Flicks and picks to click
It's the reason I have to dress as a Smurf at a party some time in the next two weeks. It's the reason I spent three months last year using "Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer" as a trash-talk punch line. It's the only reason I know that Tyler Perry has never opened a movie in the summer and that, this weekend, "Chernobyl Diaries" will be on more than 2,450 screens.
The month of May means predicting what happens this summer for two very important fantasy games. Baseball, of course, and my summer movie league. For those of you new to the column, about 30 of my old college friends and I have done this every year for close to a decade now. It's a lot of fun, and super-easy. I won't bore you with all the rules (there are a few wrinkles to make it more challenging), but basically, we pick 10 movies that open between Memorial Day and Labor Day (box office counts until Sept. 17), and we put them in the order we think they'll finish. What your movies gross is your score, along with bonus box-office cash for each movie you ranked correctly on your list. Most money wins. Super simple.
Our "slates" are due tonight, so here are what I predict will be the top ten movies this summer in terms of total US box office.
1. "The Dark Knight Rises." More of a franchise no-brainer than Albert Pujols, and has made more money than him as well. "Batman Begins" made over $250 million, and then "The Dark Knight," second in the Christopher Nolan trilogy re-boot (that's "Variety" speak for re-doing the same thing because no one wants to approve anything that isn't proven) grossed over $530 million. Christian Bale is back in the title role with Nolan at the helm. Can't miss.
2. "The Amazing Spider-Man." Another, ahem, "re-boot." This one is starting new, as Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst and Sam Raimi are all gone to do things that don't require tights, special effects or pretending that you like kissing Tobey Maguire (Dunst only. I think.) The first three Spideys all made over $300 million and, while this stars a relative unknown (Andrew Garfield), my guess is that America is still superhero crazy even after "The Avengers" and "Dark Knight Rises."
3. "Brave." Here are the top-grossing movies of all time that have been released in June, according to BoxOfficeMojo.com. See if you notice a trend: "Transformers 3," "Toy Story 3," "Transformers 2," "WALL-E," "Ratatouille," "Cars." Are there extraterrestrial self-aware robots starring in mega-films this summer? No? Then Pixar it is.
4. "Men in Black 3." Speaking as someone who has written a second sequel many years after the first one, and even further removed from the original, not to mention one that screams "We're doing it for the cash!" I feel most qualified to speak about this movie. I don't want to like it. I don't think I will. But the people, they love Will Smith. It's in 3D (3D = more expensive movie ticket = more total box office). Per BoxOffice.com, if you adjust for inflation, the first movie made $427 million and the second movie (which was terrible) made $257 million. We're in the $190-200 million range right now and, as my friend Patrick Reardon points out (Patrick is a savant with this stuff, he works in the industry), Memorial Day weekend is almost always dominated by a big, effects-driven tentpole movie that is usually a sequel. The last few years have seen "Indiana Jones 4," "Pirates 3," "X-Men 3," "Terminator 4," "Night at the Museum 2," etc. "Hangover 2" did really well on this weekend last year. I expect the "Men" to wind up in the black. See what I did there? That was just off the top of my head. Who says I can't still write decades-old sequels no one is asking for? Someone find me the producers of "The Goonies."
5. "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted." This is where it starts to get tricky, as there are three big animated family films and it's really a pick 'em as to the order in which they'll finish. I went "Brave" at No. 3, obviously, so it's between the other two now, and with "Madagascar," it's a bit fresher (third in the series versus the fourth "Ice Age"). All the animated movies are 3D (again, more money), so for me, I just like the fact that it opens first (June 8) and really has a few weeks of the kids to itself until "Brave" opens. "Ice Age" follows July 13, and while it has the rest of the summer to itself, it still has to deal with "Brave" runoff, plus "Dark Knight Rises" opens the next week and I bet kids weasel their way into that one (I know my 7-year-old is much more excited for Batman than "Ice Age"). Each movie in the series has made at least $180 million. Polka-dot, polka-dot, afro!
