We take a look at the biggest blockbusters in the country's history
Time Out Dubai staff
20 Iron Man 2 Director: Jon Favreau Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Mickey Rourke, Samuel L. Jackson
We went to print before we could see a sneak preview, but there's a lot of excitement about Iron Man 2 at Time Out Towers. Why? The trailer is just so goosebump-inducingly cool, that's why.
Okay, the first Iron Man got a solid ‘average' from most critics. And while we doubt this second instalment is going to win any awards, we do suspect it'll be a whole lot of fun. All that boring business of building a back story is over with thanks to Iron Man number 1, allowing plenty of room in this film for what Iron Man 2's core audience really wants: action, action, action.
So back to that trailer. Robert Downey Jr wisecracks, Mickey Rourke wields electrified whips and a bad Russian accent, Scarlett Johansson kicks ass in a catsuit and heavy guitar riffs crunch on the soundtrack. Iron Man 2 isn't pretending to be anything it's not - what you see is what you get, and if you like the sound of that trailer, here's what to do: buy a massive bucket of popcorn, disengage your brain and seek out the biggest screen and the best surround sound you can find. Enjoy. Laura Chubb
Release Date: April 29, 2010 Total Box Office (Gross): 8,270,731 Total Box (Admission): 254,883
19 Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen Director: Michael Bay Stars: Megan Fox, Shia LaBeouf, Isabel Lucas, Josh Duhamel, Hugo Weaving, Michael Papajohn, John Turturro, America Olivo, Rainn Wilson
With this cash-cow sequel to his widely derided, hugely successful original, Michael Bay comes closer than any director in history to boiling the blockbuster down to its most basic components: PG-violence, safe sex and special effects. And, while it would be hard to make a case for Revenge Of The Fallen as ‘good' in any normal sense of the word, it possesses such brute force that the viewer is left with two options: surrender, or suffer in silence.
The first hour is essentially (lads' mag) Maxim: The Movie, a parade of sweaty denim, product placement and gadgets, punctuated with eardrum-rupturing action and increasingly tiresome gags. The story is largely absent, as Shia LaBeouf's Sam Witwicky heads to college, only to find himself suffering spasmodic, brain-scrambling visions, which seem to have some connection to the ongoing Transformer war.
Somehow, a total absence of narrative logic doesn't feel like an insult to the viewers' intelligence: it's not that the writers believe their audience is too stupid to notice the gaping holes in the plot; it's just that they know they don't give a damn. And Bay's direction offers sparks of genuine invention, including a stunning break-in involving a metallic cougar and a herd of smart ball bearings.
Then somewhere around the mid point it begins to come together. A smash-and-plunder forest battle ups the action ante, and the return of John Turturro adds a lightness of tone that is totally lacking in LaBeouf and Megan Fox. Perhaps it's just that the sheer volume and ferocity of the thing becomes impossible to resist, but by the climactic desert conflict, in which the entire Valley of the Kings is razed to the ground, the film has become so utterly lunatic, so breathtakingly, boneheadedly brazen, that it's easier just to give in. Tom Huddleston
Release Date: June 25, 2009 Total Box Office (Gross): 8,394,023 Total Box (Admission): 263,405
18 The Hangover Part II Director: Todd Phillips Stars: Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms, Justin Bartha, Ken Jeong, Paul Giamatti, Mike Tyson, Jeffrey Tambor, Mason Lee, Jamie Chung, Sasha Barrese
Your head hurts, the whole thing feels horribly familiar, and it's just not funny any more. Can this really be happening again? Todd Phillips's sequel to (remake of?) his rude adult comedy about a stag night snafu is not so much more of the same as exactly the same, but set in Bangkok and minus the laughs. During their Vegas bachelor night debauch, Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Alan (Zach Galifianakis) lost the groom on the eve of his wedding; this time, they lose the Thai bride's innocent 16-year-old brother on the eve of her marriage to Stu. Since the dialogue isn't funny, everyone overacts to make up for the lack of humour or threat. Together with co-writers Scot Armstrong and Craig Mazin, director Phillips serves up a tasteless, warmed-over version of the same dish, spiced with local Thai colour. Nigel Floyd
Release Date: May 26, 2011 Total Box Office (Gross): 8,394,920 Total Box (Admission): 242,470
17 Spider-Man 3 Director: Sam Raimi Stars: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Topher Grace, Thomas Haden Church, Bryce Dallas Howard, James Franco, James Cromwell, Rosemary Harris, JK Simmons
It’s an odd response to such a mammoth movie, but ‘Spider-Man 3’ feels a bit like watching a TV season box-set – in a good way. It’s partly the sheer length, partly the well-paced but notably episodic plot, but mostly because it offers the culmination of the cohesive narrative of honesty and betrayal, to oneself and one’s loved ones, that has underscored the whole franchise. It’s an impressive achievement, balancing petty psychological foibles against citywide peril just as the CG mise en scène roves from the molecular to the multi-storey.
