Why the Summer Movies Are About to Rebound

Sex and the Desert: Hunks, harems, and steamy sheiks have lit up the silver screen since the dawn of cinema.

In case you hadn’t heard, the world is ending! This always happens during summer-movie season (e.g., Armageddon, Independence Day, etc.), but this summer, it’s Hollywood itself that’s facing the apocalypse. According to the latest press reports, nobody is going to the movies. Memorial Day–weekend box-office numbers were at a 15-year-low, after both Sex and the City 2 and Prince of Persia tanked. In the first weekend of June, tickets were down 19 percent from the same period in 2009. Let’s look at the silver lining: it would be fun to stand next to Katherine Heigl in the unemployment line.

The only problem is that Hollywood’s Lost Summer is largely a fiction. Last weekend, thanks to The Karate Kid’s incredible $56 million debut (must be in the Smith family genes), the box office was back up 11 percent from 2009. Overall, this summer’s box office is slightly lower than last year—at $1.02 billion from $1.09 billion—but admission for the year is only down a measely 3 percent. Alice in Wonderland ($333 million and counting) had the biggest spring opening ever, and Hollywood knocked out early hits with How to Train Your Dragon, Clash of the Titans, Shutter Island, and Valentine’s Day.

Which is not say there isn’t trouble in paradise. There are two major reasons for the box-office dip—fatigue over expensive 3D movie tickets and the recession, which hit Hollywood in 2008 and 2009, and happens to be when this year’s current slate of schlocky films was green-lighted.

But there is a remedy: make better movies. In fact, here come some now. This weekend, Toy Story 3 (which is almost as good as the first two films) debuts, and official estimates put the potential box office at $14 zillion, or something like that. On June 23, Tom Cruise steps in with Knight and Day, the best Tom Cruise popcorn movie since Minority Report, and easily one of the best films of the summer. This will be followed by Twilight: Eclipse (June 30), which will make so much money that Robert Pattison can buy a small island (or a small magazine named NEWSWEEK). It will single-handedly save Hollywood, if Hollywood were ever in any danger to begin with. And we haven’t even factored in Julia Roberts in Eat Pray Love, which has the backing of a bestselling book and a certain Glee director. In fact, now that the government has approved futures trading on motion pictures, now might be a good time to bet on a big win.