Summer Movie Scoreboard – The Final Chapter

by Gabriel Storment (@SeaStorm24)

The leaves are changing, kids are going back to school, the west coast is on fire… it must be the end of summer. Unfortunately, that also means the Summer Movie season is drawing to a close. In what has become the norm, the home stretch of the most exciting movie season of the year was again the most lackluster. The only movies that made any real waves at the box office were released at the beginning of August. I’ll cover those briefly, but for the final installment of the Summer Movie Scoreboard, we’re also going to recap the season as a whole and name some overall winners and losers.

THE GOOD

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UNIVERSAL STUDIOS

Right about now, somewhere between Kirk Douglas Drive and James Stewart Avenue, some rich old white guys are sitting around in plush leather chairs, smoking Cuban cigars, and swirling 50 year old cognac in self-congratulatory splendor.

As of August 17th, Universal had brought in $5.77 billion at the box office, thanks in no small part to blockbusters Jurassic World, Furious 7 and Straight Outta Compton. This is by no means a long standing record. The previous mark was set by Fox in 2014 at $5.52 billion. Prior to that, Warner Bros. held the title when they took in $5.04 in 2013. Business is indeed booming, but as we’ve discussed, that isn’t necessarily good news for movies in general. It doesn’t actually mean more people are going to the movies. A combination of big-budget tentpoles created from existing properties and rising prices for both standard screen tickets and IMAX and 3D tickets have contributed to the windfall.

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STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON

The biopic has become the surprise hit of the summer, earning an impressive $60 million in its opening weekend. That’s more than the debuts of Fury Road or MI5, respectively. The decision to omit some of the darker chapters of NWA’s story from the film (Dr. Dre’s assault on Dee Barnes was included in the original script) have taken some of the luster off what is probably the summer’s biggest surprise, but there’s no denying Compton gets top marks for nostalgia. I married a Valley Girl who grew up during the period and the giddiness was palpable during the Skateland scene. She said she misses everything but the bangs.

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TOM CRUISE

Cruise has a franchise all to himself in Mission Impossible. They seem to have found the right tone with the last two sequels, adding just the right combination of humor and supporting personalities to punctuate the is-he-really-doing-that action scenes and offset Cruise’s impervious earnestness.

There were three moments this summer when I found myself giggling with glee like a kid in a movie theater because of how much fun I was having. The first was The Rock flexing through his cast in Furious 7. The second was Tom Hardy swinging back and forth from the end of a 30-foot pole while speeding across the desert. The third was the motorcycle chase in MI5. There’s a moment when Cruise speeds around a tight corner and his knee scrapes the pavement. It was as if he did it just for the audience; his way of winking at the camera and saying, “Pretty cool, right?”

Yes, Tom. Very cool.

THE BAD

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FANTASTIC 4

These days I make an effort to avoid any spoiler-y information that makes its way onto the internet. It’s an almost impossible task when trailers, set pics, casting news, plot details, etc. are hunted down and exposed like a reality star’s extra-marital online profile. For some reason people love getting information on movies before they come out. Fanboys are kind of like Edward Snowden, blasting information about movies across the internet as it becomes available. But where Snowden believes his actions are to serve the greater good (and I’m not here to say whether you should agree with him or not), the fanboys are only out to get the scoop. It’s lazy junkyard dog journalism. Not as sleazy as paparazzi photos, but just as annoying for a curmudgeon like me who still likes an element of surprise when I go to the movies.

Please forgive the tangent, but with Fantastic 4, it was impossible to avoid the collective “WTF is this?” coming from fans and critics alike, even before production wrapped. There have been a few duds this summer, and F4 won’t end up a complete financial disaster thanks to overseas markets, but no other movie released this season was as confusing and insulting to audiences.

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WE ARE YOUR FRIENDS

Did anyone even know this movie about EDM DJs (or are they MCs? I’m admittedly a square and not hip to that rave scene) existed? All evidence would point to the negative, as the movie had one of the worst openings for a wide release in history ($1.7 million in 2,333 theaters.) That is not a title you want to hold.