We open with Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), and his girl Mary-Jane (Kirsten Dunst) in the pink, though this of course can’t last. Their schoolfriend Harry (James Franco), embittered son of the first film’s Green Goblin, is nursing Hamlet-lite revenge fantasies against our hero, who must also contend with the Dracula-Frankenstein combo of Venom – a black glob of parasitic alien symbiote that brings out its host’s dark side – and Sandman, the shape-shifting result of fugitive Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church) being scientifically melded with, er, sand. Needless to say, this all plays havoc with everyone’s private life.
These films’ greatest pleasure is their gleefully swooping exploitation of Manhattan’s vertiginous topography – it’s a good job Spidey wasn’t hatched in, say, Holland – and this one doesn’t disappoint. Dog-fights amid skyscrapers, in the bowels of the subway and, most effectively, in a tight alleyway all exhilarate; impressively, a bare-knuckle punch-up behind closed doors packs as much wallop. Despite such action, some fine comic relief (Bruce Campbell as a French maître d’) and a few cheesy moments, the tone is ultimately more subdued than your average superhero movie. Kudos to Raimi for making it feel justified. Ben Walters
Release Date: May 3, 2007 Total Box Office (Gross): 8,530,124 Total Box (Admission): 281,426
16 Inception Director: Christopher Nolan Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Ken Watanabe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Tom Berenger, Michael Caine, Lukas Haas, Tohoru Masamune
We've been harping on about Inception for a while now, but there's very good reason for that: Christopher Nolan's new work has the potential to be the first truly great film in Dubai cinemas this year. Alas, we didn't get to see a preview before going to print, but we're still going to go out on a limb and say that this - a globe-spanning action-adventure sci-fi-heist-thriller - is the film to see this week. Make that this summer. Here's why...
Expect scale. After pulling off an equal-parts-intelligent-and-thrilling actioner that also boasted big box-office receipts with The Dark Knight, Nolan has garnered enough studio faith (and cash) to make something utterly massive. The director has blown a cool US$200 million (the same as the budget for Titanic) to create the surreal visual landscape required of his story, wherein Leonardo DiCaprio is a spy for hire who steals ideas from dreams. There'll be action set-pieces of Matrix-style physical-world-rule-bending proportions: the crew built giant rotating hallways and a massive tilting nightclub for chaotic dream-world sequences.
Expect to work. This visual feast is all well and good, but as is always the case with Nolan, this won't be a ‘grey-matter-optional' situation. Remember how much your head hurt after Memento? This likely won't be any easier. Of course, you could just let the plot take a back seat and enjoy the spectacle, but we find this director's films far more satisfying if you at least attempt to understand what on Earth he's on about.
Expect powerhouse performances. What's also rather brilliant about Nolan is that he understands how thoroughly his audience needs to care about the characters to really invest in the movie (see again Memento, The Dark Knight). Ahead of Inception's release, critics are already lavishing gushing praise on Leonardo, whose character is the anchor for the journey. But DiCaprio isn't the only premium performer on show: Nolan's all-star ensemble cast includes Michael Caine, Marion Cotillard, Cillian Murphy, Ellen Page and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
Expect a true original. Nolan has never been one to submit a lazy project, and Inception has been 10 years in the making from concept to product. While there are shades of previous works (Minority Report, The Matrix), when we first heard about Inception, what excited us most was that it's an attempt to make something fresh, something quite unlike anything else. It's not often we see that in remake/reimagining/adaptation-heavy cinema schedules nowadays.
The verdict. If you're happy enough with the bilge fed into the projectors thus far in 2010, Inception isn't for you. But if you're looking for something smart, complex, moving and filled with enormous explosions, go see. Laura Chubb
Release Date: July 15, 2010 Total Box Office (Gross): 8,645,860 Total Box (Admission): 247,392
15 Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows Director: Guy Ritchie Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law and Jared Harris
When Guy Ritchie's witty, enjoyable reboot of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's iconic detective stories busted blocks back in 2009, a follow-up was unavoidable. Cynics would argue that a visit from that scourge of movie sequels, the law of diminishing returns, was equally inevitable.