6. "Ice Age: Continental Drift." BoxOfficeMojo.com's Ray Subers points out last summer's animated sequels "Kung Fu Panda 2" (minus 23 percent) and "Cars 2" (minus 21 percent) both dropped a decent amount from their predecessor, which is a fair point. And that's why I have them outside the top five. But every "Ice Age" movie has made more than the one before it, with the last one grossing over $196 million. And "Kung Fu Panda 2" still made $165 million. The 7-year-old still wants to see it, just after he's seen "Batman." I'll take that.
7. "The Bourne Legacy." Risky, because it's a huge title, but the first installment without Matt Damon. That said, Jeremy Renner has gotten a bit of face time in the last "Mission Impossible" and "Avengers," no? Did you know the last "Bourne" made over $225 million and was the highest-grossing of the series? Plus, one of them runs on HBO every three seconds.
8. "Prometheus." Opening the same weekend as "Super 8" did last year, it's another sci-fi spooky fanboy favorite, this time with Ridley Scott and set in the same universe as Scott's "Alien." It's basically got the weekend to itself (only "Madagascar," very different audience) and the next weekend is an Adam Sandler flick and "Rock of Ages." "Prometheus" is also in 3D (notice a theme) and has no competition in the space until "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer" shows up (and disappears).
9. "Snow White and the Huntsman." So my wife is not a big moviegoer. Likes them fine, but it's almost always me dragging her out as opposed to the other way around. Except she mentions to me, out of the blue, she wants to see this movie because "it's got the girl from 'Twilight' in it." I mentioned this story to a bunch of female co-workers and they all nodded in a "Oh yeah I'm seeing that your wife isn't crazy" kind of way. "Hunger Games" says America also likes seeing young women kick butt. I don't get the whole "Twilight" thing (or women in general for that matter), but that doesn't mean I'm not willing to profit from it.
10. "Rock of Ages." The play is super-popular, but more importantly, so are musicals. BoxOffice.com points out that "Mamma Mia" and "Hairspray" both opened to over $27 million (and I'll mention both made over $100 million; "Mamma Mia" made $144M). Tom Cruise like you've never seen him before and songs you know by heart. I'm not worried about Adam Sandler opening that weekend, as you'll see.
I was really torn about "Ted," the Mark Wahlberg comedy from Seth MacFarlane. Liked that it moved up two weekends once "G.I. Joe" got bumped to 2013. Liked that it's an adult comedy in late June ("Bad Teacher" opened late June last year and grossed over $100 million) and the trailer has played well. Lotta fanboy buzz here too thanks to Seth's "Family Guy" audience. My sleeper of the summer. May still sneak it in there. Was really torn between that and "Rock of Ages."
Among those that didn't make the cut? Adam Sandler's "That's My Boy" (rated R, which cuts out part of his audience, plus "Rock of Ages" will take the bulk of the female audience and has to compete with "Prometheus'" sophomore weekend for the male audience), plus did you see "Jack and Jill?" No? Well, neither did the rest of America. I'd be on board for "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" if it was done tongue-in-cheek, but the trailer suggests they're playing it straight. Remember "Jonah Hex?" Exactly. Hearing that "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World" and "The Watch" are playing poorly and, while I am very tempted for a late-August comedy from Will Ferrell, it's politics. Not sure how that plays, as I suspect people will be sick of it in real life by then, so "The Campaign" doesn't make my top 10. "Hope Springs" is the only chance for a serious adult film to make a splash, and sometimes the adult film works ("The Help") and sometimes it does not ("Larry Crowne"). I say it's not top-10, though I do love Meryl Streep.
It's all educated guesswork, of course, trying to decide which movies will live up to their billing and which will flop. What is real? What's hype? Fizz or fizzle? It's the same, of course, with baseball players. What's real? What isn't? And who is going to be a blockbuster? And who will, in fact, have a bummer summer? Here's a bunch of players who, one way or the other, have not been what we expected. Stats do not include last night's games.