SUMMER SEASON WINNERS

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CHRIS PRATT

I still can’t believe the doughy doofus from Parks and Rec is now one of the biggest movie stars in the world. He currently resides in the Channing Tatum Sweet Spot (CTSS): in demand for all the movies, guys want to hang out with him, and girls want to do naughty things to him.

He’s currently in production on a reboot of The Magnificent Seven with Denzel Washington, a previous CTSS resident, and after that he’s scheduled to shoot sequels for Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World. Not too shabby for a guy who used to live out of a van in Hawaii, waiting tables at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.

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FEMALE-DRIVEN MOVIES

Women aren’t dominating the box office, which shouldn’t come as a surprise, but five of the twelve highest grossing movies this summer were led by strong female characters. This is absolutely a good thing. Inside Out, Pitch Perfect 2, Mad Max: Fury Road (which I still think should’ve been called The Fast and The Furiosa,) Spy, and Trainwreck all brought in huge numbers.

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THE ROCK

The only person to star in two movies (Furious 7 and San Andreas) that ranked in the top ten in box office receipts for the summer is, of course, The People’s Champion. Furious 7 was released on April 1st, so technically it may not have been a summer movie. But if you really want to get technical, summer doesn’t officially begin until June 21st, and if we went by that starting point, six out of the top ten movies this summer would be disqualified. So it counts.

The Rock is already slated to star in four movies in 2016, including a remake of Big Trouble in Little China as Jack Burton, which I’m still uneasy about. There’s a subtlety that Kirk Russell brought to Burton’s oblivious hero. We’ll see what Mr. Rock brings to the table for a role like that. If he keeps saving puppies from drowning, I’ll come around.

SUMMER SEASON LOSERS

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VACATION

I want to give America a high five for refusing to embrace this lazy cash grab. The filmmakers were trying to push all the right nostalgia buttons while delivering a gross-out, shock value, road trip comedy. None of it worked. There was more nostalgia in the Infinity ad with Christie Brinkley and Ethan Embry (once I realized, “holy crap that’s Ethan Embry!”).

Perfectly sane Randy Quaid has released a couple straight-to-dvd Vacation spinoffs as Cousin Eddie, but this was the first attempt at a major theatrical reboot (Vegas Vacation was even pushing it). We all know Hollywood is lazy and loves “reimagining” existing properties, but lately they seem to be moving ahead with remakes of movies I loved as a child. I’m leery of Ghostbusters, despite the fantastic casting and Paul Feig’s track record. And I’m still on the fence about the aforementioned Big Trouble in Little China.

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JOSH TRANK

This guy may have had the worst summer of all. There have been troubled productions before. Sometimes, the finished product is a success and something people like and want to see. For example, World War Z was delayed six months, required reshoots and an entirely rewritten third act before ultimately earning over $500 million worldwide. Fantastic 4 was not so fortunate. You could say it was “Dr. Doomed from the start!” (Sorry, please keep reading. I’m almost done.)

How much of the failure lies at Trank’s feet is arguable, but the grumblings that came from the set during shooting were enough to get his name pulled from the director’s chair of the second Star Wars anthology film. Dropping the ball on a Marvel superhero franchise and then getting the hook from Lucasfilm in the span of a couple months is rough. But the guy is only 30 years old and his first movie, Chronicle, was widely praised. He’ll make a comeback. Hollywood loves a good comeback story.

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CAMERON CROWE

Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Say Anything, Singles, Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous – Crowe owns a pretty stellar list of screenwriting credits. There’s a combination of elements that come together just right when Crowe’s movies work that makes you get that fuzzy, warm feeling inside. That’s why they’re so rewatchable. The music, the dialogue, the performances all come together to make something more than just the genre flick it seems to be at first watch. Fast Times and Say Anything are more than just high school comedies. Jerry Maguire is more than just a romantic comedy. Almost Famous is more than just a coming of age tale.