Here we find Holmes (Robert Downey Jr) already hot on the trail of his latest nemesis, ‘Napoleon of crime', James Moriarty (Jared Harris). When the mad professor schemes to have Holmes's on-off squeeze murdered, our hero spirals into depression - until the return of his trusty sidekick Watson (Jude Law) shakes him out of his torpor and sets him back on the warpath, following a trail of destruction that will lead to Paris, Germany and - inevitably - Switzerland's Reichenbach Falls.
The best comparison to draw here is with the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels: the cast and crew remain unchanged, but a key ingredient is lacking. Perhaps it's a sense of spontaneity: where the first film seemed genuinely sprightly and off-the-cuff, the outcome of every thunderous, whizz-bang, CG-fuelled action scene in the sequel feels - that word again - inevitable.
Salvation arrives in the form of Stephen Fry as Holmes's brother, Mycroft, and while his schoolmasterly demeanour and encyclopaedic intellect isn't exactly a stretch for Britain's favourite quizmaster, it's a welcome distraction from the increasingly stale banter of the two leads. The result is a fitfully amusing but largely unsurprising and uninvolving action-movie-by-numbers: elementary, and not in a good way. Tom Huddleston
Release Date: December 28, 2011 Total Box Office (Gross): 8,688,384 Total Box (Admission): 235,230
14 Alice in Wonderland Director: Tim Burton Stars: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Michael Sheen, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Alan Rickman, Stephen Fry, Crispin Glover, Christopher Lee, Matt Lucas, Timothy Spall, Marton Csokas, Jemma Powell, Tim Piggot-Smith, Lindsay Duncan, Geraldine James, Leo Bill, Paul Whitehouse, Barbara Windsor
There's no story more ripe for a Tim Burton adaptation than Alice in Wonderland. At times dark, yet always surreal and unapologetically imaginative, the tale lends itself like nothing else to Burton's signature visually rich style and weird atmospherics.
Alas, we've yet to see a preview, but make no mistake - this is the one to watch this week. With a cast that reads like a who's-who of both Hollywood and Brit talent (Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Little Britain's Matt Lucas, Stephen Fry, Michael Sheen, Crispin Glover, The Fast Show's Paul Whitehouse... and Barbara Windsor?), not to mention a raft of classic characters (the Mad Hatter; Cheshire Cat; Tweedledum and Tweedledee; the shisha-smoking caterpillar), it'll be a conversation-starter whether it lives up to expectations or not.
We expect seeing it in 3D will enhance the viewer's experience tenfold - like Avatar before it, the depth perception will likely absorb you in a colourful fantasy world. A film and an off-planet trip all in one. Laura Chubb
Release Date: March 4, 2010 Total Box Office (Gross): 8,727,795 Total Box (Admission): 209,487
13 Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time Director: Mike Newell Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Gemma Arterton, Ben Kingsley, Alfred Molina, Toby Kebbell, Richard Coyle, Ronald Pickup, Reece Ritchie, Gísli Örn Garðarsson, Claudio Pacifico, Thomas DuPont, Dave Pope, Domonkos Pardanyi, Massimilano Ubaldi
Ever since we heard there was going to be a Prince of Persia movie, we were put in mind of Pirates of the Caribbean: a concept familiar to everyone, but with little or no actual story behind it (here, swap theme park ride for platform video game). Funnily enough, the connection is not solely superficial: like Pirates, this is a Disney affair produced by Hollywood big-hitter Jerry Bruckheimer (Beverly Hills Cop; Top Gun; Con Air; Pearl Harbour). And aye, there's the rub: we suspect Prince will inherit all of Pirates' problems, without its sole saviour to rescue it. Really - would we all have flocked to watch ghost pirates and bland romantic match Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom were it not for Johnny Depp's left-field lunacy as Captain Jack?
Like Pirates, Prince is saddled with a storyline that appears to have been cooked up in a blind panic, as though someone realised they'd forgotten to concoct a plot just as the cameras started to roll. It involves some guff about a mystical dagger that, when a ruby on the handle is clicked, sends the possessor of the dagger a minute back in time. (Expect the plastic, non-time-shifting model in Toys R Us any day now). There wasn't a press screening before we went to print, but from the trailer it seems the kitsch extends beyond this to the sets, costumes and cheesy banter between prince in question Jake Gyllenhall and feisty princess Tamina, played by Brit up-and-comer Gemma Arterton.
As a kids' movie, this is perfectly acceptable: the cartoonish elements will befit a young audience. But the PG13 rating suggests Prince of Persia is aiming for an older, more action-oriented crowd, and this could prove a costly mistake. Imagine Pirates carried only by Knightley and Bloom, with no deliciously demented Depp to sustain our interest. Doesn't work, does it? No doubt Gyllenhaal and Arterton are perfectly competent, but where's that missing sprinkle of magic?
