The first four months of 2014 at the movies

John Cairns

We have not had a new movie column here for some time so now seems the perfect time to write about the state of things for the first four months of 2014.

In fact, we had better get around to doing something now, because next week marks the beginning of the summer blockbuster movie season and we should really get the news from the first portion of the year out of the way before we preview these summer movies. Yes, if you can believe it, it's only three more weeks until Godzilla. I'm particularly looking forward to that one.

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The biggest news from the early part of 2014, of course, was the Oscars. I tuned in to the Oscar telecast like everyone else and saw Ellen DeGeneres take that photo that crashed all of Twitter, and that of course was pretty amusing.

Honestly, it looked for much of that evening that Gravity was going to clean right up. They had swept the technical awards and had won some major categories including Cinematography and Best Director (Alfonso Cuaron), so when they announced that the Best Picture was 12 Years a Slave I was a little surprised. I suppose I shouldn't be. The reality is that over the past few years it seems like the movies that are groundbreaking technical or cinematographic achievements, like Gravity was in 3D, will still lose out in the end to movies that are deemed to tell the better story or have more historical importance. We saw this same scenario play out at the Academy Awards a few years ago when Avatar, the 3D masterpiece from director James Cameron, lost out to The Hurt Locker. There's nothing wrong with that, but it just seems to me that technical achievement alone is not enough to carry a picture to a Best Picture Oscar these days.

So those are my much-belated thoughts about the end result of Oscar season. Now a few words about box office season, and there has been quite a bit to report on.

It seemed to me like we were getting a heavy dose of movies that were playing on nostalgia- or more specifically, peoples' childhood memories. The Lego Movie was a perfect example of that. When I first heard about it, I honestly didn't know what to make of it. I didn't think a movie about plastic bricks was going to fly, but it was well received by the critics and was the first big blockbuster of 2014.

To this point of the year, in fact, The Lego Movie is the top domestic box office draw with an overall haul of $252 million. In its first weekend at the box office from Feb. 7 to 9, it hauled in $80 million. Not bad for a bunch of toys.

Another movie that brought back peoples' childhood memories was, of course, Mr. Peabody and Sherman. This CGI effort from Fox was based on the popular segment of that much-beloved Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon series that ran on American TV years ago. Just hearing that the movie was back in theatres brought back my own happy memories of sitting at home during the summertime and watching the North Dakota stations on cable TV, which would run the Mr. Peabody cartoons as part of the Bullwinkle Show in the afternoons and on the weekend.

It didn't win the box office race during its first weekend out in theatres (although it hauled in $41 million), but the word on the street about this movie was very good. I was really happy to see this movie win the box office during its second week in theatres, when it hauled in $27 million to finally beat out 300: Rise of an Empire. Mr. Peabody and Sherman has hauled in a domestic $107 million so far.

Another blast from the past was the return of the Muppets in Muppets Most Wanted. The results for this movie have been disappointing to say the least, with a haul so far of $48 million. Now, honestly, I don't get it. I would have thought people would have gone crazy for the return of Kermit the Frog and the rest of the Muppets, considering how well-received their last movie, The Muppets, was.

I have more or less come to the conclusion that our friends the Muppets have reverted back to being more of a "cult" following for people, rather than something appealing to the masses like Batman or Spider-Man or something like that. The Muppets have this following from people who grew up watching them on their old TV show or when they were on Sesame Street. But beyond that audience, it's a hard sell. Most of the core fan base for the Muppets now consist of grownups who, frankly, have better things to do with their lives than be caught dead in a movie theatre showing the Muppets.

The big movie release for the month of April was the latest Captain America: The Winter Soldier, starring Chris Evans in the title role. This is the sequel to the first Captain America movie and follows on the heels of the character's appearance in The Avengers movie in 2012, which of course won the box office race for the entire year.

The story on Captain America: The Winter Soldier is that it set the April box office record when it was released on the April 4-6 weekend. It grossed $95 million, topping Fast Five's record of $86 million, and then went on to win the next two weekends in a row as well. Its overall haul is now up to $207 million for the year so far, second overall behind The Lego Movie.

I suppose the big news about that third weekend was not how well Captain America did but how poorly Transcendence, starring Johnny Depp, did. Everyone was talking about how this sci-fi movie had opened to a terrible $10 million weekend, and how this was the end for Johnny Depp and how he cannot carry a movie anymore, and so on and so forth. Honestly, the problem with the movie seems to be that it is just plain terrible. Film critics at Rotten Tomatoes have ranked this flick at 18 per cent "fresh" at its site, and it got an initial CinemaScore from audiences of C+. Yikes, that's awful! I think Mr. Depp really does need to pick some better scripts from now on. This result at the box office is just not the way to go.

That's really all I have to say this week. Stay tuned for our summer blockbuster season movie preview, coming soon. Heck, it will have to be next week because that's when it starts.

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