His last few films though, haven’t quite hit the mark. I don’t think anyone can say they want to watch Vanilla Sky again. Elizabethtown and We Bought a Zoo were also forgettable. Aloha is his most stupefying effort to date. A story that jumps confusingly between genres and an at times incoherent storyline resulted in a sixth place debut at the box office and terrible reviews. If you were a studio head and pitched a Cameron Crowe script set in Hawaii starring Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, and Bill Murray, you’d have to think it was a sure thing, right? Unfortunately, even with his resume, Crowe needs to start makin’ ‘em like he used to.

. . .

That’ll do it for the summer movie season and the Summer Movie Scoreboard. Overall, it was an entertaining season. The top earners were obviously the reboots and sequels, but like always, some smaller, quality releases got sprinkled in and overlooked by general audiences. Movies like Love and Mercy, Cop Car, and Mr. Holmes among others are definitely worth checking out. The fall movie season is just about to kick off so there are still plenty of flicks to look forward to seeing at the theater.

~

Gabriel Storment is an aspiring screenwriter, husband and father of two little hellraisers. He is based in Seattle and can be found on Stage 32, Twitter, and Facebook.

Building a Launchpad: 3 Foundations for a Character’s Internal Journey

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by John Bucher (@johnkbucher)

One of the most difficult puzzles a writer must solve involves the relationship between the inner needs and external goal of the protagonist. Some writers pitch stories solely about a character that learns or comes to realize something, not recognizing this is impossible to photograph on film since it occurs inside someone’s head. Other writers pitch stories of characters that risk life and limb to bring back a treasure from the underworld with no internal lessons or realizations along the way.

As a wise man once said, we must restore balance to the force. Good storytelling emphasizes the internal development of a protagonist that results from the external journey he or she experiences. However, before a character can learn or realize anything, we must establish that there is something they need to learn or realize. Here are three places from which to launch your character’s internal journey.

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1. THE PLACE OF INEXPERIENCE

Many journeys begin with a character that lacks the skills or maturity to carry out the task they are given. Over the course of the story, the protagonist must face trials that will bring about their growth. They must be trained by those who possess the knowledge they don’t have. The only way to gain the experience they need to complete their external goal is to slay the dragon that stands in their path. The dragon lives inside of them and usually goes by the name Ego. Once slain, the wisdom our protagonist craves is bestowed upon them. They are able to complete the external mission they set out on, but more importantly, they now hold the secret they need should that dragon’s twin brother ever cross their path. While the language involved in explaining these journeys is dramatic and often mythic, the principles apply across genres.

In Real Genius, Mitch is the smartest guy at the school, but he lacks the experience he needs to complete the academic gauntlet ahead of him without losing his mind. Throughout the course of the story, he gains the social skills he lacks to get the girl, survives jealous competitors, and saves the world in the process. Luke Skywalker can only destroy the Death Star when he abandons his ego and need for control in Star Wars: A New Hope. He closes his eyes, uses the force, and is able to save the galaxy. The Karate Kid, Rocky, and Dodgeball are all centered on characters that journey from inexperienced to experienced.

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2. THE PLACE OF SELFISHNESS

This journey can be slightly more difficult to execute in that we need to still root for the protagonist, despite their selfishness. This can get tricky. We must show the need for the character to grow in the first act. However, we also must show that this is a character worth getting behind. While challenging, this can be accomplished through humor, charm, or making the protagonist appear simply misunderstood.

In Bruce Almighty, Bruce finally realizes that he wants Grace to be happy more than he wants her back in his life. Only then is he given the chance to reunite with her – once his ego is slain. Bill Murray’s character becomes a better human being when he turns loose his selfishness and realizes life should be shared with others in St. Vincent. In Pretty Woman, Richard Gere becomes the best version of himself only after he releases his arrogance and admits his true feelings for Julia Roberts’ character. Field of Dreams, The Descendants, and Dallas Buyers Club all feature characters going on this journey from arrogance or selfishness to humility and love.

