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Hollywood rebounds, but family-friendly offerings still limited

By Jeff Peterson

For the Deseret News

Published: Friday, July 5 2013 11:32 a.m. MDT

Tom Cruise stars as Jack Harper in "Oblivion"

David James

The first half of 2013 is already behind us, and despite some ominous doom-and-gloom predictions from George Lucas and Steven Spielberg about the impending collapse of the movie industry, things actually seem to be looking up for Hollywood these days thanks to a healthy second-quarter box office.

The first part of summer has even witnessed one new inductee into the ever-expanding billion-dollar box office club.

But that hasn’t been enough to compensate for an undeniably rocky beginning. In the absence of a “Hunger Games”-sized March blockbuster and with very little in the way of family-friendly options, audience turnout through the first three months of 2013 dropped a whopping 22 percent from the same quarter last year, according to Box Office Mojo.

In fact, the only movie to cross the $200 million line during 2013’s first quarter was Sam Raimi’s “Oz the Great and Powerful.”

That leaves Hollywood with an uphill battle if it hopes to surpass the record-breaking $10.8 billion cumulative box office from last year.

The game plan? Jam pack the release calendar with even more big-budget extravaganzas than usual.

As noted in a recent New York Times article by Brooks Barnes, in just the two-month period from May 1 to July 4, studios will have put out 13 movies with budgets in excess of $100 million each — a 44 percent increase over the same period in 2012.

Even April — a month normally considered a cinematic dumping ground — saw the release of Joseph Kosinski’s $120 million sci-fi actioner “Oblivion,” starring perennial box-office draw Tom Cruise (although it was the Jackie Robinson biopic “42” that scored the highest April numbers).

Somehow, though, even with all the extra money being poured into would-be blockbusters, this summer’s lineup has so far felt a little bit like déjà vu.

In an attempt to duplicate the success of Marvel’s “The Avengers,” which grossed $1.5 billion last year, the 2013 summer movie season officially kicked off with another entry in the Marvel cinematic universe, “Iron Man 3.”

Robert Downey Jr.’s third (and probably final) solo outing as the Armored Avenger managed to survive mixed reviews, the inevitable backlash of comic book purists and the threat of franchise fatigue to become the second highest-grossing superhero film of all time, rocketing past “The Dark Knight Rises” to the tune of $1.2 billion.

That figure was apparently enough to convince even the famously tight-fisted Marvel studio heads to re-sign Downey Jr. for at least two more Avengers movies. After that, the actor has hinted that he will probably hang up Iron Man’s jet boots for good.

To pretty much nobody’s surprise, the summer’s other box-office behemoth has turned out to be Warner Bros.’ long awaited Superman reboot, “Man of Steel,” which outperformed early estimates and managed to set a new June record with $128 million from its first five days of release.

Like Warner Bros.’ “The Dark Knight Rises” last year, “Man of Steel” looks poised to take the No. 2 spot in worldwide box office this summer.

But in a lot of ways, Zack Snyder’s more realistic take on Superman hasn’t quite been the home run fans had hoped for. It’s current Rotten Tomatoes score sits at just 56 percent (compared with 2006’s much-maligned “Superman Returns” at 75 percent).

Critics and moviegoers took issue with the wholesale destruction on display in the film’s final third — an action-packed throwdown between Superman and General Zod that leaves most of downtown Metropolis in ruins and, presumably, untold thousands dead or buried alive under the rubble of skyscrapers.

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