Here’s what we know, so far: the season began long ago, in a galaxy far, far away…and ended with a Philly kid who sees dead people. In between, while the box office got hotter than the center of a Pop Tart (up 17.7 percent over last season), Latin music salsa’d its way up the charts. Even our silent TV sets were turned on to witness the U.S. women’s soccer team victory and the vigil for JFK Jr. (not to mention reruns of The Sopranos). And just when summer felt as old as Yoda, along came Regis screeching ”Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.”
From the failure of hype to the success of scary, it’s been, as Cartman might say, a summer to warp our fragile little minds. For those feeling as lost as the Blair Witch-ers, EW presents its picks for the most memorable wonders and blunders of the season, along with six lessons learned. Discuss ‘em with friends as you scrape the last bit of marshmallow goo off the grill. After all, haven’t we all had just about enough ghost stories?
1. THE REAL ‘PHANTOM MENACE’ FALLOUT
You can still pick fights by saying Jar Jar wasn’t so bad, but you can’t argue with Phantom Menace’s record-shattering success: At $417.8 million (and counting), it’s the third-highest-grossing domestic film of all time. Still, Lucasfilm had to fight a perception that the movie had not performed up to expectations.
Rumors that Star Wars tie-ins were selling slowly were so pervasive that Hasbro, the biggest maker of Star Wars toys, saw its stock dip 30 percent since May. Along with Pepsi, which marketed Queen Amidala and Obi-Wan soda cans, Hasbro reports that business has been out of this world. Yet the Force wasn’t with everyone. Tricon Global Restaurants, the conglomerate behind KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut, blamed a slowdown in U.S. sales on ”the fact that our promotional tie-in with Star Wars was surprisingly ineffective.” Howard Roffman, Lucasfilm’s licensing VP, prefers to look at the bottom line: ”There have been over 85 million admissions to Phantom Menace, and we’ll sell over a billion dollars retail this year.”
The notion of a failed blockbuster didn’t dog just Star Wars. Along with the usual contingent of Big Events that disappointed, from Geri Halliwell’s Schizophonic to Will Smith’s Wild Wild West, the stumbling-giant syndrome was a recurring theme. We witnessed galactic gaps between grosses, critical acclaim, and fan satisfaction. In bookstores, Thomas Harris’ Hannibal was a best-seller, but its 1,500 Amazon.com reader reviews were divided between those who loved it and those who found it extremely unappetizing. Even Stanley Kubrick’s sexual thriller Eyes Wide Shut left unfulfilled desires. Though it opened at No. 1, Eyes got a CinemaScore of D-, one of the summer’s lowest. Given that reaction, its $54.1 million gross (to date) is respectable for what is essentially an art film.
In the end, summer proved to be a Yoda-worthy paradox: Early blockbusters were contested, late bloomers were embraced. It’s a scenario many say can be blamed on – you guessed it – The Phantom Menace. ”The entire pattern of the summer started with Fox taking the [May 19] date for Star Wars,” says Universal marketing president Marc Shmuger. ”All the other companies backed up competing product to the later months.”