failed to enlighten viewers.
Domestic Gross: $65 million
Action fans weren’t taken with this Peter Berg directed board game adaptation starring Liam Neeson and Rihanna with a bloated budget of over $200 million.
Domestic Gross: $58 million
And your action sci-fi fans weren’t signing up for Colin Farrell taking over for Arnold Schwarzenegger in this unneeded remake.
Rock of Ages
Domestic Gross: $38 million
Based on the Broadway musical, there was a deaf ear turned to this adaptation despite Tom Cruise getting solid notices for his performance. Lucky for him, he’d rule this current summer with Top Gun: Maverick.
That’s My Boy
Domestic Gross: $36 million
Adam Sandler and Andy Samberg’s comedic partnership drew a 20% Tomatoes meter and ambivalence from usually devoted Sandler fans.
Domestic Gross: $35 million
That wasn’t the only high-profile comedic flop as this sci-fi mashup with Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, and Jonah Hill fared even worse in numbers and rotten reviews (17% RT).
And that’ll close it out, ladies and gents! It’s been a pleasure revising these cinematic seasons of days past.