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Red Sox: I went all-in on him in the preseason, so you know I'm not bailing now. Actually hitting more fly balls this year than last (39.6 percent compared to 2011's 32.1 percent), yet his HR/FB rate is 5.7 percent (career 16.4 percent). I'm buying low wherever I can.
Jose Altuve, 2B, Astros: Written about him before, so you know I think he's totally legit. His 92.5 percent contact percentage is fourth-highest in the majors. When you make contact and have speed, good things tend to happen.
Bryan LaHair, 1B/OF, Cubs: Wrote about him last week as someone I ranked much lower than everyone else for the rest of the year. Got a lot of disagreement, some of it even spelled correctly. Last seven days for LaHair? One-for-20, one run, no homers, no RBIs. But he did strike out 10 times. I'm gonna be right on this one, gang. Save yourself some embarrassment and start deleting those tweets.
Yonder Alonso, 1B/OF, Padres: Hitting over .300 for the year, and I'm kind of buying this. I believe the power will come soon as well, despite the home park. Pretty good batting eye, especially for a young guy, and while he's not winning any RBI titles playing for the Padres, he's been a top-20 first baseman on our Player Rater for the past month. Probably not grabbing him in 10-team mixed leagues just yet unless I had an injury, but in 12-team and deeper? Yeah.
Derek Jeter, SS, Yankees: After a crazy-hot start (.389 in April, four home runs, 16 runs, 13 RBIs) he's come back to earth a little bit (.286, one home run, eight runs, three RBIs, two steals). And now he's gonna plummet. He is walking less than he has at any point in his career and actually hitting fewer fly balls than ever before either, which will make it impossible to maintain the home run pace. Sell while you still can.
Carlos Ruiz, C, Phillies: He's not this good, that's for sure. The average and power are unsustainable at current levels. But he'll hit for a decent average, and he has seven home runs already this season after hitting just six all of last year. According to ESPN's Home Run Tracker, his average home run distance has increased to 391 feet from 367 last season. Wouldn't trade him because his value will be more for you than what you will get on the open market. A top-10 catcher, but not in the top eight.
Brandon Morrow, SP, Blue Jays: No to the way, Jose. An xFIP of 3.58 should give you pause that he's not this good, but not as much as this: Look at who he has faced. He shut out the Angels and Mets, shut down the Indians, Angels and Mariners. Gave up a single run to the Royals. But against the AL East? He's faced Tampa Bay twice and has an ERA of 9.82 against them. The Orioles put up four runs in seven innings, including two homers. And the other two AL East teams that he's yet to face this season? Career 9.53 ERA versus the Red Sox, career 4.08 ERA versus the Yankees. Sell, sell, sell.
Mark Trumbo, 1B/OF, Angels: The truth is, a first baseman for the Angels has been hitting all along. It's just not the guy with the contract. The Halos have had to find ways to get Trumbo into the lineup, but when they have, he's produced. I don't believe the .325 average stays (BABIP is .393, .274 last season) but I don't think it's as much a fluke as you might. As Zach "The SWAN" Jones of ESPN Stats & Information points out, Trumbo's production against non-fastballs is impressive. Through Tuesday's games, when he doesn't get a fastball, he is hitting .393 this season, more than 160 points higher than last season. And when the pitch is in the strike zone, he's batting .467, which over larger samples is a pretty good indicator of a good hitter. That mark currently ties him with David Wright (.467) for the best in baseball.
R.A. Dickey, P, Mets: Totally legit. We discussed him on the pod, but did you know he's on pace for almost 200 strikeouts this year? Since the start of last season, Dickey has more quality starts than Felix Hernandez, Cliff Lee and CC Sabathia, among others. He is top-10 in the majors over that time frame. He has actually just snuck above the Wandy Line for me now. By the way, I've gotten a lot of requests for a Wandy Line update, so I'll do that soon.