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3. THE PLACE OF INDEPENDENCE

One of the most common themes in film echoes our deep need for each other. We can’t solve the riddle without help. We can’t win the fight without someone to train us. We can’t be our best selves without others. Many character archetypes exist for this purpose of making our protagonist into the person they need to be. The mentor, the wise old sage, the sidekick, and the lover all are perfect foils for our protagonists’ independence.

Erin Brockovich can’t defeat the evil corporate empire without Albert Finney and Aaron Eckhart. Ben Affleck can’t complete his journey without Jason Lee in Chasing Amy. And even Ferris Bueller can’t have his day off unless Cameron comes and picks him up in his car. Films like Crash focus on our deep need for each other thematically. While The Blind Side, The American President, and Jerry Maguire all focus more directly on this idea. In the end, we all must recognize the important role others play in our lives if we are to accomplish the missions we have been called to.

~

John Bucher is a writer, speaker, and story consultant based out of Los Angeles. He is the author of several books including The Inside Out Story and the upcoming Secrets of Short Visual Storytelling. He has written for entities ranging from HBO to International Ambassadors. He teaches at The LA Film Studies Center and has conducted story seminars on five continents. He can be reached on Twitter @johnkbucher and through his blog, welcometothesideshow.org.

The Secrets of R-Rated Comedy: Part II

tootsie_089pyxurzby Angela Guess

Yesterday I shared the first half of my conversation with screenwriter Keith Giglio, author of Writing the Comedy Blockbuster.

In part two, Keith and I discuss the importance of stealing, how to break into the industry, and which scripts every aspiring comedy screenwriter should read.

LA Screenwriter (LA): You’ve said, “Professionals create, amateurs steal.”

Keith Giglio (KG): Yeah, 100%. I’m amazed how many of my students aren’t really students of film, because there’s so much to draw upon. I was reading an interview with Steven Soderbergh about how he takes so much from a James Bond movie, Her Majesty’s Secret Service made back in the 70s. And Chris Nolan says that’s where he got his ski sequence from for Inception — it’s just like a scene from Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

It’s easier to reference something. I think a lot of students spend too much time trying to create something when there’s a whole universe of film history to help inspire them. We’re not talking about plagiarism, but we’re talking about getting the tone right. You know, what do other similar movies do? Continue reading “The Secrets of R-Rated Comedy: Part II”

15 Types of Inciting Incidents

Erik Bork has written an excellent article in which he discusses his creative process and lists 15 types of inciting incidents, including films that they occur in. The list is very much like Blake Snyder’s ten film genres and can be used similarly to help you brainstorm your next brilliant script.

Here’s the list:

  1. The thing that has defined you and/or supported you (key to your identity, mission, sense of self, well being, etc.) is suddenly taken away or threatened…   Jerry Maguire, Toy Story, Bridesmaids, About a Boy, My Best Friend’s Wedding, Legally Blonde, Elf, Enchanted, The Godfather  
  2. A new mission emerges to help someone,which seems like the necessary and right thing to do, but will clearly come with some major challenges…   Clueless, The Sound of Music, Erin Brockovich, The Sixth Sense, Schindler’s List, The Hangover, Dave
  3. You get an opportunity to possibly do the thing you’ve always wanted to do – which may seem too good to be true, and will be really difficult to succeed at…   Almost Famous, Boogie Nights, Working Girl, Tootsie, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory Continue reading “15 Types of Inciting Incidents”

Screenwriter Profile: Cameron Crowe

The Writer:

Cameron Crowe is responsible for some of the most iconic films of the last thirty years. He started his writing career when he was just 15 years old and submitted articles about music to Rolling Stone (his script Almost Famous is loosely inspired by this experience). The writer/director behind such classics as Say Anything and Jerry Maguire (a script which took him twenty drafts to get right), Crowe won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for Almost Famous and was nominated for Jerry Maguire.
Continue reading “Screenwriter Profile: Cameron Crowe”

Screenwriter Profiles

Quotes, credits, and insights from the best screenwriters of all time.

