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summer box office 2014Remember last summer, when movie industry insiders as lofty as Steven Spielberg and George Lucas were predicting that it would take only a couple of megaflops to bring Hollywood's entire blockbuster-driven business model crashing down? Indeed, there were a number of such flops last summer, and yet there were enough big hits offsetting those failures to wind up with a record-breaking summer, worth $4.85 billion.

This summer? Also a number of megaflops, but not as many successes to balance them out. As a result, the summer winds to a close with a total of $3.77 billion, down a full 22.2 percent from last summer. It's the lowest-grossing summer since 2005; adjusting for inflation, it's the worst since 1992. The numbers are so bad, they're likely to make Hollywood executives wonder: are Spielberg and Lucas's dire predictions finally coming true?

For perplexed box office observers, here's a question-and-answer guide to what happened this summer, and what lessons the summer has to offer.

Weren't there any big hits this summer?
Sure. "Guardians of the Galaxy" is not only the biggest hit of the summer (it finished at No. 1 again this weekend for the third time in five weeks) but of the entire year so far. Even so, it's earned just $274.6 million to date. Last summer's top movie, "Iron Man 3," earned $409.0 million. In fact, three movies last summer (including "Despicable Me 2" and "Man of Steel") earned more than "Guardians."

What happened to all the would-be blockbusters?
Some did as well as expected -- "Transformers: Age of Extinction," "Maleficent," "X-Men: Days of Future Past," and "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes." Others underwhelmed, like "The Amazing Spider-Man 2," "Godzilla," "How to Train Your Dragon 2," "Edge of Tomorrow," "Hercules," and "The Expendables 3," all of which grossed $203 million or less.

What about the other genre movies?
You mean like R-rated comedies and horror movies, two genres that typically do well during the summer? This year, people finally seemed to lose interest in raunchy comedies, judging by the grosses of "A Million Ways to Die in the West" and "Sex Tape." (On the other hand, "Neighbors" and "Tammy" did well, and "Let's Be Cops" has earned a solid $57.3 million in three weeks.) And there were hardly any horror movies at all; aside from "The Purge: Anarchy" (arguably, not a horror movie at all), there was just "Deliver Us From Evil" ($30.6 million) and... that's about it. Labor Day weekend is traditionally a strong weekend for horror, but this weekend's release, "As Above/So Below," earned just $8.3 million from Friday to Sunday.

Why did these movies do so poorly?
In a word, execution. Audiences found them disappointing and stayed away. It seems like make-better-movies-and-people-will-come should be a truism, but it doesn't always work that way. ("Edge of Tomorrow" got some of the best reviews of any action spectacle this summer, but Tom Cruise is still box office poison stateside, though he still does well overseas.) But people actually seemed to pay attention to reviews and word-of-mouth this summer and avoided movies with bad buzz.

Why did advance word matter?
One reason is that the summer audience contained a larger contingent of older viewers -- the ones who read reviews -- than summer movie programmers usually account for. Movies like "Guardians" (with it's all-oldies soundtrack), "22 Jump Street," "Neighbors," "Godzilla," "Apes," "jersey Boys," "The Hundred-Foot Journey," "Sex Tape," "Million Dollar Arm," "Expendables," "Chef," "Get On Up," "America," "Boyhood," "When the Game Stands Tall," "Magic in the Moonlight," and this weekend's "The November Man" (which opened with $9.4 million) were all marketed toward older viewers, or at least attracted people over 25 as a large percentage of their audiences.

Where were the kids and teens?
Aside from the likes of "Transformers" and "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," the young folks were expected to flock to teen melodramas, but only "The Fault in Our Stars" drew them in large numbers (to the tune of $124.5 million). "If I Stay" and "The Giver" both stumbled -- again, because of bad advance buzz.

Did star power matter this summer?
No, unless your name was Angelina Jolie or Scarlett Johansson. The former drove "Maleficent" to a $238.5 million gross. The latter helped make a $117.8 million hit out of "Lucy" They certainly fared better than male box office stalwarts like Cruise, Dwayne Johnson (whose "Hercules" grossed just $70.9 million), Adam Sandler (whose "Blended" earned jus $46.3 million), and Sylvester Stallone (just $33.1 million for "Expendables 3"). Still, the summer's two biggest movies, "Guardians" and "Transformers" -- and many more among the top 10 -- weren't star-driven at all, just concept-driven. People came for the premise and the title -- because, for the most part, sequels, spinoffs, and reboots still sell, no matter how tired of them viewers claim to be.

