Family-friendly movie year in review

By Jeff Peterson

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, Dec. 27 2012 7:00 p.m. MST

Dracula (Adam Sandler) and a staff member in "Hotel Transylvania."

Sony Pictures Animation

As 2012 draws to an end, things are finally looking up for the movie industry. Back-to-back hits in November, “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 2” and “Skyfall,” together with some of the biggest movies of the season arriving in theaters during December, all but guarantee 2012 will set a new high for cumulative box office, beating out 2009’s $10.595 billion record.

But this has been nothing if not a mixed year for studios and audiences alike. Families, in particular, have had a hit-or-miss time at the movies.

So here’s a look back at 2012 and some of the movies and trends that affected families, as well as what they could mean for the near future of cinema.

Ups and downs

This year was one punctuated by huge box-office hits and some even bigger misses, particularly during the crucial summer movie months.

After starting off the season as a Hulk-sized smash, Disney’s “The Avengers” went on to become the highest grossing film of the year by a substantial margin, earning more than $1.5 billion worldwide ($623 million in the U.S. alone).

Even the long-awaited conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s massively successful Dark Knight trilogy couldn’t overcome the combined box office prowess of Earth’s mightiest heroes. “The Dark Knight Rises” eventually settled into the year’s No. 2 spot with $1.08 billion ($448 million domestic).

But for every major studio success, there has been a box office dud to counter it.

Before Disney’s large-scale experiment in superhero franchise filmmaking became the third highest-grossing film of all time, the House of Mouse gambled big and lost on Andrew Stanton’s sci-fi adventure film “John Carter.”

Although an entertaining flick that could have become the next Star Wars given the right audience, Stanton’s costly adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ 1917 sci-fi classic “A Princess of Mars” wound up losing the studio an estimated $200 million.

Likewise, the box-office success of Sony’s “The Amazing Spider-Man” ($262 million domestic and $752 million worldwide) was undercut by the company’s late-summer flop “Total Recall,” which earned just $58 million in the U.S.

Critics vs. audiences

Even family-targeted animated movies, which are often safer bets for studios, have been met with extremely mixed results this year, and in many instances, critics and audiences found themselves at odds with one another, as in the case of Genndy Tartakovsky’s “Hotel Transylvania.”

After being trounced by the press with a weak 43 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, the Adam Sandler-led monster mash-up became one of the big audience draws of the Halloween season, setting a new record for September opening weekends and eventually pulling in $308 million worldwide. The film drew an 81 percent Worth Your Time rating at OK.com.

Naturally, with such huge numbers, a “Hotel Transylvania” sequel is already in the works.

What’s more, fans of Tartakovsky could be that much closer to seeing a movie based on the animator’s now-defunct Cartoon Network series “Samurai Jack.”

By contrast, though, moviegoers didn’t seem to share critics’ love of stop-motion features like Tim Burton’s “Frankenweenie” (89 percent on Rotten Tomatoes) or Aardman Animations’ “The Pirates! Band of Misfits” (86 percent). Despite overwhelmingly positive reviews, both films finished their theatrical runs with less than $35 million in the U.S.

Meanwhile, a third stop-motion feature, Laika Inc.’s “ParaNorman,” fared only slightly better, earning around $56 million domestically.

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