Prince of Persia will likely do steady box office business, yet we'll be surprised if it's the highlight of summer 2010. Given Disney's rather obvious banking on it becoming a cash-raking franchise, perhaps the best we can hope for is a rethink, followed by a re-energised part two. Laura Chubb
Release Date: May 20, 2010 Total Box Office (Gross): 8,922,645 Total Box (Admission): 276,272
12 The Dark Knight Director: Christopher Nolan Stars: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gary Oldman, Eric Roberts, Cillian Murphy, Anthony Michael Hall, Michael Jai White, William Fichtner
Christopher Nolan follows the sombre origin myth of ‘Batman Begins’ with a less introspective, more frenetic sequel. Once again there are lots of ideas on the boil, this time mostly to do with community action and leadership, but an endless flow of bullets, bombs and bat business drowns out most debate. Right from the off, Nolan sidesteps the analyst’s couch and plunges us straight into battle.
He starts with a disorienting bank robbery and from there barely allows us to breathe – or think, even – over the next two and a half hours as we swing from the US to Hong Kong and back to the streets of Gotham. Here, the crime rate is soaring, it’s always night, and any daylight leaves you squinting. It’s always downtown too; the city is inescapable, a confusing mix of the pedestrian and the paranoid.
For this sequel, there’s a whole lot of story going on, which reduced to basics involves the wildly unpredictable Joker (Heath Ledger) wreaking havoc on Gotham. This perverse clown’s keyword is chaos – crime without sense – and there’s more than a nod to the post-9/11 order. ‘Some men just want to watch the world burn,’ chips in one onlooker. Later, when a good guy turns bad and half his face is burnt to reveal bone and sinew, it’s hard not to recall those images of charred bodies in Iraq.
Ledger makes a great, freaky Joker, with dirty, lank hair, a voice that soars and dives, and a tongue that slithers and salivates. Two scenes stick in the mind: him walking away from a doomed hospital in a nurse’s dress right before an explosion, and later hanging out of the window of a speeding car, tasting the air like a reptile, with the soundtrack falling silent in tribute, freezing this psychotic, iconic villain in time and allowing for a moment of sadness amid the noise. If he wins an Oscar, who’d begrudge him that tribute?
Meanwhile, Christian Bale’s stately if unmemorable Bruce Wayne/Batman reassumes relationships with Michael Caine’s affable man-servant Alfred, Morgan Freeman’s man-sage Lucius Fox and Gary Oldman’s modest cop, Lieutenant Gordon (whose quietness is drowned out by the film’s bombastics). New to the scene are District Attorney Harvey Dent (a slick Aaron Eckhart), who Wayne wants to promote as a human alternative to his vigilantism (an interesting sideline on the need for humility and choice when picking a leader), and Maggie Gyllenhaal as a replacement for Katie Holmes’s Rachel Dawes, but she barely gets a look-in. It’s all very monumental, and the film’s more self-conscious moments, of which there are many, would provoke a giggle if you weren’t distracted by yet another explosion, chase or ratcheting up of a score that shrieks importance.
The challenge that Nolan has set himself is to make a comic book film that’s serious, entertaining and popular. It’s a tall order, but an admirable one. ‘The Dark Knight’ is a film that’s fantastic on the action front, seeds its acrobatics in its own reality, and always feels relevant even when its ideas are drowned out by clatter. That said, every once in a while, you’d like to be able to lean into the screen and tickle somebody’s ribs. Dave Calhoun
Release Date: July 24, 2008 Total Box Office (Gross): 9,340,573 Total Box (Admission): 291,276
11 Shrek Forever After Director: Mike Mitchell Stars: Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, Antonio Banderas, Julie Andrews, Jon Hamm, John Cleese, Craig Robinson, Walt Dohrn, Jane Lynch, Lake Bell, Kathy Griffin, Mary Kay Place, Kristen Schaal, Meredith Vieira
From the moment that DreamWorks unleashed its jolly green animated franchise in 2001, the adaptation of William Steig's popular children's book found that sweet spot of appeal to both parents and kids. Children got ogre-fart jokes and Eddie Murphy's manic jackassery; adults chuckled knowingly at the double-meaning of the Gingerbread Man screaming ‘Eat me!' Four chapters later, any attempts at satisfying both the pre-pubescent and the post-collegiate mindsets have been shrugged aside, but what's truly head-scratching is which way the series ended up skewing.