What lessons does this summer offer, then?
Don't discount older viewers. Get more women in front of the camera (and behind it). Most of all, make good movies that people actually want to see. (Sounds simpler than it is, granted.)

What lessons will Hollywood actually learn?
Probably none. Business is cyclical, and executives haven't stopped planning to make giant action spectacles, space operas, comic-book adaptations, and spinoffs of familiar titles, in the hopes that what failed this summer will succeed next time. Often, these slumps are followed by a call for austerity and lowering production costs and salaries, but Hollywood is simply too invested in the blockbuster business model to try those solutions. It's all Hollywood knows how to do anymore.

guardians of the galaxy cast dance baby grootGetting ready for the long weekend but still stuck at work and wondering where your life went wrong? Well, we've got a little silver lining for you, in the form of a crummy video of "Guardians of the Galaxy" actors Dave Bautista and Michael Rooker recreating the sequence at the end of the film with baby Groot dancing. It is a delight.

The impromptu scene recreation happened at the Wizard World Chicago, a fairly widely attended comic book convention. Bautista, who played Drax the Destroyer, is spot on in Xeroxing his performance from the movie while Rooker takes some "Magic Mike"-style liberties with Groot boogying down. (Rooker, for those unfamiliar with his human visage, played buck-toothed, blue-skinned baddie Yondu.) The footage, courtesy of io9, isn't the best quality, but that doesn't matter - your heart will explode with joy just the same.

Follow Drew on Twitter at @DrewTailored.




What makes a good series finale? Three events this week bring this question into focus: Sunday's "True Blood" series ender, Monday's celebration of the departed "Breaking Bad" at the Emmys, and Wednesday's Vox interview with David Chase, where the "Sopranos" creator finally offered an answer to the question of whether Tony died at the end of the notorious blackout finale of the 1999-2007 series.

All three of these finales, plus others of shows that went off the air this year ("Dexter," "How I Met Your Mother") drew both kudos and complaints. Some fans found these finales satisfying and others found them cheap copouts. It almost makes you sorry for the writers, who seem bound to disappoint some faction of fans, no matter how they choose to wrap things up.

Take "True Blood," for instance. (Warning: Spoilers follow.) Fans who'd been watching since the beginning of the HBO series seven years ago may have expected Sookie (Anna Paquin) and Vampire Bill (Stephen Moyer) to end up together. For such fans, Bill's insistence on having Sookie put him out of his misery (instead of partaking of the Hepatitis-V cure) so that she could live a normal life (whatever that meant) made little sense. The finale also seemed in a rush to tie up loose ends for most of the other surviving characters. (Some, like Sam and Lafayette, were given especially short shrift.) And the happily-ever-after Thanksgiving tableau (which made the vampire drama look like the opening credits of NBC's "Parenthood") that saw Sookie pregnant and living with an unseen new man frustrated those who wanted to see Sookie and up with Bill, Eric (Alexander Skarsgard), or at least some other character not introduced in the last moments of the series.

On the other hand, the finale did manage to encapsulate neatly the theme of the entire series, in Sookie's question to the preacher of whether, if we're all created by God, any of us can be considered mistakes. That's a nice way of summing up the series central vampires-as-gays metaphor. If everyone, even once-closeted fringe-dwellers like vampires, is a human with dignity and deserving of love (everyone, that is, except bigots like Sarah Newlin (Anna Camp), whose fate is to live a life devoid of hope, chained up in the Fangtasia basement, to be fed upon by wealthy vampires), then it's no wonder that the finale centered on the impromptu human/vampire wedding of Hoyt and Jessica and ended with that human/vampire/fairy/shapeshifter Thanksgiving celebration. In the end, it doesn't really matter who Sookie's man is, only that she found one without giving up the fairy powers that make her who she is.

So if you thought your favorite "True Blood" character got either shortchanged or over-explained, you're not alone. The episode seemed designed to please and infuriate in equal measure.

That's hard for fans to accept, for any series finale. We want our hours, our years, of emotional investment in the show and its characters to be rewarded in a way that honors our commitment, even though the elements we often admire about shows - how true-to-life the characters are, how complex the plotting is - mean that tidy resolutions that offer closure for all the characters are hard to come by. Maybe the only series finale of the past decade that remained true to its premise while offering closure for all the protagonists was mortuary drama "Six Feet Under," which told us how each of them would die.

Still, this past year was full of unusually unsatisfying finales, from "Dexter" (he becomes a lumberjack? Really?) to "How I Met Your Mother" (all those years of preparing for the Mother's arrival and for Robin and Barney's wedding were a big head-fake? Really?). Even "True Detective," whose next season will center on all-new characters and a new storyline, ended its first season of deep philosophizing and arcane literary references by having its sleuths stumble upon the killer almost by dumb luck rather than expert puzzle-solving skills.

