As the fourth day of May is upon us, it occurred to me that I’ve never done an official ranking of the 11 Star Wars movies that kicked off 46 years ago today.
I’m not going to go into detail beyond the actual numbers other than to say the following:
My #1 is the one most would pick so no points for originality there.
I do not, however, hold the first trilogy at 1-2-3. Yes, rewatches of Return of the Jedi through the years have lowered my opinion (especially compared to its predecessors).
I do not look at The Force Awakens as a disappointing retread of the 1977 original as its reputation has increasingly become. And I’m a pretty big admirer of its follow-up The Last Jedi. Not so much for The Rise of Skywalker.
Here’s my personal list (from weakest to strongest) of the series!
11. Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002)
10. Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)
9. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)
8. Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)
7. Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005)
Denis Villeneuve’s Dune arrives nearly three decades after David Lynch’s oft criticized version of Frank Herbert’s mid 60s sci-fi novel. It is source material that I’m frankly not familiar with so take that for what it’s worth. With the director of Arrival and Blade Runner 2049 at the controls, this is a technically masterful and consistently stunning looking experience. I also must admit that I didn’t get swept up in it no matter how amazing the desert landscapes appear (and do they ever).
Set 10,000 years in the future, the dense plot (as in often hard to follow) introduces us to the royal family of Caladan. Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac) is the leader of House Atreides, a land with a plentiful supply of water and bagpipes. His concubine is Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) who possesses the powers of Bene Gesserit, a sisterhood of mystical beings thought to bear children with God-like abilities. Their offspring is Paul (Timothee Chalamet). One problem: the Lady was supposed to have a girl who eventually delivers this story’s version of The One, but she skipped a step.
The Atreides are ordered by Empirical decree to take over Arrakis, a planet with hardly any water (I’m uncertain about bagpipes). However, it is the only land with spice and that substances serves many purposes. First, it gets you high and gives one visions that might play into the plot later. Most importantly, it fuels interstellar travel and is therefore an extraordinarily valuable commodity. It’s what Gollum would be droning on endlessly about if this were another epic adventure. House Harkonnen and their rotund ruler (Stellan Skarsgard), the current Arrakis deed holders, are not going to give up those property rights without a fight.
We sense where all this is heading due to Paul’s visions of Chani (Zendaya). She’s a native of Arrakis and their citizens called the Fremen have learned to use their planet’s sandy and almost unlivable terrain to their advantage. They will need to accept Paul as their captain and that development… will or won’t happen in part two. Yes, part one is a subtitle here. Like some Marvel products that preceded this, you may find yourself realizing that not a lot really happens in this origin tale by the time two and a half hours has lapsed.
I recognize this may sound like sacrilege to the book’s devotees. There is plenty to praise in this immensely gifted director’s adaptation. The cast is uniformly top notch from Chalamet on down (FYI – Zendaya is a part II kinda thing because her participation is limited). Ferguson is perhaps the standout in a sprawling ensemble that includes Josh Brolin (as a trusted Atreides warrior), Javier Bardem (as a Fremen warrior), and Charlotte Rampling as a Reverend Mother of the Bene Gesserit.
Dune worshipers forgive me. While I spent time marveling at the look and anticipating the unearthing of giant sandworms, I would put this behind Arrival and the Blade Runner follow-up without hesitation. Saying it feels like half a movie is easy criticism. That doesn’t mean it’s not true. It is tempting to recommend Dune based on spectacular work of composer Hans Zimmer and cinematographer Greig Fraser and the sound and visual effects artists. Yet I often found myself a bit shocked by my lack of awe in the story itself.
I’ve been at this box office predicting game for quite some time. If it gets stale for even a moment, something will come along to shock you. That happened this weekend. Twice.
First there’s the massive underperformance of Disney/Pixar’s Lightyear, which is barely topping $50 million for second place behind Jurassic World: Dominion. I’ll have more to say about that tomorrow, but it’s not often a tentpole release comes in over $30 million behind your (and many other prognosticators) estimates. It made less than half of the fourth Toy Story tale three years ago.
Today, however, it’s all about Top Gun: Maverick. If you’d told me a month ago that the long gestating Tom Cruise sequel would score the second (you read that correctly) best fourth weekend of all time, I wouldn’t have believed it. That’s second only to the fourth frame of Avatar. Better than any Star Wars episode. Better than any MCU adventure. Better than Titanic.
