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Hollywood rebounds, but family-friendly offerings still limited

The first half of 2013 is already behind us, and despite some ominous doom-and-gloom predictions from George Lucas and Steven Spielberg about the impending collapse of the movie industry, things actually seem to be looking up for Hollywood these days thanks to a healthy second-quarter box office.

The first part of summer has even witnessed one new inductee into the ever-expanding billion-dollar box office club.

But that hasn’t been enough to compensate for an undeniably rocky beginning. In the absence of a “Hunger Games”-sized March blockbuster and with very little in the way of family-friendly options, audience turnout through the first three months of 2013 dropped a whopping 22 percent from the same quarter last year, according to Box Office Mojo.

In fact, the only movie to cross the $200 million line during 2013’s first quarter was Sam Raimi’s “Oz the Great and Powerful.”

That leaves Hollywood with an uphill battle if it hopes to surpass the record-breaking $10.8 billion cumulative box office from last year.

The game plan? Jam pack the release calendar with even more big-budget extravaganzas than usual.

As noted in a recent New York Times article by Brooks Barnes, in just the two-month period from May 1 to July 4, studios will have put out 13 movies with budgets in excess of $100 million each — a 44 percent increase over the same period in 2012.

Even April — a month normally considered a cinematic dumping ground — saw the release of Joseph Kosinski’s $120 million sci-fi actioner “Oblivion,” starring perennial box-office draw Tom Cruise (although it was the Jackie Robinson biopic “42” that scored the highest April numbers).

Somehow, though, even with all the extra money being poured into would-be blockbusters, this summer’s lineup has so far felt a little bit like déjà vu.

In an attempt to duplicate the success of Marvel’s “The Avengers,” which grossed $1.5 billion last year, the 2013 summer movie season officially kicked off with another entry in the Marvel cinematic universe, “Iron Man 3.”

Robert Downey Jr.’s third (and probably final) solo outing as the Armored Avenger managed to survive mixed reviews, the inevitable backlash of comic book purists and the threat of franchise fatigue to become the second highest-grossing superhero film of all time, rocketing past “The Dark Knight Rises” to the tune of $1.2 billion.

That figure was apparently enough to convince even the famously tight-fisted Marvel studio heads to re-sign Downey Jr. for at least two more Avengers movies. After that, the actor has hinted that he will probably hang up Iron Man’s jet boots for good.

To pretty much nobody’s surprise, the summer’s other box-office behemoth has turned out to be Warner Bros.’ long awaited Superman reboot, “Man of Steel,” which outperformed early estimates and managed to set a new June record with $128 million from its first five days of release.

Like Warner Bros.’ “The Dark Knight Rises” last year, “Man of Steel” looks poised to take the No. 2 spot in worldwide box office this summer.

But in a lot of ways, Zack Snyder’s more realistic take on Superman hasn’t quite been the home run fans had hoped for. It’s current Rotten Tomatoes score sits at just 56 percent (compared with 2006’s much-maligned “Superman Returns” at 75 percent).

Critics and moviegoers took issue with the wholesale destruction on display in the film’s final third — an action-packed throwdown between Superman and General Zod that leaves most of downtown Metropolis in ruins and, presumably, untold thousands dead or buried alive under the rubble of skyscrapers.

Even though darker, grittier summer movies are all the rage, the recent success of the G-rated “Monsters University” shows there is an audience for lighter fare without all the world-ending destruction and wanton violence that have become commonplace in modern studio tent poles.

The prequel to 2003’s “Monsters, Inc.,” which opened June 21, scored the second-highest opening weekend in Pixar history (right behind “Toy Story 3”) with $82 million.

In the process, it beat out “World War Z,” which nevertheless managed a respectable $66 million in its opening weekend — enough for Paramount to greenlight a sequel.

Even more impressively, Mike and Sully managed to hang on to the No. 1 spot for a second weekend with only a 44 percent drop in ticket sales. (By way of comparison, “Man of Steel” fell more than 64 percent from weekend to weekend.)

“Monsters'” two-week total has already crossed $300 million worldwide.

Unfortunately, with only one other exception — Blue Sky Studio’s “Epic,” which opened in May — there have been virtually no other movies that cater to family audiences, although that should pick up soon with releases like “Despicable Me 2,” “Disney’s Planes,” “Turbo” and “The Smurfs 2” just around the corner.

For slightly older audiences left numb by the usual summer cocktail of fast cars, super-powered fistfights, terrorist plots and R-rated hijinks, the last few months have also seen a welcome uptick in variety, including a few literary adaptations (“The Great Gatsby,” “Much Ado About Nothing”), an indie coming-of-age drama (“Mud”) and a Best Foreign Language Oscar nominee from Norway (“Kon-Tiki”).

However, with so many big-budget movies crowding theaters this year, a lot of the smaller films have struggled to find the audiences they arguably deserve.

For instance, two of the highlights of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, the documentaries “20 Feet from Stardom” and “Pandora’s Promise” — both of which opened in limited release in June — barely made a dent in the quarter’s overall box-office figures.

Meanwhile, a film like M. Night Shyamalan’s “After Earth" has pulled in more than $188 million worldwide despite an abysmal 11 percent Rotten Tomatoes rating.

With some of the biggest movies of the summer still on the horizon, though, including a large number of family-oriented titles, the 2013 box office looks like it might stand a decent chance of overtaking last year’s record — which, at the very least, means the movie industry probably won’t implode on itself just yet.

A native of Utah Valley and a devoted cinephile, Jeff Peterson is currently studying humanities and history at Brigham Young University.