Creating Drama in a Talking Head Scene

This article by Hal Croasmun of ScreenwritingU gives insight into how to create drama in a scene that is primarily or even entirely composed of dialogue:

I’d like to take a look at how a talking heads scene might work by creating deeper meaning in the dialogue.

I’ll give you the punchline in advance. The key to your success when writing a talking heads scene is to deliver meaning, emotion, and entertainment — not exposition.

Keep reminding yourself that every scene in a script MUST entertain the audience in some way. So, if 95% of the scene consists of dialogue, that dialogue has to be entertaining, emotional, and deliver some powerful meaning.

To illustrate this, I’d like to use the famous “You had me at hello” scene from the movie JERRY MAGUIRE. In it, you’ll see that many different skills have been used to turn a talking heads scene into a total tear jerker.

To set this scene up…

We’re at the very end of the movie. Jerry has achieved his external goal of having his only client succeed. But there is an internal question about whether he can love anyone or not.

Read more here.

Summer Movie Scoreboard – Part 2

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by Gabriel Storment (@SeaStorm24)

It’s time again to check in on the Summer Movie Scoreboard. As a refresher, the SMS tracks who’s having a good or bad summer based on the movies that have been released in theaters. Check out last month’s inaugural edition to get caught up.

Just a few weeks ago, I thought June would be the uneventful month of the summer. Wedged between the May blockbusters (Avengers: Age of Ultron, Mad Max: Fury Road, Pitch Perfect 2) and the still highly anticipated July releases (Magic Mike XXL, Terminator: Genisys, Ant Man, Pixels, and Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation), I didn’t think there was anything on the schedule that would make a big splash. At least, not the splash a couple of them ended up making. But enough preamble. On with the Scoreboard…

THE GOOD

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Jurassic World

In the week leading up to its release, I read that all reviews for Jurassic World were being embargoed until 48 hours before the premier. Typically this is a red flag, meaning the filmmakers aren’t confident in what the critics might say:

Then I read that Jurassic World represented 90% of all presale tickets on Fandango for its opening weekend and that its presale numbers outpaced every summer movie from 2014 including Guardians of the Galaxy, Godzilla, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Transformers: Age of Extinction. (By 2020, every movie will have a colon.)

People were obviously not waiting around to hear what the critics had to say.

It’s not as though anyone was predicting a weak debut, let alone a flop. Somewhere between $110 – $120 million seemed to be the consensus prediction for its opening weekend. But nobody saw this coming. People underestimated the power of dinosaurs (just like in the movie!)

Indominus Rex and Chris Pratt’s manly stubble clawed their way to a billion dollars worldwide in less than a month, ensuring at least a handful of subsequent sequels.

Now, does the film deserve that kind of money? My response would have to be, “Ehh…”

Jurassic World is not a great movie in any category. Bryce Dallas Howard was terrible, the dialogue was clearly an afterthought, and the plot has huge, gaping, dinosaur-sized holes. But damn Chris Pratt was good, and in the end I was highly entertained.

Is that worth a billion dollars? The market seems to think so.

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Inside Out

Original stories aren’t scarce in Hollywood. It just seems that way because the only movies that make money these days come from established properties. So it should be celebrated that Pixar’s latest feature had the all-time biggest opening weekend for an original film, collecting $91 million. (Amazingly, it still came in under Jurassic World’s second weekend total of $102 million.)

With critics and audiences, Inside Out seems to compare favorably with Pixar’s best movies. The filmmakers put to good use Pixar’s formula of combining slapstick, bright colors, and vibrant action to entertain the kiddos with an emotional storyline and rich characters to draw in mom and dad.

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Melissa McCarthy

One of those random, inexplicable memories that has stuck with me since I was a kid is seeing Leonard Maltin on TV, walking from car to car in a crowded intersection asking people to give donations to put John Candy in a better movie. This was 30 years ago and he had just given Armed and Dangerous a bad review. He said he was frustrated that Candy couldn’t be in more movies worthy of his considerable talent. I was only nine years old at the time, but it struck me as a jackass thing to do because nine year old me thought that movie was HI-larious.

