Believe it or not, we are at the tail end of the summer movie blockbuster season. It got off to a flying start with Top Gun: Maverick and has continued with Thor: Love and Thunder, Elvis and Nope, among other films. Just like summer itself, things move fast as we enter the dog days of August. Summer at the box office has been an adjustment since 2020. Traditionally, it has been the biggest season of the year for Hollywood box office. A long time ago in what seems like a galaxy far far away Hollywood took the summer off which we detailed last summer.
Moving forward into the fall, we also like to look back at past summers at the movies. Last year we looked at different eras, the summers of 1989, 1994 and 1998. This time around we will take a more specific approach as we say goodbye to the 80s, instead casting a spotlight on more recent years. We’ll start by going back 20 years to the summer of 2002.
We’ve broken the box office down to a few categories including the best movie of the summer, movies that won Oscars, flops and popular kids movies. So pop in that Avril Lavigne CD while watching the first season of American Idol as we dive into 2002…
Summer Action: 2002 was a significant year for action movies. Hollywood seemed to load up on action in a post-9/11 world and so did audiences. 2002 also marked a new beginning for superhero films with an impressive return of comic book characters on the big screen. Before Spider-Man was part of the MCU, the hero’s first major motion picture for Sony was quite the debut. Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco and Willem Dafoe pulled it off perfectly and catapulted Spidey to number one at the box office grossing over $403 million (source: box office mojo). Spider-Man faced fierce competition from Star Wars: Episode II- Attack of the Clones which finished the summer season at number two grossing over $300 million (source: box office mojo). The Spidey vs Star Wars box office battle brought a lot of heat to Hollywood. 2002 also marked the beginning of the Jason Bourne franchise with Matt Damon in The Bourne Identity. Minority Report, XXX and Signs also provided audiences with plenty of thrills throughout the summer.
Surprise Summer Hit: Van Wilder. If you’re from the American Pie generation then you know this movie as the bookend to the teen drama/comedy film era of the late 90s/early 2000s. If you aren’t then you can think of this as a Ryan Reynolds origin story. 20 years ago, Ryan Reynolds star of Deadpool was Ryan Reynolds sitcom actor. Following an appearance in Dick, Reynolds had his first leading role as the college party boy who fights the good fight and makes the most of his college experience. You could make the case this was the last good film from that Can’t Hardly Wait-Varsity Blues-Road Trip-America Pie era. It boasts a stellar cast and memorable scenes of hilarity and youthful exuberance. It also laid the groundwork for Reynolds as a movie star and set the Deadpool path in motion. Like we said, an origin story.
Summer Flop: Deuces Wild. This was a bit of a tough category. At the time some were critical of how M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs ended but the film still did very well at the box office so calling it feels like a stretch to call it a flop. In our research we noticed the number two appears twice in 2002. We used this to look for clues that Hollywood was using this as a theme throughout the summer. We noticed a few sequels and a couple of movie titles referencing the number and that’s how we arrived at Deuces Wild. Maybe that’s what Hollywood was going for with this film or maybe it’s just a coincidence. Either way there wasn’t much else working with this film. It was billed as a gangster thriller set in Brooklyn in the 1950s. ‘Deuces’ was a street gang and the film centers around their rivalry with the ‘Vipers’ gang in New York. The cast included Matt Dillon, James Franco, Brad Renfro, and Stephen Dorff but not much else. Martin Scorsese had signed on as an Executive Producer but walked away from the film.
Something For The Kids: Disney gave us Lilo & Stitch in the summer of 2002. The adorable duo was one of the top ten movies at the box office but it wasn’t the top children’s film grossing over $142 million. That honor went to Warner Bros’ live action Scooby-Doo remake grossing over $152 million. The Powerpuff Girls also made their big screen debut as did Ice Age. Rounding out the top summer kids films were a couple of sequels Spy Kids 2 and Stuart Little 2.
The Summer Belonged To… Spider-Man. You can trace the roots of Marvel at the box office back to 2002. This film laid the groundwork for many things to come. For one thing the Spider-Man franchise is still cashing in at the box office 20 years later. If Spider-Man flopped maybe The Avengers never gets made, maybe Sony hangs on to the rights and maybe Disney doesn’t try to get in with Marvel and combine forces with 20th Century Fox when launching Disney+. The film was released at the beginning of the summer and ended the summer making the most film at the box office. It also produced a decent Nickelback song. How’s that for nostalgia?
Oscar Buzz: Spider-Man received two Oscar nominations for Best Sound and Best Visual Effects. Diane Lane received a Best Actress nomination for her performance in Unfaithful. Lilo & Stitch and Ice Age also nominated for Best Animated Film. Unfortunately, none of the nominees ended up winning.
There’s a recap of the summer of 2002. In our next installment we will look at the summer of 2012, so stay tuned.