Maverick, with its soaring reviews and word-of-mouth, has undeniably become a phenomenon. Its $44 million estimated haul this weekend brings its domestic tally to an astonishing $466 million. That’s already $200 million over Cruise’s previous largest stateside hit – 2005’s War of the Worlds. A gross of over $600 million in the US and Canada seems assured in addition to a worldwide total topping $1 billion.
To say this is lightyears ahead of expectations is one heckuva understatement. This is the rare breed of picture that is appealing to all ages and genders and is clearly warranting repeat viewings. I suspect Oscar voters will take notice. Categories like Editing, Sound, and Visual Effects are obviously on the table. So too is Lady Gaga’s theme song “Hold My Hand” which might be an early frontrunner to win. And with these mind boggling earnings – Oscar voters could vault this into Best Picture contention and Tom Cruise could be in the mix for Best Actor. That’s far from guaranteed… yet it was unthinkable before its release.
The word phenomenon doesn’t come around much with box office forecasting. When 2002’s Spider-Man made $114 in its first weekend, that word applied because no pic had done so before. The domination of Titanic when many thought it would be a flop definitely fits the bill. So does James Cameron’s follow-up Avatar (ironically its sequel seems destined to compete with Maverick for some tech Oscars). The MCU juggernaut has a handful of examples.
Top Gun: Maverick is a phenomenon and in its fourth outing, the buzz is towering over everything else in 2022.
Blogger’s Note (08/23): This post has been updated from its original January 24th publication to reflect the title change from 892 to Breaking.
Abi Damaris Corbin’s debut dramatic thriller 892 has premiered at Sundance and features a performance from John Boyega that’s already drawing critical kudos. The pic recounts the events surrounding Lance Corporal Brian Brown-Easley’s attempted robbery of a Marietta, GA bank in the summer of 2017. Costars include Nicole Beharie, Connie Britton, and Michael K. Williams in one of his final roles. It opens August 26th.
Boyega is, of course, best known as Finn from the most recent Star Wars trilogy. He recently nabbed a Golden Globe for Steve McQueen’s acclaimed TV anthology Small Axe. With 892, reviews are calling it some of his finest work. As far as Williams (who passed away in September 2021), perhaps there could be a push for a posthumous Supporting Actor nod.
Yet the notices themselves (81% on Rotten Tomatoes) don’t point to this being a major awards contender and it could be a struggle for Boyega or Williams to garner any momentum in next year’s Actor derby. My Oscar Prediction posts will continue…
The Sopranos richly earned its reputation as a game changer that kickstarted a golden era of TV drama over two decades ago. James Gandolfini’s portrayal of Tony Soprano certainly deserves all the praise it got. The late actor’s work influenced so many antiheroes that followed on the small screen. You loved to hate him and kind of hated to love him, but he was a fully realized character that played out over six celebrated HBO seasons.
The main problem with The Many Saints of Newark, a prequel set in the late 1960s and early 70s, is that it’s difficult to fully realize those that populate it in just two hours. The hook drawing fans in is viewing Tony in his formative years. I couldn’t help but think of Star Wars episodes I-III (particularly The Phantom Menace). Did we really need to see Darth Vader as a precocious youngster? We catch glimpses of Tony’s journey to the dark side as he begins to abandon thoughts of a pro football career in favor of a Mafioso life. Yet the players around him don’t have time to breathe and that makes for a disappointing watch.
Many Saints (which translates to Moltisanti in Italian) begins in the tumultuous year of 1967 when Newark is in the midst of race riots. For the DiMeo crime family, they’re hoping for business as usual but the political strife keeps interfering. Dickie Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola) welcomes his gregarious father (Ray Liotta) and his gorgeous Italian bride (Michela De Rossi) back to the mainland. The organization’s enforcers include some familiar names from the show with more youthful faces: Junior (Corey Stoll), Sil (John Magaro), Paulie (Billy Magnussen) and Pussy (Samson Moeakiola). And there’s Johnny Soprano (Jon Bernthal), who’s nefarious activities are about to land him behind bars for a chunk of son Tony’s upbringing.
Played by William Ludwig in the ’67 portion and Michael Gandolfini (James’s real-life offspring) in the 70s, Tony is drawn to Dickie’s magnetism. With his father away and his deeply troubled mother Livia (Vera Farmiga, impressively adopting Nancy Marchand’s voice and mannerisms) not making life easy, we witness the seeds sown for Tony entering that thing of theirs.
