The 2004 summer movie season saw its share of successes and flops, as well as a few surprises along the way. It gave us a record-setting sequel, the highest-grossing documentary in the history of film, some great indie flicks, and a fair share of disappointments.
If 2003 was the year of the action blockbuster, then 2004 is undoubtedly the year of the sequel. Moviegoers turned out in record numbers to see the continuations of their favorite flicks of the past few years. Spider-Man 2 set opening-weekend records with people turning out like never before to see Spidey duke it out with a new villain, and Peter Parker find true love with M.J.
The surprise hit sequel of the summer, The Bourne Supremacy, hung around the box office top 10 almost all summer. Kill Bill Vol. 2, the much-anticipated follow-up to Quentin Tarantino’s bloodbath hit of last year, did well at the box office and drew rave reviews.
Shrek 2, the follow-up to the immensely popular animated family film, took in hundreds of millions, capitalizing on humor that appealed to younger children out of school for the summer and their parents as well.
The one consistency among all these sequels was simply their ability to live up to expectations. So often we leave disappointed after seeing our favorite movies ruined by unnecessary additions that taint their appeal, but most of this year’s sequels had the substance to earn them exceptional reviews, keeping them high on the box office list.
Another phenomenon of the summer movie season was the success of Fahrenheit 9/11, the ultra-controversial documentary by Oscar-winning filmmaker Michael Moore. Scathed by critics as liberal propaganda, and touted by supporters as an eye-opening look at the Bush administration, the film quickly became the highest-grossing documentary of all time, earning $118 million as of Sept. 5, 2004.
While the big studios enjoyed their usual success, some small-budget movies also saw moderate victories. Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle, featuring some recognized but not well-known young actors, attracted college and high school kids looking for something funny and different. Napoleon Dynamite, an out-there comedy with no big-name talent, also drew its share of the summer crowd.
With all the box office records that were set and all the positive reviews that many summer movies received, it is easy to forget about the disappointments that the summer season gave us. Some of the most anticipated movies ended up as busts, losing money and leaving some careers in question.
The Day After Tomorrow, the disaster flick that was supposed to devastate the competition at the box office, left most viewers feeling let down, with plot holes as wide as the Grand Canyon.
As we have seen in past years, even the most spectacular special effects cannot mask a screenplay that could have been written by a third-grader.
Another example of this all-flash and no-substance phenomenon was the new Will Smith project, I, Robot. Touted early as the biggest contender to Spider-Man’s reign as the top summer movie, Robot did not strike a chord with audiences, and while it made its share of bank, it simply did not deliver on its promise as a revival of Smith’s career after bombs like Wild Wild West and Men In Black II, notwithstanding.
After becoming the first black actress to win an Oscar for her role in “Monster’s Ball,” Halle Berry was allowed to avoid blame for the colossal failure called Gothika, but with Catwoman, she disappointed us for the second time in a row. The movie failed to debut at number one and, as of yet, has barely made back enough to break even.
M. Night Shyamalan, the long-time Philadelphia resident who makes it a point to include his hometown in his movies like The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, had his latest picture, The Village. It earned a respectable amount at the box office, but also received negative reviews from a majority of critics and moviegoers.
The disappointments, successes and surprises of the 2004 summer movie season left movie fans with reason to go to the theater, because there really was something for everyone.
Action, comedy, drama and even documentary dotted the marquee this summer, and fans certainly had their pick for two hours of entertainment every time they went to the theater.
As long as the movies continue to entertain us, that is all that matters.
Ross Bercik can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.