Shrek Forever After (is that a threat?) kicks off with a montage of our hero (Mike Myers) in a domesticated rut: feed and change the brood, go about the daily routine of middle-class indignities, have dinner with the same group of friends, rinse and repeat - ad infinitum. Finally, Shrek suffers a nervous breakdown - what else would you call a rage spiral that ends with smashing your fist into a birthday cake? - and is suckered into a Faustian bargain with Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dohrn). It's one thing to sell scatological gags to grown-ups, but pitching kids a toon version of It's a Wonderful Life? Seriously?
Such a sideways move toward maturity might be applaudable if the rest of the film weren't just repeating the same old jokes. Third times are rarely charms in the movies, much less fourth go-rounds, and it takes more than ho-hum 3D and video-game-ready action sequences to liven up diminishing returns. Despite the odd giggle, we'd offer that when a chubby tabby is given the best lines, alienating the 12-and-under set with midlife crises might prove the least of your problems. David Fear
Release Date: May 27, 2010 Total Box Office (Gross): 10,228,810 Total Box (Admission): 241,272
10 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 Director: David Yates Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, Evanna Lynch, Domhnall Gleeson, Clémence Poésy, Warwick Davis, John Hurt, Helena Bonham Carter
While the whole world's lenses have spent the past few months trained on the now astonishingly adult cast of the Harry Potter saga, a superfranchise with unprecedented force, all eyes will be on director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves in this final instalment of the wizarding tale. We've been assured time and again that Radcliffe et al have got firmly to grips with each character, but it's the mood of each film that has so often proved an untamable beast - in fairness, it would have been a mighty task for any crew given the 30cm-deep pile of novels they've had to squeeze into a few short hours.
Though Part I of the Deathly Hallows adaptation sparked a flurry of disappointed grumblings, audiences will be hard pushed not to find their inner Potterphiles reawakened with this visually mesmerising, emotionally charged finale to a series that has dominated the best part of the past decade. Our hero, the now-strapping Potter, is faced with his own mortality as he comes face to face with the serpent-featured Lord Voldemort and, more movingly, the notion that there is bad in all of us.
Overall, it's the same winning formula that has carried the story through since inception: adventure, idealism, humour, love and loss - only this time with fireworks strapped to its boots. Holly Sands
Release Date: July 14, 2011 Total Box Office (Gross): 11,006,108 Total Box (Admission): 251,388
9 Titanic Director: James Cameron Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Billy Zane, Kathy Bates, Bill Paxton
In the 1990s the Taliban jailed Afghan barbers for offering the ‘Titanic’, a haircut inspired by Leonardo DiCaprio’s in James Cameron’s 1997 epic. What a thrill it is to see DiCaprio in this souped-up re-release, a beautiful boy again (these days he looks like a puggish bit player in a ’30s mob movie). ‘Titanic’ has fared better than his looks, shining up like a new penny in 3D in time for the centenary of the disaster. Yes it’s backside-achingly long with a level of melodrama to make ‘Gone with the Wind’ blush, but distance drifts a puffy cloud of nostalgia over its faults.
We know the story ends badly but Cameron still sweeps us up in the romance between Kate Winslet’s rebellious posh girl and DiCaprio’s steerage kid. The 3D is dazzling, conveying the vastness of the ship in a way that will hit vertigo sufferers in the bladder. So too will Celine Dion’s theme song, which hasn’t improved with age. Cath Clarke
Release Date: January 29, 1998 Total Box Office (Gross): 11,041,223 Total Box (Admission): 465,079
8 Kung Fu Panda 2 Director: Jennifer Yuh Stars: Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, Dustin Hoffman, Gary Oldman, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, James Hong
Dreamworks' latest animated flick packs a punch when it comes to delivering fast-paced action sequences and jokes that land well with kids, but it comes up short on plot and character development. After proving himself to be a worthy dragon warrior in the first film, Po (Black) was launched to hero status among his small-town peers, but it turns out the panda's kung fu journey is far from complete. Po and the Furious Five must thwart Lord Shen (Oldman), a metal-clad peacock in possession of a high-tech weapon and the ambition to conquer China. At the same time, Po is driven to seek the truth about his unknown origins, which are somehow intertwined with the villain's tyranny.
Though the secondary storyline is all about Po's quest for inner peace, his trek is far from the heartfelt journeys of self-discovery we've seen in other animated movies (Mulan and Up come to mind). What drives it instead is a series of fight sequences peppered with physical-comedy stunts.