Well… we kind of do. The screenplay (from show creator David Chase and Lawrence Konner) often focuses on Harold (Leslie Odom Jr.). He’s a low-level African-American employee of Dickie’s. The racial upheaval of the era causes him to develop his own little empire and that puts him at odds with the boss. Harold’s subplot is a fine example of one that could be fascinating given more time and context. Here it seems rushed and that includes an out of nowhere love triangle that seems forced to move plot points along.
Just as the older Tony housed multiple contradictions, so does Dickie. He fancies himself a good person, but his actions keep getting in the way. If Tony had mom issues, Dickie is chockfull of stepmom ones. And daddy ones. His most confessional relationship is with his dad’s identical brother Sally (also Liotta) who’s been locked up for years. Sally, in many ways, serves in the Dr. Melfi role from The Sopranos. He gets to hear the angst ridden thoughts of a crime leader who struggles with virtuous ideas while also being a madman.
Nivola gives an impressive performance as a character I ultimately didn’t care much about. As for Gandolfini, he’s the spitting image of his father and there are moments of wistful recognition in that (as well as short peeks at the rage). The script is littered with winking nods to the series past (or future I guess). Some are mildly fun while others come off as unneeded. The latter includes a surprise narrative structure that I won’t spoil. I left Newark appreciative of the rich experience that The Sopranos provided in its six course meal. The power dynamic of Dickie Moltisanti and Harold would be familiar in any Mafia tale. It’s just not as appetizing and it wasn’t enough to pull this viewer back in.
We have arrived at part III of my recaps of the summer seasons that came 30, 20, and 10 years ago. That means 2011 is upon us. If you missed my sizzling throwbacks to 1991 and 2001, you can find them here:
As is tradition, I will recount the top 10 hits as well as other notable features and some flops in a season where moviegoers bid a fond farewell to their iconic wizard:
Let’s get to it, yes?
Domestic Gross: $169 million
Kristin Wiig made one of the most successful jumps from SNL to movie stardom in this critically hailed pic that also earned Melissa McCarthy her silver screen breakout and even an Oscar nomination. It might not be the highest grossing comedy on here, but it’s definitely still the most talked about.
9. The Help
Domestic Gross: $169 million
Based on Kathryn Stockett’s bestseller, the 1960s set period piece from Tate Taylor brought the book’s readers and many others to the multiplex. Four Oscar nods followed including Best Picture and a Supporting Actress victory for Octavia Spencer.
8. Captain America: The First Avenger
Domestic Gross: $176 million
The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first big branch out occurred during this summer where we would get our first glimpse at this OG avenger in the form of Chris Evans and another one who sits at the throne of spot #6. The sequels actually improved on what we see here, but the Captain gets rolling with this.
7. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Domestic Gross: $176 million
Rupert Wyatt’s reboot of the franchise is deservedly better regarded than Tim Burton’s re-imagining that transpired in 2001. Debuting the fantastic motion capture work of Andy Serkis, this would spawn two follow-ups that also pleased audiences and critics and did considerable monkey business.
Domestic Gross: $181 million
Chris Hemsworth’s Asgardian heartthrob hammered into the public consciousness alongside Natalie Portman and Anthony Hopkins and managed $5 million more box office bucks than the Captain. The third sequel is currently in production.
5. Cars 2
Domestic Gross: $191 million
Despite grossing nearly $200 million, this Pixar sequel is not one of the studio’s most fondly remembered vehicles with just a 40% Rotten Tomatoes rating. A third Cars did zoom into theaters six years later.
4. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
Domestic Gross: $241 million
With a reported budget of $379 million, Johnny Depp’s fourth headlining of the franchise still sports the largest price tag of all time. The actor’s final participation in the series would come in 2017 with Disney still looking to reboot it without their signature player.
3. The Hangover Part II
Domestic Gross: $254 million
Crowds were still clamoring for the drunken exploits of Bradley Copper, Ed Helms, and Zach Galifianakis. Critics weren’t near as kind to part II, but audiences didn’t begin to tire of the hijinks until part III two years later.
2. Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Domestic Gross: $352 million
Michael Bay’s third saga of the Autobots and Decepticons marks Shia LaBeouf’s last appearance in the franchise and includes drop-ins from acting heavyweights John Malkovich and Frances McDormand. Mark Wahlberg would take over starring duties three years later.
1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2
Domestic Gross: $381 million
After nearly a decade of enchanting kids and their parents alike, the franchise stemming from J.K. Rowling’s beloved novels received a fittingly massive send-off with this billion dollar plus worldwide earner.
Now for other noteworthy titles from the summer:
X-Men: First Class
Domestic Gross: $146 million
Bryan Singer’s handed over directorial reigns to Matthew Vaughn for this reinvigorating reboot of the series that introduced the younger versions of Charles Xavier, Magneto, and Mystique in the bodies of James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, and Jennifer Lawrence. Numerous sequels of varying quality followed.
Domestic Gross: $142 million
Sony Pictures wasn’t blue about the financial returns for this half live-action/half animated adaptation of the popular comics and animated series. A sequel came in 2013.
Domestic Gross: $127 million
In between Star Trek pics and before rebooting Star Wars, J.J. Abrams helmed this sci-fi original which paid tribute to the Spielberg efforts of the 1980s. Critics gave it their stamp of approval and it’s notable for one heckuva train crash sequence.
Domestic Gross: $117 million
This raunchy comedy about workers exacting revenge on their wretched superiors showed us a whole different side to Jennifer Aniston and spawned a 2014 sequel.
Crazy, Stupid, Love
Domestic Gross: $84 million
Before their collaboration on La La Land earned lots of Oscar nods five years later, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling teamed up for this rom com with Steve Carell and Julianne Moore that exceeded expectations with audiences and many critics.
Midnight in Paris
Domestic Gross: $56 million
It was a different time 10 years ago for Woody Allen, who scored his last big hit with this fantastical comedy starring Owen Wilson. Woody would win the Oscar for Original Screenplay and it landed three additional nominations including Picture and Director.
The Tree of Life
Domestic Gross: $13 million
Terrence Malick’s epic philosophical drama won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for Best Picture, Director, and Cinematography at the Academy Awards. Not your typical summer fare, but it certainly had reviews on its side.
And now for some titles that didn’t meet expectations commercially, critically, or both:
Domestic Gross: $116 million
Five years before he entered the comic book flick pantheon with Deadpool, Ryan Reynolds didn’t have as much luck with this critically drubbed flop. Even the star himself has taken to calling it a waste of time for viewers.
Cowboys & Aliens
Domestic Gross: $100 million
Coming off the huge Iron Man pics, Jon Favreau cast James Bond (Daniel Craig) and Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) in this space western that didn’t impress crowds or critics and earned considerably less than its budget domestically.
Mr. Popper’s Penguins
Domestic Gross: $68 million
Audiences were mostly cool to Jim Carrey’s treatment of the popular late 30s children’s book though it did manage to top its $55 million budget. It probably would have made far more during the star’s box office heyday.
Spy Kids 4-D: All the Time in the World
Domestic Gross: $38 million
A decade after Robert Rodriguez kicked the kiddie franchise off to great results, part 4 marked a low mark for the series.
Domestic Gross: $35 million
The star power of Tom Hanks (who also directed) and Julia Roberts couldn’t elevate this rom com from a subpar showing (critics weren’t kind either). This is largely a forgotten entity on both actor’s filmographies.
Conan the Barbarian
Domestic Gross: $21 million
Before becoming known to the masses as Aquaman, Jason Momoa couldn’t fill the shoes of Arnold Schwarzenegger in this bomb that couldn’t swim close to its $90 million budget.
And that does it, folks! I’ll have recaps of the summers of 1992, 2002, and 2012 up for your enjoyment next season!
The sci-fi adventure Chaos Walking, on its surface, seems to have a lot going for it. It’s based on a well regarded series of YA novels by Patrick Ness (who cowrote the screenplay). Doug Liman, maker of successful pics like The Bourne Identity, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and Edge of Tomorrow, directs. The two stars are instantly recognizable faces from recent franchises blockbusters: Daisy Ridley (Rey from Star Wars) and Tom Holland (the current Spider-Man). And Lionsgate ponied up a reported $125 million to make it.
