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The biggest movie surprises of the summer

| Sunday, July 14, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Nobody in Hollywood sets out to make a bad movie — not even Adam Sandler.

Actors don't read a script and say, “This looks pretty bad; I think I'll do it.”

Directors don't show up to a set and think, “I can't wait to waste the next two years of my life and make this terrible movie.”

Screenwriters don't sit in Starbucks every morning intentionally writing movie endings that will annoy moviegoers.

It just turns out that way sometimes.

Anything can happen between that morning in Starbucks and that night at the multiplex.

The script can be ruined by repeated re-writes. The casting can be wrong. The bean counters at the studio can cut the budget too much. The marketing campaign can be ill-advised. Worse yet, the filmmakers can be motivated solely by money.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to make money at the box office. This is a business, after all. It's just a bad idea to use money as a starting point.

The first half of the summer movie season is over, and it is time to see what we've learned from the successes and failures of the season. Every movie season has its share of surprises, and I have asked the noted film scholar Professor Barrywood to give us his report card on the summer movie season so far.

Professor, the column is yours ...

Good surprises

“The Purge”: You probably couldn't feed the extras on the “Iron Man 3” set for $3 million, but somebody made this silly thriller starring Ethan Hawke for $3 million. Seriously, in a summer of $200 million blockbusters, how could this little movie make $63 million? This is the reason people continue to make $3 million movies.

“Now You See Me”: Everybody hates movies about magic. Nobody goes to see movies about magic. This movie made those Hollywood cliches vanish. A heist film about a gang of young illusionists who steal from the rich, it struck a chord in audiences waiting for the next blockbuster to open. Although it wasn't made on the cheap like “The Purge,” the $75 million magic movie has passed the $100 million mark, and that is a true accomplishment for a summer movie that does not have superheroes, animated characters or Capt. James T. Kirk of the Starship Enterprise.

“This is the End”: Seth Rogen and his writing and directing partner Evan Goldberg must be giggling all the way to the bank. Probably on a dare, they decided to make an apocalyptic comedy starring all their friends (playing themselves) and the stupid movie has made $75 million. The reported budget was $32 million, but most of that went for beer and weed.

Bad surprises

“After Earth”: Will Smith is the King of Summer. Will Smith can't miss in the summer. Will Smith could make a summer movie with his son in it and people would stand in line to see it. Well, it turns out that Will Smith is human, and to his credit, he's taken his licks with a (pained) smile.

“The Internship”: There may have been a bit of overconfidence in the re-teaming of Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn eight years after “Wedding Crashers.” The public really wasn't that excited about the pairing of these guys, and even less interested in an infomercial on Google. At last count, the movie had made $41 million (see “The Purge”).

“The Hangover Part III”: Remember what that bald columnist said earlier about filmmakers being motivated by money? There was no reason to make this movie except for a fat payday for the studio, the filmmakers and the cast. I'll give Bradley Cooper a pass on this one. His career didn't need it, but he might have been contractually obligated to participate. He also is a loyal friend, and he would never deny his buddies a big paycheck. Still, I don't think he donated his check to charity, and I don't remember him offering refunds to people who paid to see this junk.

Just surprises

“Man of Steel”: The reviews were mixed, and many critics were quick to toss Kryptonite at this reboot of everybody's favorite superhero. Guess what? The public wants to see what the public wants to see. Despite the reviews, the film already has passed the $500 million mark worldwide.

“Epic”: This animated film is hardly a failure (it has eclipsed its $100 million price tag), but it never connected with families like “Monsters University.” Of course, “Epic” didn't have the benefit of being a sequel.

“World War Z”: Brad Pitt worked on this zombie film for six years, and it was pummeled by the worse negative buzz imaginable — reports of many re-writes, re-shoots and postponements. Still, people were interested in seeing it, which may go a long way toward blunting the notion floating around Hollywood that star power is dead.

Barry Koltnow is a staff writer for The Orange County Register.

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