Starring (voices): Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher, Abigail Breslin,
Bill Nighy, Stephen Root, Ray Winstone, Beth Grant,
Ned Beatty, Harry Dean Stanton & Alfred Molina
Directed by Gore Verbinski for distribution by Paramount
The Plot: A chameleon who daydreams about being a hero suddenly finds himself in the role when he becomes a small town’s only hope against bandits.
The Final Word: The most telling thing about this movie wasn’t its plot or voice talent, but its director. Gore Verbinski, known for the “Pirates of the Caribbean” trilogy, stepped into the world of animation for the first time, with “Pirates” star Johnny Depp accompanying him. The versatile director also took his first stab at writing for a full-length motion picture. Combined all of those details combined gave “Rango” and Paramount an early 2011 success at the box office. With Verbinski declining to return to the helm of the “Pirates” franchise last summer, this movie was the only chance audiences got to see him and Depp re-unite on screen for the foreseeable future and they made sure to take full advantage.
Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Jordana Brewster,
Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Tyrese Gibson, Sung Kang, Gal Gadot, & Matt Schulze
Directed by Justin Lin for distribution by Universal
The Plot: Backed into a corner in Rio de Janeiro, the “Fast & Furious” crew must pull off one more heist to reclaim their lives, but at the same time must contend with a new tough as nails federal agent assigned to bring them down.
The Final Word: To say that the return of Vin Diesel and Paul Walker to their most famous roles was a success is an under-statement. Universal, the studio behind the movie, not only got to claim a major box office victory, but they actually got to re-write the record books following an $80 million opening weekend. While many expected a strong debut, the end result was actually pretty astounding. “Fast Five” not only posted one of the highest 3-day grosses of the year, but it looks gave Universal its highest opening EVER (topping 1997’s “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” $72.1 million). With two more sequels now green-lit, this franchise may not run out of gas in their tank for a long time to come.
Starring: Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne,
Wendi McLendon-Covey, Ellie Kemper, Melissa McCarthy & Jill Clayburgh
Directed by Paul Feig for distribution by Universal
The Plot: After learning her lifelong best friend is getting married, a woman goes through the trials and tribulations of being her maid of honor.
The Final Word: At first glance, this was seen as Universal’s attempt at replicating the success of Warner Brothers’ “The Hangover,” and following the underwhelming performance of its debut trailer that description seemed accurate. Wow, was the industry wrong! It is hard to overlook a comedy that combined featured a number of women who had been such an instrumental part some of the most successful comedy series of all time, but people initially did and then a really rare thing happened; the public and its most vocal critics changed their minds. No longer the proverbial bridesmaid, the comedy could truly get the last laugh at (believe it or not) this year’s Oscars.
THE HANGOVER PART II
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Jeffrey Tambor, Mike Tyson,
Justin Bartha, Ken Jeong, Liam Neeson & Bryan Callen
Directed by Todd Phillips for distribution by Warner Brothers
The Plot: A group of friends head to Thailand to celebrate the upcoming wedding of one of their own, but in celebrating accidentally lose the bride’s young brother.
The Final Word: “The first “Hangover” was definitely a shock to the box office and proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that in the mind of the moviegoer nothing can ever replace a good old fashioned comedy. The movie came out of nowhere to earn almost $45 million in its opening weekend and later go on to collect a total haul of over $200 million. Studios knew the sequel would be a big hit when the film’s Thursday midnight screenings nationally collected over $10 million, but as it turns out that was the tip of the iceberg. “The Wolfpack” continued to howl throughout the holiday weekend and over the four day frame the comedy earned $118.1 million, giving it the highest opening for a Memorial Day weekend, which tops the $85.7 million “Bruce Almighty” took in back in 2003. By the time the five day opening weekend period rolled around, “Hangover II” should amassed close to $140 million, which made it the highest opening comedy of all time and the highest opening “R” rated movie ever. In a world of 3D overload, it’s easy to forget sometimes audiences just wanted to find a way to laugh and that’s why this one worked.
Starring: Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard,
Allison Janney, Chris Lowell, Sissy Spacek,
Jessica Chastain, Octavia Spencer, Cicely Tyson & Mike Vogel
Directed by Tate Taylor for distribution by Walt Disney
The Plot: A secret writing project by a young woman sets into motion a friendship that goes against the grain of race relations in 1960’s Mississippi.
