What did Leonard Maltin think of the 2013 summer movie season?
"I'm glad it's almost over," the longtime reviewer and "Movie Guide" author tells CNN in a phone interview. "The movies get bigger and dumber every year, and we're subjected to more remakes and sequels. None of which means that they can't be good -- and occasionally they are -- but this has not been a very fortuitous season."
He wasn't alone in this belief. Audiences felt the same way: Many of this summer's big-budget franchise flicks -- the so-called "tentpoles" -- fell like redwood trees toppling in a forest, earning generally poor reviews and equally mediocre box office despite their blockbuster costs and wall-to-wall marketing efforts.
You know the list: "After Earth," "Pacific Rim," "White House Down," "Elysium," "R.I.P.D." and, particularly, "The Lone Ranger," which grossed $88 million domestically (through August 25) on its $200 million-plus budget and could cost Disney a $190 million writedown.
But wait a minute.
This summer wasn't actually so bad, says Keith Simanton, managing editor of the Internet Movie Database (IMDb.com). Domestic box office was actually up by a double-digit percentage over last summer, and thanks to the strength of such films as "Iron Man 3," "Despicable Me 2," the divisive but successful "Man of Steel" and "Fast & Furious 6," 2013 as a whole is now even with last year.
IMDb's editors say that 2013 could be better, domestically, than 2012, which was the biggest box-office year in movie history.
"Every year we complain about the same thing," says Simanton. "We were complaining about this back in the '80s, when there was 'Ghostbusters 2' and 'Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom' -- my God, there are no new ideas in Hollywood. No, and there never have been. Everyone looks at their own era and thinks they're going to hell in a handbasket."
Can Maltin and Simanton both be right? Was the summer of 2013 both the best of times and the worst of times?
Perhaps, suggests producer Lynda Obst, it was indeed a tale of two summers. It started out well, with both good reviews and good business for the May and June releases, and then quickly fell apart under the weight of all those wannabe blockbusters.
Obst, the author of the recently published industry chronicle "Sleepless in Hollywood," has a term for it: "tentpole fatigue."
"Movies that come out in May and June are hotly anticipated because people look forward to the summer movies in the very beginning," she says.
And then, well, the wreckage starts piling up.
The best-laid plans ...
On paper, summer 2013 looked rather well-balanced. There were the fanboy favorites, including "Iron Man 3," "Star Trek Into Darkness" and "Man of Steel." There were a few family films, such as "Despicable Me 2" and "Monsters University."
Throw in comedies such as "The Heat" and "Hangover Part III," a high-octane Western in "Lone Ranger," another of the ubiquitous "Fast & Furious" crime-and-car adventures and even a new version of "Great Gatsby," and there appeared to be something for everyone.
But you know what they say about the best-laid plans. What ended up being laid in 2013 were a lot of eggs.
Take "After Earth," a Will Smith movie that grossed just $60 million domestically. "It sold Will Smith but it was really his son, and his son doesn't have a following," says Obst.
Or take "White House Down," which -- despite an allegedly surefire cast led by Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx -- had the misfortune of coming out just three months after "Olympus Has Fallen," another story about an attack on the White House. "Olympus" made almost $100 million; "White House Down," with a much bigger budget, made just $70 million.
"We've just seen the White House blow up too many times," says Obst. "It just felt incredibly familiar."
Indeed, that explosive repetition may be playing a role in the fatigue audiences felt as the summer wore on. CGI is an amazing technology, but there's only so much destruction audiences can watch before it all starts to blend together. "Man of Steel" destroyed New York -- OK, Metropolis -- yet again, right down to the fancy filigree on the sides of its skyscrapers. "Star Trek" ripped up San Francisco. "World War Z," "Pacific Rim," "After Earth," "Elysium" -- all featured massive, dystopian chaos.
"I think that this is a big problem with the whole summer and with the tentpoles that were made for this summer," says Obst. "There was a sense that we've seen it all before. How many times can you see the same cities being blown up? They all seem to mirror the same sensibility."
It's not a sensibility that's going away anytime soon, however.
For one thing, points out IMDb's Simanton, audiences like seeing things blow up: in a video-game society, it's a way to attract the loyal teenage boy demographic. For another, it's expected. Screenwriter and producer Damon Lindelof ("Prometheus," "World War Z") gave an interview to New York magazine in which he confessed being "slightly turned off" by what he called "destruction porn."
At the same time, he cautioned, "Once you spend more than $100 million on a movie, you have to save the world."