It's no wonder, then, that Monday's 66th annual Primetime Emmys served as a celebration of a series whose finale we're still talking about in mostly positive terms 11 months later, "Breaking Bad." True, Walt (Bryan Cranston) almost too neatly tied up all his loose ends before he died, but then, that's the kind of person he was. And he didn't tie up all loose ends; he didn't get to reconcile with his son, for instance. But he did free Jesse (Aaron Paul), kill off his remaining enemies, and provide financially for his family's future. Most important, he finally admitted to his wife Skylar (Anna Gunn) that he didn't turn to crime just to build a nest egg for his survivors but also because he enjoyed it. Everyone pretty much got what the fans felt they deserved, the show went out on a high note, and the series as a whole ended up looking like a classic, especially in light of this year's shows with weaker finales.

The ultimate in divisive, ambiguous finales was, of course, the 2007 conclusion to "The Sopranos," with its buildup of unbearable tension in that diner and its abrupt blackout, leaving Tony's (James Gandolfini) fate in narrative limbo. To this day, it's a climax fans argue about bitterly - which is also a measure of its success. Fans don't just debate whether or not Tony was about to die, but whether series creator David Chase ended the show in a fitting way or cheated fans out of closure by refusing to reveal Tony's fate.

For seven years, Chase has declined to say whether Tony survived long enough to finish his plate of onion rings or not, essentially arguing that it doesn't matter because Tony's story was over. Even if he lived, he'd still be sentenced to life as Tony Soprano - always having to look over his shoulder, always having to deal with his resentful family - and that might be poetic justice enough.

Wednesday's Vox interview seems to be the first time Chase has allowed the door to swing one way or the other. The article quotes him as saying of Tony, "No, he isn't" -- though it doesn't say what question he's answering (presumably, "Is Tony dead?").

If that's really what Chase meant to say, then the remark is itself a puzzler. Why break the silence now? Why break it at all? Why ruin the ambiguity he's made a point of preserving all these years?

Indeed, Chase and some of his TV critic acolytes seem to have spent the last couple of days walking back the remark. Chase issued a press release insisting that his remark was misconstrued. "There is a much larger context for that statement and as such, it is not true," the release read. "As David Chase has said numerous times on the record, 'Whether Tony Soprano is alive or dead is not the point.' To continue to search for this answer is fruitless. The final scene of 'The Sopranos' raises a spiritual question that has no right or wrong answer."

You could take Chase's press release one step further and argue that whatever he says doesn't matter, even if he's the guy who created the series and wrote and directed the last episode. No matter what he says, the episode exists, the ending exists, and it speaks for itself, no matter what its creator has to say about it. Whatever he may say now, a resolute answer to Tony's fate is simply not there on the screen. The ambiguous final shot isn't a puzzle to be solved; it's a moment whose crystallized uncertainty is emblematic of the six seasons' worth of episodes that preceded it.

TV is like life, in that sense. It shouldn't be about the ending, but about the journey. That's the way we experienced it while we watched it, and that's the way we experience it again in reruns, not with an eye toward how it will all wrap up in the end, but rather as an interesting stop along the way, to be savored and explored for its own merits. It would be nice if the end offered enough meaning to make sense of it all, but life doesn't always work out that way, and neither does TV.

Of course, you almost never know when life will end, while TV creators, if they're lucky, get a season or two of advance notice as to their show's finale date. Even so, some of them don't seem to plan well in the season or seasons leading up to the end; characters are killed or otherwise hastily written off and plot complications are either too quickly tied up and swept aside or ignored altogether. For many, that was the problem with the final season of "True Blood" (and other recent shows, including "Lost," which gave itself three seasons to resolve its mysteries and still ran out of time, or "The Office," which fumbled around its last season until it could coax Steve Carell to return for the finale).

So for those series whose finales we'll see during the upcoming season ("Boardwalk Empire," "Mad Men," "Parks and Recreation"), you scriptwriters have your work cut out for you. Plan well, but realize that you're not going to make every fan happy, tie up every loose end, or give every character satisfying closure. So you might as well embrace a little ambiguity. Better to leave fans wanting more than to overstuff them and make them feel queasy about the entire series.

Fall TV will be back in a flash -- are you caught up on the shows that are about to return? We think it's about time to take the last long weekend of the summer to binge on the series that somehow got bumped from your TV routine or never got the viewing time from you they deserved in the first place.

