Thursday, May 23, 2024

“The Fall Guy” Officially Kicks Off The 2024 Summer Movie Season

The Fall Guy” is not a superhero movie or a franchise-launching movie. It is based on a vaguely remembered TV show, is sold more on the star power of human actors than IP characters, and celebrates practical stunts and action more than special effects. That makes it unusual enough for a regular summer movie these days, but it is downright revolutionary in this era for being the first film of the summer.

The start of May is generally recognized as the beginning of the summer movie season, and it has not had a movie like “The Fall Guy” kick it off in a very long time. Not counting the pandemic years of 2020/2021, these movies have had the “first movie of summer” label in the last two decades, even if some opened on the previous days or week of April.

2023: “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3
2022: “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
2019: “Avengers: Endgame
2018: “Avengers: Infinity War
2017: “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
2016: “Captain America: Civil War
2015: “Avengers: Age of Ultron”
2014: “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”
2013: “Iron Man 3”
2012: “The Avengers
2011: “Thor” – or “Fast Five” the week before
2010: “Iron Man 2”
2009: “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”
2008: “Iron Man”
2007: “Spider-Man 3”
2006: “Mission: Impossible III”

The pattern is evident by now, as the traditional summer kickoff weekend has been reserved for a Marvel superhero every normal year since the mid-2000s until now. Even when “Fast Five” actually opened bigger than “Thor” a week early in 2011, and even when “Mission: Impossible 3” was the last non-Marvel film to open a regular summer officially, those exceptions were still for established action franchises with several sequels under their belts. “The Fall Guy” is neither of those things and, therefore, is a far greater outlier.The last movie outside these parameters to open summer might be “Kingdom of Heaven” in 2005. Yet it didn’t even crack $20 million in its opening weekend and didn’t find passionate fans until its extended directors cut came to DVD. However, that wasn’t really considered the actual summer kickoff film of 2005 anyway, since “Revenge of the Sith” was due two weeks later. As such, Hollywood could afford to release an ultra-serious Ridley Scott historical epic about 12th-century religious warfare as a mere warmup act.

2004’s first film of summer was one meant to begin a franchise if not a whole cinematic universe, yet “Van Helsing” didn’t come close to either. It certainly didn’t match 2003’s “X2” as a summer opener, and neither matched 2002’s “Spider-Man” as it stole the early summer spotlight from “Attack of the Clones” Summer 2001 started with the sequel “The Mummy Returns,” just as its predecessor started summer in 1999 while everyone was waiting for “The Phantom Menace.” But in between, the summer of 2000 not only opened with a non-superhero/franchise film in “Gladiator,” it opened with that year’s Best Picture winner. That may have been the last time Hollywood meant to launch a summer movie season with something other than a franchise, or what we now consider a typical blockbuster – until “The Fall Guy” 24 years later.

Of course, it wasn’t Hollywood’s first choice, although its strike decisions and superhero fatigue made it possible. Thanks to various strike delays, the struggling MCU waiting until the end of July to release “Deadpool and Wolverine,” and the DC Universe rebooting for next year, there are no superheroes available to open summer for the first time in forever. Because of that, more than anything else, summer is opening with a relatively smaller, not quite sure thing like “The Fall Guy” since there is no other choice.Yet there were other options if they wanted another bankable franchise in that slot since “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” opens a week after “The Fall Guy.” But since the FOX sequel/relaunching is technically a Disney film, it is somewhat surprising it didn’t try to reclaim Disney’s traditional first weekend in May slot. Under normal circumstances, “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” would seem to be a more natural fit for summer’s first weekend, while something like “The Fall Guy” would try to challenge it in the next. However, since the Apes franchise has never been at an MCU box office level, and since it is starting a new storyline without star Andy Serkis or director Matt Reeves, perhaps it was deemed too big a gamble as an official summer opener.

Warner Bros also has another new spin on an established franchise ready for the month of May, yet the “Mad Max: Fury Road” prequel “Furiosa” is being saved for a Memorial Day weekend release and a Cannes Film Festival world premiere. And like the Apes franchise, its predecessors were never Marvel-level/first weekend of summer-level hits despite their fan and critical worship, so it too may have represented too big a gamble for an earlier opening. Then again, “The Fall Guy” is a far bigger gamble in that spot by comparison – and so it would say a lot more if that gamble paid off.

For those who want Hollywood blockbusters to move away from Marvel and superheroes, opening summer instead with something like “The Fall Guy” is a big chance for a proof of concept. If audiences want the future of summer blockbusters to go back to practical, star-power-driven, non-IP/franchise-reliant films, then having “The Fall Guy” prove such a film can successfully start summer again would be a nice opening argument.

Technically, since it is very loosely based on an 80s TV show, “The Fall Guy” isn’t IP-free – but these days, it counts as close enough. And with “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer’s” jilted love interests Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt headlining, it is also banking on riding the last echoes of the “Barbenheimer” summer last year, as Gosling and Blunt proved themselves in their recent “Saturday Night Live” monologue/duet. So, in that sense, it isn’t that big a risk, especially since human stars with a non-$200+ million budget and no superhero/cinematic universe ties used to be enough to start the summer a century ago.If “The Fall Guy” proves that is possible again, it may give Hollywood at least one second of pause before it rushes back to business next summer. In this brief window of opportunity, while Marvel, Disney, and DC are regrouping, there is time to prove just because this is the most unusual, non-pandemic summer movie season in two decades, maybe it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. If it isn’t, maybe future summers don’t have to revolve or open around Marvel, regardless of whether Deadpool, Wolverine, and other old FOX superheroes become the MCU’s salvation after all.

Realistically, “The Fall Guy” isn’t supposed to have a big blockbuster opening and perhaps isn’t designed to have one. At most, early projections have it opening in the mid $30 million range, which is still lower than the first projections for “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” the next week and even “If” the week after. Nonetheless, an opening below those numbers would be treated as an ominous sign and as supposed proof that non-superhero/franchise films really don’t belong on important weekends after all. On the other hand, opening up above expectations and building word of mouth afterward might suggest something much different.

As the most unusual summer opener in at least 20 years, “The Fall Guy” can set a very telling tone for this summer more than any Marvel film could. Given Universal’s hard marketing push and the stellar early reviews from SXSW, they have faith they can pull it off. If general audiences reward that faith, then it could mean more about how future summer movie seasons are crafted – or opened – than the average $100+ million MCU opening on the first weekend of May would have. But if “The Fall Guy” falls flat instead, and if it sets the tone for a worst-case summer where “Deadpool and Wolverine” has to bail Hollywood out, then summer 2024 and its opening weekend may be the last ones of their kind for a long time—whether or not that’s a good thing in the long term.

Have you seen “The Fall Guy” yet? If so, what do you think of it? What movie are you most looking forward to watching this summer? Please let us know in the comments section below or on Next Best Picture’s Twitter account.

You can follow Robert and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars & Film on Twitter at @Robertdoc1984

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