Yet closer inspection reveals a different story as it opens next Friday in multiplexes. Chaos was originally slated for release all the way back in pre-COVID March 2019. Poor test screenings allegedly forced reshoots which were overseen by Don’t Breathe director Fede Alvarez. The pandemic has shifted the drop date once again from January of this year to early March.
Now it appears the high budget Walking is limping its way into theaters in already uncertain times. In addition to its stars, the supporting cast includes Mads Mikkelsen, Demian Bichir, Cynthia Erivo, Nick Jonas, and David Oyelowo. I’m not even confident that the awareness level of its existence is enough to bring in the intended audience. This has been looked at as a potential major flop for some time and I don’t foresee this exceeding any expectations upon release.
Chaos Walking opening weekend prediction: $3.9 million
For my Raya and the Last Dragon prediction, click here:
And the release dates keep shifting due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier today, Disney announced sweeping changes to their future slate of projects (affecting Mulan and the Star Wars and Avatar franchises) and I covered it here:
Now it’s Paramount’s turn. There were a number of changes announced this evening, but I’ll cover the two most significant. Tom Cruise’s return to one of his signature roles was originally slated for July 12th of this year. If you think about it, it would almost surely be the #1 or #2 movie in America right now in an alternate universe. The long gestating sequel was then pushed back to December 23rd. And now its release has been delayed nearly a full year with an expected date of July 2, 2021.
A Quiet Place II was right around the corner when COVID hit with a March 18th premiere. The virus changed that plan to a Labor Day rollout. This sequel is now scheduled for April 23, 2021 – postponing its release by over a year from its intended landing.
It’s fair to say that this week has seen the most heavy hitters fall back. And as we’ve learned in 2020, expect plenty more changes and adjustments ahead.
Today marked even more release shifting in the wake of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and it’s a lot of news of Disney. The Mouse Factory, to no one’s surprise, has moved their live-action remake of Mulan from August 21st to that date we’re all growing accustomed to… (say it together now) TBD.
That’s not all. Two of the studio’s biggest franchises saw their anticipated sequels, spin-offs, and reboots pushed back one year. The as yet untitled next episodes of Star Wars will not begin until December 2023 (with follow-up pics now slated for 2025 and 2027).
James Cameron’s four (yes, four) sequels to Avatar are delayed yet again. Part two is now pegged for December 2022 with parts 3, 4, and 5 now planned for December 2024, 2026, and 2028.
And… that’s not all. Kenneth Branagh’s Death on the Nile (his follow-up to Murder on the Orient Express) has been pushed back two weeks from October 9th to October 23rd of this year (we’ll see it that holds). Mr. Branagh has already seen a COVID change a few weeks back when his critically reviled Artemis Fowl scrapped its theatrical bow in favor of a Disney+ debut.
Some other developments: Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel changed from Christmas 2020 to October 2021. Wes Anderson’s eagerly awaited (and potential Oscar contender) The French Dispatch saw its October 2020 premiere altered to… (say it again) TBD.
This follows the announcement from Warner Bros. earlier this week that Christopher Nolan’s Tenet (long seen as the first real COVID test for theaters) is now a TBD property after its hoped for August rollout. After the Tenet news, the ball was passed to Mulan. Not anymore.
Now the paradigm shifts again… to Disney. One could say that the MCU’s Black Widow is now the first massive blockbuster scheduled to debut on November 6th. Let’s see if it stays that way in our new cinematic universe.
My Daily Streaming Guide rolls along today with three new movies worthy of your binge watching consideration:
From 2007, David Fincher’s Zodiac finds the filmmaker in his dark and visually stylish wheelhouse. The man behind Seven and Fight Club meticulously details the case of the Zodiac Killer in the late 1960s and early 1970s with a top-notch cast including Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, and Robert Downey Jr. (one year before his first appearance as Tony Stark in the MCU).
Speaking of stylish, Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive from 2011 has it in spades. It also defies genre placement. Ryan Gosling doesn’t have much dialogue, but this is one of his finest roles as a stunt performer who moonlights in underground criminal circles. A contemplative pic with violent outbursts, Drive is a stunner.
On the cinematic front, J.J. Abrams is best known for revitalizing the Star Trek and Star Wars series. His stand-alone 2011 effort Super 8 has a Stranger Things vibe before that landmark show existed. With a heavy Spielberg influence, it would have been right at home being released in 1985. It’s a lot of fun and there’s a humdinger of a trash crash sequence.