September is coming. Thankfully, the long weekend has arrived... Here's what you need to catch up on right away:

"Boardwalk Empire"
The end of the HBO period crime drama is approaching -- Season 5 premieres September 7.

WATCH NOW

"Sons of Anarchy"
Another series approaching its last season -- don't you want to see what all the fuss is about when it comes to the biker gang? You have until September 9th to get those six wonderful seasons under your watching belt.

WATCH NOW


"New Girl"
Hey, these episodes are only a half hour. Totally doable. Zooey Deschanel and company's three seasons of relationship drama and friendship fun are a must before its September 16th premiere.

WATCH NOW


"The Mindy Project"
The Mindy Kaling-led rom-commy hilarity that is "The Mindy Project" has only two seasons. Do yourself a favor and dig in before September 16th rolls around.

WATCH NOW


"The Good Wife"
So, realistically, "The Good Wife" is more of a commitment. The riveting one hour series has five seasons to get through, but its prime binge material if you're into law dramas. A September 21st premiere gives you some breathing room, anyway. Still time!
WATCH NOW


"Sleepy Hollow"
There's only one season of Fox's delightful supernatural police drama "Sleepy Hollow" so there are really no excuses if you're not ready to go by September 22nd.

WATCH NOW

"The Blacklist"
Same goes for NBC's crime drama, "The Blacklist" -- the thrilling hit's second season rolls around on September 22nd.

WATCH NOW

"Nashville"
There are only two season's of ABC's delightfully soapy country music drama, "Nashville." Be ready to face the music when it returns on September 24th.

WATCH NOW

"Parenthood"
"Parenthood" heads into into its final season on September 25th. If you're not familiar with the fabulous Braverman family, you have about a month to get to know them and fall in love for life.

WATCH NOW

"Brooklyn Nine-Nine"
There's only one season of the hilarious Andy Samberg cop comedy "Brooklyn Nine-Nine." Find out what all the fuss is about before September 28th.

WATCH NOW

"The Originals"
Another show with only one season to get through is the "Vampire Diaries" spinoff, "The Originals." If you're looking for a new sexy supernatural show to sink your teeth into, look no further. It comes back October 6th...

WATCH NOW

"Arrow"
"Arrow" has only two seasons, and it's a fantastic ride even if you're not into comic books. Trust us.
You have until October 8 to binge away.

WATCH NOW



Photo courtesy of Patrick Ecclesine/NBC

Who is Dr. Strange?News of Joaquin Phoenix (perhaps) taking on the role Doctor Strange is spreading like wildfire, and Marvel is looking past Thor, Captain America, and "Avengers 2" to the good Doctor! But who is Doctor Strange? If you're not a die-hard comics reader, Moviefone has everything you need to know about Marvel's Master of the Mystic Arts.


Who is Doctor Strange? Stephen Strange is a skilled but arrogant neurosurgeon who is only driven by money. A car accident cripples his hands, leaving him unable to work. Desperately seeking a cure for his handicap, he travels the world seeking out alternative remedies, until he finds himself in the Himalayas, under the care of a mystic old man, known as the Ancient One. After saving the Ancient One's life, Strange becomes his pupil and learns humility, wisdom... and a little thing called magic.

Throughout the years, Strange wields a growing arsenal of magic powers, putting him into conflict with demons, gods, and witches in this dimension and the next. Along the way, he is aided by Wong, his martial arts practicing sidekick, and Clea, a sorceress and love interest.

Who is the villain? At the risk of certain death by sneaking into top-secret Disney meetings, we can safely speculate that the "Strange" movie will feature up to three villains. The first is Baron Mordo, the first spell-casting disciple of the Ancient One who plots to kill his mentor with black magic. Mordo serves the dread Dormammu, a flaming-head-ed tyrant of the Dark Dimension. Then there are the Mindless Ones, big rocky, humanoids that do the bidding of whoever summons them.

If we could make a rough "Lord of the Rings" analogy: The Mindless Ones = Orcs, Baron Mordo = Saruman, and Dormammu = Sauron.

What is the movie about? Don't get too ahead of yourself with visions of Strange tangling with the most fantastical creatures of the Marvel Universe. Expect an origin story, as Strange learns to control his new powers. This movie will also serve as one of the tentpoles of Phase 3, the wave of Marvel movies that will follow "Avengers 2" and hope to expand upon the adventures of Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, and Chris Hemsworth. We'll be treated to new characters, new genres, and perhaps a team of new Avengers.

What should I read? Check out the gallery below for a crash-course in everything Doctor Strange, from his magical first appearance to his current adventures.



Article photo courtesy Marvel