The film boasts big names (Jolie, Rogen, Liu, Oldman), but it hardly relies on them. In fact, Kung Fu Panda 2 is really a one-man - er, panda - show. For younger viewers, Black is charismatic and endearing as Po, and the fact that he takes the shape of a big cuddly bear doesn't hurt either. His shticks may fall flat with adults (a good deal of humour stems from Po's constantly rumbling belly), but they'll tickle little ones.
By the way the story wraps up, the franchise seems poised for a third instalment. Let's hope that if another Kung Fu Panda is in the works, its eye-popping battle scenes are joined by a little more substance. Mary Squillace
Release Date: June 2, 2011 Total Box Office (Gross): 12,225,280 Total Box (Admission): 306,345
7 Fast Five Director: Justin Lin Stars: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Matt Schulze, Sung Kang, Gal Gadot
It's been 10 years since Vin Diesel got behind the wheel of the Fast & Furious franchise, and he's probably as surprised as anyone it's still going. The heist plot is lightly enjoyable and doesn't take itself too seriously, even if the finer details get muddied in a puff of exhaust smoke. Anna Smith
Release Date: May 5, 2011 Total Box Office (Gross): 12,607,892 Total Box (Admission): 381,924
6 2012 Director: Roland Emmerich Stars: John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Danny Glover, Thandie Newton, Oliver Platt, Thomas McCarthy, Woody Harrelson, Chin Han
If the hysterical trailers for 2012 (wherein a tsunami crushes the White House and Rio de Janeiro's Cristo Redentor crumbles into nothingness) remind you of pretty much every Hollywood disaster movie since Independence Day, there's a very good reason: writer, director and producer Ronald Emmerich is responsible for both that and The Day After Tomorrow. Of course the main point of these movies - however milked - is the morbid thrill of watching mankind's major landmarks swept from the map by natural forces far more powerful than ourselves: violent floods, roaring tornadoes and the like. And from the trailer, 2012 looks to deliver on this in spades: this time it's not just the US that's imploding, as Emmerich leaves no wonder of the world untouched (even the Vatican is in for a pummeling).
But while this relentless visual onslaught is likely to satisfy, we can't help but wonder if there's any promise of an even bigger cinematic treat: a plot. Independence Day set the bar for blowing cities to smithereens on-screen, and since then the repetition in these sorts of films hasn't lain exclusively with the special effects, but the characters, too. There's always a heroic Quaid (Randy in Independence Day, Dennis in The Day After...), good-looking two dimensional young 'uns, an all-American family in peril led by an impossibly brave and noble patriarch, and you can bet there's some dog/cat/hamster that someone risks life and limb to rescue. (A great argument for never, ever investing in a pet. It always makes the apocalypse that more complicated). Might there be more to 2012? Will it really be any different to what we've all seen before?
Despite a cast of likeable stars - John Cusack, Woody Harrelson - we doubt it. As the world's end as foretold in the ancient Mayan calendar begins, a band of familiars (a father and his estranged family; a nobody who knew this was going to happen all along but no one would listen... although there's no Quaids this time) race to board giant arks built to preserve life beyond Earth's destruction. No, it's probably no different from all the others - but we quite enjoyed them anyway, so we'll do as we did before: switch the brain to auto pilot and open them eyes up wide. Laura Chubb
Release Date: November 12, 2009 Total Box Office (Gross): 13,461,243 Total Box (Admission): 423,466
5 Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides Director: Rob Marshall Stars: Johnny Depp, Penélope Cruz, Ian McShane, Geoffrey Rush, Ian McShane, Kevin McNally, Sam Claflin, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Stephen Graham, Keith Richards, Richard Griffiths, Greg Ellis, Damian O'Hare, Óscar Jaenada
Far be it for us to accuse the Walt Disney company of making a fourth Pirates movie strictly for the money. But the experience of sitting through this latest flogged cash cow in the already overexposed comedy adventure series feels more like tracking stock figures than watching a piece of family entertainment. Every frame feels laboured, every gag tired, every action set piece familiar, every performance phoned in.
Johnny Depp is back in the headscarf and eyeliner as Captain Jack Sparrow, whose search for the Fountain of Youth has foundered for no specific reason. Finding himself in London for no specific reason, he soon falls in with ex Angelica (Penélope Cruz), who is masquerading as Sparrow for no specific reason. Together they set off for the fountain, pursued by Geoffrey Rush's peg-legged Barbossa, who has joined the British navy for no specific reason.