The Final Word: Based on the best-selling novel of the same name, the movie placed rising star Emma Stone in the role of a socialite who befriended the African-American help at her family’s plantation. As her relationship with the extraordinary women grew her ability to give them a voice in a time where they didn’t have one resonated with audiences. A solid contender for some of Hollywood’s top prizes before it even bowed in theaters, “The Help” lived up to and then exceed expectations.
Starring: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman,
Robin Wright, Stephen Bishop, Kathyrn Morris & Chris Pratt
Directed by Bennett Miller for distribution by Columbia Pictures (Sony)
The Plot: The true story of Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane who defied conventional logic to construct a playoff caliber baseball team.
The Final Word: When baseball fans found out that one of baseball’s Bibles was being brought to the screen with Brad Pitt in the lead role and Aaron Sorkin at the typewriter, they scoffed. Yet, they were also among the first people in line to see it. Pitt, Sorkin and director Bennett Miller (“Capote”) proved to be a power trio are all garnering Oscar buzz with good reason. “Moneyball” appealed to both fans of the game and casual viewers who jump in and out throughout the long season. Incidentally this is actually the second version of the movie being produced by Sony as the first one was canned due to its high budget; ironic huh?
THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN - PART 1
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner,
Peter Facinelli, Ashley Greene, Kellan Lutz, Jackson Rathbone,
Elizabeth Reaser, Nikki Reed, Billy Burke, Rami Malek & Maggie Grace
Directed by Bill Condon for distribution by Summit Entertainment
The Plot: As Edward and Bella prepare for the impending birth of their child, they must avoid their multiple enemies who are determined to protect their own kind no matter what the costs.
The Final Word: Despite the box office’s recent struggles, Summit knew they had a blockbuster in waiting with “Dawn.” The problem here is that the studio also knew they only had one more “Twilight” bullet left in its chamber before it and the industry as a whole would have to look elsewhere for a Cineplex stabilizer. For as much as 2011 was concerned, that is a problem for another day as “Dawn” banked $140 million over its first weekend and now is over the $250 million mark.
Starring: Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, Rashida Jones, Alan Arkin,
Jack Black, Billy Crystal, Zach Galifianakis, Kathy Griffin,
Emily Blunt, Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy,
Fozzie Bear, Gonzo, Animal & Walter
Directed by James Bobin for distribution by Walt Disney Pictures
The Plot: After years out of the spotlight, the Muppets band together to save their one-time legendary theater from a greedy developer determined to tear it down.
The Final Word: If you didn’t know the Muppets were coming back to theaters, you really may have been living under a rock, because Kermit and friends have been everywhere this year. Co-written by and starring “How I Met Your Mother’s” Jason Segel, the film re-cemented the classic Jim Henson characters status as pop culture kings. With an arsenal of celebrities signed on for cameos and built-in name recognition, this was easily one of the fall’s most anticipated films. With 99% of the country’s top critics praising the movie, even many who had remainined unconvinced that Segel and crew could successfully re-captured the tone and magic that made the Muppets a hit in the 70’s are being forced to take a second look.
MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: GHOST PROTOCOL
Starring: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Paula Patton, Josh Holloway,
Michael Nyqvist, Vladimir Mashkov, Lea Seydoux & Anil Kapoor
Directed by Brad Bird for distribution by Paramount Pictures
The Plot: Framed for an international incident, the MI6 team is disbanded and forced to find the real culprit while on the run from the authorities.
The Final Word: Following the success of the “Mission: Impossible 3,” a fourth installment in the action franchise was really an easy decision even if it did take five years to hit theaters. Helmed by Brad Bird in his live-action directorial debut, the film (based on the long-running TV series) reunited audiences with Ethan Hunt and his ever-changing team, including a new character played by Jeremy Renner who is rumored to be taking over the franchise from Cruise going forward (with his blessing). Yet the most surprising part of the film’s debut was its opening week box office earnings. Initially bowing exclusively in IMAX and playing on only 400+ screens nationwide, the action film earned $12 million in its first frame. Granted a lot of success can be traced to a combination of inflated IMAX ticket prices and Warner Brother’s six-minute “The Dark Knight Rises” preview playing in front of it, but let’s call a spade a spade, given the economy those numbers are impressive.