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What summer’s big movies say about us

Don’t be ashamed if you saw “Transformers 2.” And if you saw the new “Harry Potter” film it means you're a loyal friend.
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

How did “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” make $400 million but fail to draw most of the people I know into theaters? Because nearly every adult person I’ve spoken to this summer has said something much like the following to me: “Were you being ironic when you said you actually enjoyed that movie?”

“No,” I would respond. “I like chaotic cinema experiences and the disorienting effects of metal things being crunched up into gigantic wads of noise. And I mean that sincerely.”

“Well, I won’t be seeing it,” they’d sniff.

So I have snooty friends. That’s what their refusal to enjoy anti-auteur Michael Bay’s filmic output says about them. But what does the fact that you saw it say about you?

The top five grossing widely released films of summer 2009:

1. ‘Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen’Approximate domestic take: $400 millionDirector Bay knows how to scratch the Big Dumb Itch. He knows that you will sit through most anything for the luxury of lounging for three hours in a chilly air-conditioned movie theater. He also knows that the guy with the biggest marketing campaign often makes bank the biggest bank.

Zac Efron, Hilary Duff and Dakota Fanning are among the new generation of actors and singers who are lighting up screens, radio stations, and yes, tabloid headlines.

As for you, having seen it doesn’t mean you really have to worry that it makes you this or that kind of person. It just means that it was there to be viewed and you happened to view it. Just like when a crazy homeless person dressed head-to-toe in aluminum foil walks past you on the sidewalk. It was a spectacle at which you could momentarily gawk.

Maybe you made a choice. Or maybe your friends did and you were just like, “Sure, I’ll see whatever.” Either way, it cattle-called and lots of you showed up. You don’t have to feel like you were wrong. I laughed at those robot-testicles, too. I’m not ashamed.

2. ‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’ Approximate domestic take: $300 millionWe’re completists. If sequels keep giving us candy we haven’t tired of tasting and if the films don’t leap on motorcycles over shark-tanks too egregiously, if the cast gets cuter and the situations more dangerously high-stakes as time goes on, we’ll stick around.

And the best thing about the kid wizards is that they’re finite. We don’t feel endlessly strung along and we know the real, true, no-take-backs ending is coming in a couple more movies.

The “Harry Potter” series’ success means we’re good, loyal friends and that each of us who sees all of them will have given about $200 per person — in ticket and concession money — and 20 hours of our lives to the cause, not counting any Halloween-related dress-up moments as “Sexy Snape.”

3. ‘Up’
Approximate domestic take: $290 million

‘Up,’ ‘Toy Story’ and ‘Snow White’ among the best animated films produced by Hollywood.

The most moving, sophisticated, thoughtful animated movie of the year is also, thankfully, the highest grossing animated film in this country. The latest lukewarm, brain-dead, yawn-inspiring “Ice Age” sequel made more worldwide, closing in on a billion — yes, a billion — dollars.

But we don’t have to think about that here. This film, and not that blandly reupholstered prehistoric cartoon-swamp, will be the one that people remember with love in their hearts. That’s because it’s about something other than selling Happy Meal toys. And every time I think about it I get the urge to talk like that dog with the veterinarian’s cone around his neck.

4. ‘The Hangover’Approximate domestic take: $270 millionIt means that studios will think that Bradley Cooper can open a movie now. But what it actually means is that you really dig Zach Galifianakis even though — unless you regularly watch “Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job!” or were a fan of “Tru Calling” — you had no idea he existed until this summer. Go back and watch it again. He’s got all the funniest bits and carries the whole darn movie. If huge beards make it out of hipster-trend territory and back into mainstream life, it will be his doing.

5. ‘Star Trek’
Approximate domestic take: $260 millionIt means you really want to see where this whole hot-n-heavy Spock/Uhura thing goes.

Honorable mention: ‘Inglourious Basterds’
Approximate domestic take (so far): $75 millionIn two weeks of release, Tarantino’s Nazi revenge fantasy is gunning its way toward the hundred million mark in the U.S. alone. It might not overtake the top five, but it’s already way too popular for the comfort of most high school history teachers.

The bottom five grossing widely released films of summer 2009:

5. ‘Bandslam’ Approximate domestic take: $5 millionAccording to the calculators at boxofficemojo.com, this poor, sweet, abused little movie is No. 8 on the list of all-time worst wide-release openers. And why? Because the teenagers who were supposed to go see it would rather be caught dead than watch something with Disney Channel tween-marketed stars playing their actual age. Because it was too smart a movie to be dumped in the butt-end ditch of late summer. Because unless the ads are saturating you with a hook you understand, you won’t take a chance. You’re as much to blame as the dopey ad campaign. Feel ashamed of yourself. No, seriously, feel ashamed.

4. ‘Miss March’
Approximate domestic take: $4.5 millionTasteless “I must get laid” comedies are harmless enough, even when they’re as stupid as this one. As a ticket-buyer, you were likely just spillover from a sold-out “Star Trek” screening. And you don’t remember if you liked it or not. Eventually it will show up on cable and you’ll start watching it as a nagging, “Wait, didn’t I buy a ticket to this?” seeps up from your subconscious. Then you’ll fall asleep on the couch.

3. ‘Taking Woodstock’Approximate domestic take (so far): $3.5 millionChances are this one will take in more as weeks roll on. It just opened. But it’s already hugely disappointing for the makers. It was supposed to take a mellow piggyback ride on the corporately engineered Woodstock anniversary nostalgia and clean up with the grown-folks audience.

But then the reviews were mostly bad. Of all the films on this list it’s this one, with its inherent Ang Lee promise of educational quality, that’s most vulnerable to bad reviews. Word got out that you don’t see any actual Woodstock stuff going on besides young, clean, good-natured hippies getting high and hearing all the swirly colors. The lesson is that we want our hippies to be grimy and likely to follow Charles Manson so we can pretend we’re better than that. Either way, watching the 1968 Jackie Gleason LSD comedy “Skidoo” on Turner Classic Movies is way more fun.

2. ‘Battle For Terra’
Approximate domestic take: $1.6 millionThe anti-“Up,” even though most of it takes place in the sky, too. It’s baby’s first animated movie about genocide, concerning a peaceful race of flying, talking tadpoles invaded by destructive aliens: humans. Then all hell breaks loose. If you saw it then that makes you a misguided parent or a really gloomy child.

1. ‘X Games 3D: The Movie’Approximate domestic take (so far): $1.4 millionHow to fail at releasing an X Games movie and make a no-brainer actually brainless: First, release it well after the games in question are over. Then wait for another round of them to be over, too. Perfect timing! Then make sure it’s in 3-D but pad all the extreme sports stuff and people soaring through the air with some dull backstory bits of the athletes just sitting around. If you didn’t see it then you are part of the overwhelming majority and you were probably out having actual fun twisting your ankle on a skateboard instead.

Dave White is the film critic for Movies.com and the author of “Exile in Guyville.” Find him at .