For some, this may be a step up from the wilful psychedelic idiocy of At World's End, the previous film in the series. But at least that had imagination. On Stranger Tides is simply lifeless, a reductive, insulting moneymaking exercise with as much charm and depth as a slot machine. Tom Huddleston
Release Date: May 19, 2011 Total Box Office (Gross): 13,596,124 Total Box (Admission): 309,067
4 The Smurfs Director: Raja Gosnell Stars: Hank Azaria, Neil Patrick Harris, Jayma Mays, Sofía Vergara, Tim Gunn, Madison McKinley, Meg Phillips
In Raja Gosnell’s surreally awful live action-animation hybrid, the evil sorcerer Gargamel, played with self-respect-be-damned gusto by Hank Azaria, has driven a handful of Smurfs through a portal into modern Manhattan. There they take up with a harried PR man (Harris) and his twinkle-eyed pregnant wife (Jayma Mays). A succession of rather smurfin’-obvious gags (Papa et al conceal themselves in front of a Blue Man Group ad) and-is-this-really-happening? interludes (a Guitar Hero musical number set to Aerosmith’s ‘Walk This Way’) ensues.
There’s some shameless trafficking in cultural stereotypes, from Scottish Smurf Gutsy’s love of haggis to the magical-mystical Asian bookshop that, shockingly, isn’t owned by Ken Jeong. But how nice that the film finally allows Joan Rivers and Michael Musto, playing themselves, to share some screen time. Smurftastic! Keith Uhlich
Release Date: August 30, 2011 Total Box Office (Gross): 13,940,797 Total Box (Admission): 324,933
3 Transformers: Dark of the Moon Director: Michael Bay Stars: Shia LaBeouf, Markiss McFadden, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Kenneth Sheard, Josh Duhamel, John Turturro, Tyrese Gibson, Patrick Dempsey, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich
After the shambolic second instalment of the Transformers trilogy, Michael Bay had to pull out something special to end the series with at least a shred of credibility. Although a lot more coherent and fulfilling than Revenge of the Fallen, this new movie is long (the longest so far, in fact) and based around a largely linear plot, saved only by a somewhat clever hook – what if the Apollo 11 moon landing was actually a cover-up for the exploration of a derelict Cybertron spacecraft? This forms the basis upon which Bay can build his over-extravagant action scenes.
After a somewhat bland opening, the characters fall into place and the scene is set for a über-destructive battle on the streets of Chicago, where we’re sure Bay was in his element, allowed to blow his humungous budget on as many special effects as he pleased. Yet the film’s biggest flaw is Megan Fox’s replacement – British model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley – who sucks the life out of every trailer clip, and almost makes Fox look like a genuine actress. Josh Ray
Release Date: June 29, 2011 Total Box Office (Gross): 15,408,932 Total Box (Admission): 356,204
3 The Avengers Director: Joss Whedon Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Jeremy Renner
It’s official: spring 2012 will forever be known as Joss Whedon season. Not content with co-writing and producing the best film of the year so far, the berserk horror romp The Cabin in the Woods, he’s now scripted and directed the season’s biggest. And if The Avengers doesn’t feel quite as Whedon-esque as Cabin, it retains enough of his ff-kilter wit and attention to character to set it high above your average multiplex crowd-pleaser.
For those unfamiliar with the Marvel canon, the Avengers comics unite superheroes from across the company’s roster who are together tasked with taking on Loki, who plans to flood the world with evil skeleton monsters from outer space. It’s not rare to see a blockbuster skimp on plot, but that tendency is taken to new extremes here: the story is just a bare frame on which Whedon hangs his characters and action sequences. But that – and a few dodgy CGI effects – is the only major fault. This is as close as cinema gets to a fairground ride: it’s shiny, noisy and exhilarating. Whedon directs with a sledgehammer, bashing the audience, with action piled upon action.
The Avengers may not be the Joss Whedon movie everyone remembers in 2012, but it does offer this hugely talented writer-director the opportunity (and the budget) to show what he’s capable of. Tom Huddleston
Release Date: June 5, 2012 Total Box Office (Gross): 22,501,973 Total Box (Admission): 502,449
2 Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol Director: Brad Bird Stars: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Paula Patton, Simon Pegg
In its towering scope and ambition, it resembles Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, from which star Tom Cruise famously abseiled during filming. But the fourth instalment of the Mission: Impossible franchise gets so tangled in its toddlers’ jigsaw puzzle of a plot that it barely scales the heights of a small skyscraper.
The film begins with a parody-like assassination scene in Budapest, before cutting to Ethan Hunt (Cruise) being broken out of a maximum-security Russian prison. ‘Things must be bad out here, to get me out of there,’ he quips.
