What Was The Greatest Summer In Movie History? 2008

2008 – When It Became Cool To Be A Geek

Comic book movies have been around forever. It’s easy to understand why. Not only do movies based on comic books come with built-in fan bases they also have a visual motif already developed and proven popular. But the success rate for years had been sketchy at best. Sure, if done right you could pull off a Batman movie and by the 00’s CGI was good enough to do Spider-Man well but those were the big guns of the comic book world and weren’t any kind of proof that even high second tier characters and stories could draw a big enough audience to be worthwhile. All that changed in the summer of 2008 when Marvel Studios burst onto the scene not with the big guns of the Marvel Universe (they had already sold the rights to Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four and the X-Men) but with the second string. In fact 2008 is when a number of studios took risks and had to prove they were more than what we had previously believed, but while the solidification of the standing of Pixar and DreamWorks Animation were powerful stories that summer, it was the success of superheroes and graphic novels that in the near term changed what summer movie season would be. Now every summer is the summer of geek.

Geek’s Rule The World

  • Iron Man – this was not the biggest movie of the summer, but this was the movie that in many ways changed everything. Tony Stark was a name only the geekiest of the geek had ever heard of before 2008 (don’t believe your friends that say they were big Iron Man fans for years, they weren’t). He wasn’t just not on par with Batman or Spider-Man, Daredevil was a bigger property. I mean Iron Man was in the Black Panther/Hawkeye range of superheroes. But credit to someone over there at Marvel that didn’t look at comic book sales numbers, but rather looked at the character and realized that Tony Stark was destined to play better on the big screen than he ever would on the page (a lesson DC and other comic book companies would do well to learn). Iron Man taught Marvel how to make movies, taught them how to create their world and was the first building block that eventually brought us The Avengers.
  • The Dark Knight – this was THE movie of the summer and while The Dark Knight and Iron Man seemed to deepen and perpetuate the ongoing DC/Marvel war the massive success of TDK solidified in hollywoods mind that comic book heroes were the wave of the immediate future. I would also be remiss not to note that while all of the movies over the last four years that have been setting box office record after box office record have had the benefit of even more inflated ticket prices stemming from 3D showings, TDK was not in 3D. So while The Avengers and Avatar appear to be bigger, they really aren’t (or aren’t by very much).
  • The Incredible Hulk – this was a much better and truer adaptation than Ang Lee’s Hulk from a few year earlier and while as a screen hero the Hulk will never carry a movie as well as Iron Man or Batman or any of a number of heroes this movie was better and more successful than people seem to remember.
Maybe The Second Most Influential Film
of 2008
  • Wanted – truthfully, purely from an industry impact point of view, this movie probably should have gone #2 on this list. Based on a barely released graphic novel the success of Wanted was the catalyst for the huge influx of non-superhero comic book properties coming to the screen. Kick-Ass, Scott Pilgrim, The Losers even The Walking Dead all owe their green lighting to Wanted (and really to Angelina Jolie because she was the reason most people went to see this flick).
  • Hancock – not actually based on a comic book, but inspired by a lot of them, this Will Smith vehicle was the variation on the theme. A great idea (drunk, nearly homeless, superhero who causes more problems than he solves gets help from a PR guy) brought down a little bit by a mythology that wasn’t great, Hancock has its moments and was much more popular than you realize.
  • Hellboy II: The Golden Army – a typical “we were a hit in the spring so this time let’s go for it in the summer” sequel. As is almost always true with those kinds of sequels this movie didn’t play as well when engulfed by the size and scope of summer and when it was bloated in order to “compete” with summer fare. Still, this is a fun movie and another example of a lesser comic book hero making a name for himself on the big screen.
We Will Never Doubt You Again
Maybe Not Pixar’s Best
But Probably Their Greatest Achievement
  • WALL-E – sure, even before 2008 we all would have said “Pixar can do no wrong” but then they announced they were doing a movie about a little robot who couldn’t speak and would be all alone for nearly the entire first act of the movie, which would contain no dialogue. Oh, and if that weren’t enough it was going to be a movie about consumption and laziness with environmental underpinnings. Suddenly that whole “Pixar can do no wrong thing” thing seemed to waver until we saw WALL-E. WALL-E isn’t my favorite Pixar movie, that would be either Nemo or UP or The Incredibles, but I think WALL-E is somehow Pixar’s greatest achievement and I still can’t believe they made this story work (but man, did it work).
  • Kung Fu Panda – while Pixar had easily broadened beyond the studio that made Toy Story in 2008 DreamWorks Animation was still very much the studio that made Shrek movies. Kung Fu Panda changed that. While WALL-E was an idea that did everything but sell itself Kung Fu Panda was one of those things you heard about and almost immediately said “well, that should be a hit”. The only problem was who knew if the team at DreamWorks could pull it off. In short, they could. Since 2008 with hits like How To Train Your Dragon and Monsters versus Aliens and Megamind it seems crazy that we doubted DreamWorks ability to make this kind of movie.
Old Properties Can Still Bring Crowds

  • Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – no point in droning on and on about the merits and foibles of the last installment of Indiana Jones except to say it proved that the franchise still had legs, that it could still draw crowds.
  • Sex and the City – I actually quite enjoyed the TV show (at least the first couple of seasons) but I never saw the point of making a movie. Apparently a lot of other people thought there was a very good point to making this movie.
  • Mamma Mia – the first time I saw this I hated it. Now it has achieved some bizarre train wreck like quality that I just can’t look away whenever it comes on. Many of my wife’s friends loved it (as did a whole bunch of other people) so what do I know.
  • Get Smart – I LOVED this show when I was a kid and I though Steve Carell was as close to perfect casting as you could get. The problem was (as is often the case with TV show adaptations) is that the size and special effects actually detracted from the comedy and the comedic feel of the original.
  • The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian – Like Hellboy this was another movie that did not fare nearly so well in the summer as its predecessor had (the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe had been released in December a few years earlier). But it still drew a crowd.
  • The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor – made a good 10 years before it should have been (Brendan Fraiser and Maria Bello just did not look anywhere near old enough to have a 20 something year old son) and sorely missing Rachel Weiss like the rest of the movies on this list, I didn’t love it but it drew a crowd.
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars – the TV show has at times been better (and this kind of felt like a made for TV thing when you saw it on the big screen) but I still like the idea of exploring more stories within the Star Wars universe
Ben Stiller versus Judd Apatow versus Adam Sandler versus Will Ferrell – Who Will Be The Comedic Voice Of A Generation
  • Tropic Thunder – while this is a film that no doubt had its moments (Tom Cruise is amazing as the studio head) I think it fell well short of great. What was great, however, was the “short” that Ben Stiller, Robert Downey, Jr. and Jack Black made for the MTV Movie Awards that year. I’m glad they made the movie just so they could make this.
This Photo Does Not Do Ms. Chriqui Justice
  • Pineapple Express – do you know what I loved about this? Of course you don’t, that is a stupid question. What I loved about this was the entire idea was based on if Brad Pitt’s character from True Romance was in an action movie. I love that because that is one of my all time favorite bit characters in any movie ever (my wife’s too, we always mimic his “condescend me” line). Like Tropic Thunder this was a movie full of moments that didn’t quite make it to great.
  • Step Brothers – this felt like a movie that was made entirely off the cuff, like Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly got drunk one afternoon and said to each other “hey man, we should totally do a movie where we are like brothers but we hate each other, it would be awesome” and a week later principal filming began.
  • You Don’t Mess With The Zohan – is Emmanuelle Chriqui the best looking human on the planet? If she is not she is awfully close. The movie is what a Sandler movie is. Some love it, some hate.
  • House Bunny – in a lot of ways this movie holds together better than any of the other comedies listed above. It may not have the side splitting highs, but it has a full and complete story with characters that stay true to it, I don’t think I can say that about any of the other comedies here (it was produced by Adam Sandler, hence falling into his camp)
The summer of 2008 also proved a few indisputable facts like …
Proof That Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher Can Be Funny
  • What Happens In Vegas
Proof That M. Night Shyamalan and the Wachowski Brothers and Mike Meyers Have Lost Their Magic
  • The Happening
  • Speed Racer
  • The Love Guru
Proof That Most TV Stars Will NEVER Be Movie Stars
  • Made of Honor
  • The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2
  • The Rocker
GLEE Will Never Be This Good
  • Hamlet 2
Woody Allen Can Still Make A Good Movie (Not A Great One, But A Good One)
  • Vicky Christine Barcellona
Proof That Vin Diesel Needs Paul Walker
  • Babylon A.D.
Proof That The X Files Will NEVER Be Star Trek
  • X Files: I Want To Believe
Proof That Kevin Costner Can Only Be Funny When Ron Shelton Writes For Him
  • Swing Vote
Proof That Jason Statham Can Do Roger Corman Proud
  • Death Race
Truthfully I could have titled this “The Summer I Almost Forgot”. Anyone who has ever attempted to embark on this kind of silly exercise (a best of thing where you compare different years, movies, athletes, teams, albums or what have you) has no doubt had a similar experience. You make your list, first off the top of your head and then with a little bit of research, and start compiling. Then, usually right after you are done, someone says “hey, what about X?” and you proceed to hit yourself because you forgot an obvious one. No doubt someone would have said “hey, what about 2008?” to me but fortunately, just as I was about to go through the years I had already looked at (’77, ’80, ’82, ’89, ’93, ’94, ’04) to determine what was the best year I remembered 2008, the year of The Dark Knight and Iron Man. The summer that spawned a thousand “geek” podcasts and websites (my favorite is geekshow.com, but that’s just me). Thank goodness because I can definitely tell you this much, it won’t be at the bottom of the top 8.

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