Edwin Jackson, P, Nationals: Never been a huge Jackson guy, but something's in the water in Washington this year. And like the rest of the Nats staff, E-Jax, as only I call him, has been great. And you know what? I kinda of buy it. Before this season, he averaged 6.7 strikeouts and 3.7 walks per 9 innings. This season he has a very solid 7.67 K/9 and a career-low 1.8 BB/9. He's inducing more ground balls than his career norm and has a 3.38 ERA through nine starts. Safe spot starter in 10-team mixed leagues, and a potential buy in NL-only.
Rickie Weeks and Jemile Weeks 2B, Brewers and A's: For Rickie, sadly, I think this is legit. Which isn't good. It's not that the hits aren't falling; he's just not making contact. Striking out at a career-high rate, he just seems lost this year. I do, however, have hope for Jemile.
As Zach Jones points out, there are actually some pretty encouraging signs in terms of his development as a hitter. He's chasing way fewer pitches than he did a season ago (down from 28.4 percent to 19.9), and he's walking more than twice as much: 9.9 percent of the time versus 4.8 in 2011. He's always had a good batting eye and, given his speed and very low BABIP, I expect a correction to the batting average. So I'd trade for Jemile, but would try to trade away Rickie.
Felipe Paulino, P, Royals: Still available in 90 percent of leagues. We've always known the strikeouts were there. We've just been waiting for him to get the control under, er, control. Yeah. Just seven walks in 25 1/3 innings this year, he now has a 1.42 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in his first four starts, which includes the Yankees twice and a pretty good Orioles team. I believe.
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Andy Pettitte, SP, Yankees: I fully admit to being a Yankee hater. But that doesn't cloud my analysis. Hey, I loved Raul Ibanez this year! Anyway, the slider does seem to be working for Pettitte in the early going, but after starts with eight and nine strikeouts respectively, people are asking: Can we invest? I'm not buying. As our Stats & Information team points out, it's the first time Pettitte has struck out at least eight batters in consecutive starts since July 2006. It's only the sixth time in his career he's struck out at least eight in back-to-back starts. Sure, maybe something has changed after six years and a season out of baseball, but I doubt it. Not a believer.
B.J. Upton, OF, Rays: I'm like Charlie Brown with the football here. Every time I think I'm done, he sucks me back in. Dangerously close to fantasy kryptonite territory, but I'm kind of buying this. Do I feel he finishes the year as a .300 hitter? No. But I also don't think he's his old batting average-killer self. Striking out less than career norms, he's also swinging at more pitches in the zone. You know the speed and power are there, so if he can be a .275 guy instead of a .235 guy? Stud. I'm on board.
Austin Jackson, OF, Tigers: We touched on this briefly on the podcast this morning, but I have never been a fan of Austin Jackson, Strikeout Machine, as he is known at TMR HQ. But I'll be damned if he has learned to take a walk. A 29-to-20 strikeout-to-walk rate this year, he is walking more and striking out less than last year by a nice margin. And yeah, we know he's fast. That ain't a fluke. I guess I'm, ugh, I hate to say this buying.
James McDonald, P, Pirates: In my preseason "100 Facts You Need to Know" column, I wrote the following about James McDonald: last 27 starts: 152 IP, 3.49 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 7.7 K/9, 3.9 BB/9. That's useful in NL-only leagues. And he's been useful in way more leagues than that. His K/9 is now over 9, his BB/9 is under three, and he's keeping it in the park, having allowed just two home runs this year in 57 and 1/3 innings. This is a young pitcher finally coming into his own.
Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- is a former champ of the summer movie league. And also once finished in the bottom five. Thanks for nothing, Larry Crowne. Berry is the creator of RotoPass.com, a website that combines a bunch of well-known fantasy sites, including ESPN Insider, for one low price. Use promo code ESPN for 10 percent off.