Bad they are; his mission, should he choose to accept it, involves breaking into Moscow’s Kremlin to steal, well, something, before a suspected terrorist gets there first. When it goes awry and the Russian fortress is blown up, Cruise’s IMF team is blamed, forcing them to go awol to complete their (virtually) impossible mission. While the Bond saga is hopelessly trying to impersonate the gritty realism Bourne trilogy, in it’s fanatical stylings M:I is now playing catch-up to Bond, specifically Pierce Brosnan’s Bond – this movie’s ensuing shambles of a storyline about a nuclear satellite (recalling Goldeneye) and a fanatic’s inexplicable desire to cause the next apocalypse (Tomorrow Never Dies).
The spaghetti-hooped plot might befit the audience of director Brad Bird’s previous work – kids’ movies Ratatouille and The Incredibles – but here it’s little more than a cursory device to move from one thrilling set piece to another. It’s exhilarating to watch an increasingly-weathered Cruise dangling from a heavily-CGI’d Burj, but no one’s really sure why he had to climb out of the window in the first place. How he ended up moments later in the midst of an impenetrable sandstorm in Satwa is little more convincing.
Perhaps sensing the self-parody it’s in danger of becoming, the ‘humour’ is ramped up this time around. Brit funnyman Simon Pegg is promoted from a bit part role in the last movie to a grating movie-long script of aching one-liners and cringey comic-book facial expressions. Meanwhile, a barely necessary sub-plot about the death of Hunt’s wife and introduction of new team member Brandt (Jeremy Renner) is dealt with in clown-like clumsiness. The finale in Mumbai – a chauvinistic nod to the original TV series which sees Paula Patton’s Jane seducing an Indian playboy before some blatant BMW product placement – sadly lacks the knockout punch of the second and third films.
Any franchise that reaches its fourth instalment has lost its ability to fire on all four cylinders, but as a popcorn-munching rollercoaster ride this entertains enough, just. The film’s open ending worryingly points towards a fifth film that just may not. Rob Garratt
Release Date: December 15, 2011 Total Box Office (Gross): 23,509,834 Total Box (Admission): 650,853
1 Avatar Director: James Cameron Stars: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Rodriguez, Giovanni Ribisi, Joel David Moore, CCH Pounder, Peter Mensah, Laz Alonso, Wes Studi, Stephen Lang, Matt Gerald
There’s a line from ‘Jurassic Park’ that echoed hauntingly through this critic’s head as ‘Avatar’ unfolded: ‘Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.’ James Cameron is one of those scientists: so in love with the technology, with the possibilities, that he never pauses to reflect upon the practicalities of cinema, of storytelling, of connecting with an audience.
That quote is doubly relevant when one considers the cultural similarities between these two blockbusters, both of which justified massive expense by promising a quantum leap forward in visual effects. But where Spielberg utilised technology in the service of a tight, witty script, Cameron is simply out to astound. There are moments when you almost expect Sam Worthington's moody, ever-present voiceover to be replaced by the self-styled king of the world yelling at his audience: ‘Are you awestruck now? How about now? Now?’
When his scientist brother is killed a week before shipping out to the distant planet Pandora, wheelchair-bound US Marine Jake Sully (Worthington) is offered the chance to go in his place. On Pandora, Jake meets his avatar, a remote-controlled host body generated from his brother’s DNA and designed to blend in among the native Na’vi, a race of nine-foot blue hunter-gatherers living in peaceful harmony with their homeworld, Native American style.
Or rather, Native Californian: Na’vi civilisation is a mishmash of half-formed Hollywood ideas about the supposed superiority of ‘primitive’ cultures, tossing around buzzwords like ‘spirit’ and ‘energy’ without ever approaching a cohesive set of beliefs. But ‘all this tree-hugging shit’, as Jake describes it, is only the most obvious defect in Cameron’s dire, cliché-ridden script. From the bluntly expositional nature of the early scenes to the gung-ho, sub-‘Aliens’ banter of Jake’s fellow soldiers, this is screenwriting on autopilot, cobbling together unripe ideas without a scrap of originality or emotional resonance.
It’s hard to fault ‘Avatar’ as an immersive visual experience. Pandora and its luridly coloured inhabitants are beautifully designed, though none of this ever feels remotely real. But this was supposed to be the movie that changed the face of filmmaking forever. Ultimately, Cameron’s signature achievement may have been to prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the oldest of all Hollywood maxims: all the money in the world is no subsitute for fresh ideas and a solid script. Time Out Dubai staff
Release Date: December 17, 2009 Total Box Office (Gross): 26,854,788 Total Box (Admission): 635,633