With Memorial Day weekend came the traditional start to the summer blockbuster season.
When the weather warms up, so does Hollywood. Historically, studios have released their biggest movies of the year in the summer ever since the mid-1970s, when Steven Spielberg scared everybody out of the water and a farm boy from Tatooine saved a good portion of the universe.
Bigger and, perhaps, “been there” are the operational words once again this summer, as many of the most highly anticipated movies are sequels, remakes or adaptations.
Three box office smashes were playing at the Stowe Cinema Three-Plex over Memorial Day weekend — “The Avengers: Infinity War,” in which everybody, um, does just fine; “Deadpool 2,” the rated-R comic book movie that makes fun of every other comic book movie; and “Solo,” an independent documentary about the famous red plastic cup company. Just kidding, it’s another Star Wars movie.
According to Mike Buonanno, the theater’s manager — and son of the owners — the lines between summer and the rest of the year are starting to blur. But summer is still the time for films, and on a rainy weekend, Buonanno knows he’ll be packed.
“As soon as the kids get out of school, we pick up for a couple of months,” he said. “We’re at least as busy in the summer as in ski season, when a lot of people just stay up on the mountain.”
Stowe has the benefit of being a tourist town, so the three-plex does a steady business with visitors, as well as local cineastes. It also serves alcohol, which is a big draw for people who have gotten too old to smuggle drinks and snacks into the theater.
Big Picture Theater in Waitsfield also has alcohol, along with a full-service restaurant under the same roof. The Bijou in Morrisville doesn’t serve booze, but is within a block of two restaurants.
All three movie houses are independently owned, and have smaller theaters and fewer screens than the larger multiplexes in Williston and Essex, which means they have to be a little more selective than their counterparts.
The Bijou has four screens, but they aren’t the same size, which means the smaller one tends to be used either for smaller-scale movies or ones that have been running for a couple of weeks already.
Big Picture has only two screens, and you’ll sometimes have to wait at least a week, sometimes as long as three or four, for the more popular movies. But it also has couches and comfy chairs and coffee tables to lounge about on and munch off of.
Buonanno said it’s a juggling act to satisfy the customers’ movie needs, and the smaller independents are at the whim of the movie distribution studios. At the same time, the smaller places are more agile, and are fine with showing a movie only for a week, where the larger ones sign contracts for three or four times as long.
“Literally, every Monday, I talk to the studios and see what deal they can cut me,” he said.
With a limited number of screens, picking a stinker can really put a pinch on a theater owner, who has to watch one theater remain empty, while another may sell out. So it’s important to keep up on the buzz, not just from Hollywood, but from around town.
As far as movies this summer, Buonanno said anything with the Marvel logo on it “just crushes it,” so he’s expecting more of the same from “Ant Man and The Wasp.” He also thinks “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” and “Skyscraper,” in which Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson “does his thing,” will do well.
For the kids, he thinks “Incredibles 2” will be just that, and he has high hopes for the live-action “Christopher Robin.”
Films aimed at women include “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again,” a sequel to the Abba-music-packed original, and “Ocean’s 8,” a remake of a series of remakes, but this time with an all-female cast.
Sprinkled in the field are more artsy, independent films that Buonanno has to contemplate. Does he take a gamble on John Travolta and his passion project “Gotti”? What about “Crazy Rich Asians,” which is getting buzz for the same reasons people flocked to “Black Panther,” because movie-goers like to see more people who look like them?
For the rest, there’s always Tom Cruise, back for the sixth time in “Mission: Impossible Fallout.”
“It’ll be interesting to see if he’s still got it,” Buonanno said.
Here come the blockbusters
“Ocean’s 8” (June 8)
In this spinoff of a three-film remake, the estranged sister of Danny Ocean (Sandra Bullock) gets her own all-female crew together to rob the annual Met Gala. Just how many women are in the crew is a closely guarded secret.
“Hereditary” (June 8)
We probably won’t see any spinning heads and split pea soup explosions a la “The Exorcist,” but this movie about an evil spirit is automatically more terrifying because it’s Grandma, and all you kids and grandkids are possessed.
“Incredibles 2” (June 15)
Director Brad Bird reportedly said he’d make a follow-up to the 2004 Pixar hit only if it was better than the original. If that’s the case, then perhaps Bird has his own superhero power: making a sequel that doesn’t stink.
“Tag” (June 15)
Every February, a group of guys plays an epic game of tag, in which everywhere is their playground. Last one tagged at the end of the month is “it” for the rest of the year. Also, it’s a true story.
“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” (June 22)
Let’s face it, you should be caring more about very real eruption of the Kilauea volcano than the CGI eruption on Isla Nublar, which sends the dinosaurs fleeing. But you know that, once that John Williams score fires up…
“Ant-Man and The Wasp” (July 6)
You have watched all 19 previous interconnected Marvel Cinematic Universe movies before this one, right? Short story (get it?): Man with shrinking suit teams up with woman and her shrinking suit. Is it love?
“Skyscraper” (July 13)
Ever since “Die Hard” premiered in 1988, movies featuring terrorists are frequently referred to “Die Hard on a fill-in-the-blank.” This one is basically “Die Hard,” but with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and a much taller building.
“Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” (July 20)
More music! More memories! More Mamma! More Meryl! This title is spot on: if you went the first time, you’re going again.
“Mission: Impossible - Fallout” (July 27)
Tom Cruise has already done the impossible, by staying relevant while he flirts with becoming a caricature of Tom Cruise, while still doing his own stunts. In light of that, saving the entire world again seems right in his wheelhouse.
“Christopher Robin” (Aug. 3)
Go ahead, try to watch the trailer for this live-action movie in which the title character and his “silly old bear” are reunited after decades apart, and try not to tear up. Oh, bother.
“The Meg” (Aug. 10)
This is not a feature-length movie about the oft-maligned Griffin daughter from “The Family Guy.” This is a movie about a very large shark, and possibly a title by and for people who don’t have time to say “Carcharocles megalodon.”
“Crazy Rich Asians” (Aug. 17)
What’s more surprising, a Chinese American woman learning her boyfriend is part of a very wealthy family when she accompanies him to Singapore for the first time? Or, audiences learning that modern Asian-led Hollywood movies don’t need geishas and samurais?