Anywho, I feel like Melissa McCarthy has been in a similar place in her career recently despite remaining a bankable star. Counting Bridesmaids in 2011 when she exploded onto the scene (and into the sink, zing!), four of her movies have surpassed the $100 million mark at the box office, even though two of them, The Hangover Part III and Identity Thief, were pretty much universally panned by critics.

Spy will be the fifth to reach that number and this time, critics actually have nice things to say about the movie. Paul Feig deserves a pat on the back for seemingly being the one writer/director who gives McCarthy more to do than shout and fall down.

THE BAD

(L-r) KEVIN DILLON as Johnny Drama, JERRY FERRARA as Turtle, ADRIAN GRENIER as Vince, JEREMY PIVEN as Ari Gold, KEVIN CONNOLLY as Eric and EMMANUELLE CHRIQUI as Sloan in the Warner Bros. Pictures comedy motion picture “ENTOURAGE.” Credit: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Picture, Warner Bros. Pictures [Via MerlinFTP Drop]

Entourage

Where my bros at?? The film revival of the HBO comedy underwhelmed, only taking in $10 million during its opening weekend. The show was always polarizing during its eight year run; you either liked it or you hated it. Fans enjoyed the fantasy angle, living vicariously through Vince and his crew. Critics saw the painfully unfunny writing and low-stakes storylines rife with misogyny and rightfully dismissed it. Not that I’m biased.

The series ended in 2011 and too much time had passed for the movie version to attract more than the hard core fans. Maybe they should’ve screened an episode of The Sopranos beforehand.

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Ted 2

The potty-mouthed Satan spawn of Teddy Ruxpin and Peter Griffin (Ted, not Wahlberg) was no match for dinosaurs and the animated manifestations of a little girl’s emotions. Jurassic World and Inside Out dominated theaters in their third and second weekends, respectively. You can blame Jurassic World for stealing some of Ted 2’s audience. Inside Out, probably not so much.

It brought in a respectable $33 million, but that was much lower than the predicted $50 million, which is what the original brought in when it premiered. (Jurassic World made $54 million in its third weekend!)

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Cameron Crowe

Technically, Aloha premiered in May (5/29), but the reaction, most of which was either negative or head-scratching, came in June. This doesn’t include the leaked emails as a result of the Sony hack that revealed that early screenings of the movie didn’t go well. The consensus among critics was, “WTF is this?”

Lack of cohesive story, poor editing, and weak dialogue were all consistently sited in reviews. The backlash from casting Emma Stone as a Chinese/Hawaiian/Pixie fighter pilot might actually have created a buzz and increased ticket sales for another movie, but Aloha just had too many flaws and was doomed from the start. It’s amazing how a movie, shot in one of the most beautiful places on Earth and with a cast that included Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, Alec Baldwin, Danny McBride, John Krasinski, and BILL F***ING MURRAY! can turn out to be such a disaster.

Crowe seems to be on a bit of a slide, with many hoping for a return to his glory days of Jerry McGuire, Almost Famous, and Say Anything. Maybe Leonard Maltin should organize a fundraiser…

***

We’ve reached the midway point of the Summer movie season and there were a few unexpected hits and misses in June. There’s little to no chance any movie remaining on the summer release schedule has a chance of matching Jurassic World for ticket sales, but there are still a lot of highly anticipated premiers coming soon.

As for the Summer Movie Scoreboard, the critics have weighed in:

“I don’t see a scoreboard anywhere.” – Rex Reed

“Good luck with that.” – Richard Roeper

“The what? How’d you get this number?” – David Edelstein

Until the next Summer Movie Scoreboard…

~

Gabriel Storment is an aspiring screenwriter, husband and father of two little hellraisers. He is based in Seattle and can be found on Stage 32, Twitter, and Facebook.

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