The 2009 summer-movie season began the first weekend of May with the prequel X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and is ending before Labor Day with Halloween 2, a sequel to a remake. That pretty much sums up the artistic ambitions of summer movies. Familiarity breeds contempt only among critics; the mass audience keeps paying for more of the same. They may see the "new" movies while wearing 3-D goggles, but the product is the same: cinematic Pringles.
At the end of a busy season we present the 10 lessons these movies teach the dictates Hollywood lives by and the reasons movies are so ... similar to other movies. But don't blame Hollywood bosses; blame the audiences. So conservative are moviegoers, they punish stars who try something different. In Funny People, Adam Sandler went deadly serious and into the box-office commode. Sacha Baron Cohen was nearly lynched for putting an oily edge on his Brüno character. (Baron Cohen is not a star; Borat is.) For once, comedy actresses, Sandra Bullock and Katherine Heigl, sold more tickets than the big comedy actors by sticking to the basics of funny romance.
Ticket sales have been up this year, and so were some of the films: Up, for instance. Others showed the only kind of ingenuity that pays off: twisting genre conventions into new forms. That what Neill Blomkamp, the season's big discovery, did with the sci-fi District 9, and what Quentin Tarantino did to the let's-kill-Hitler war-movie plot in Inglourious Basterds. Both films found large audiences, which is nice. But a flat-out original idea, brilliantly imagined? Save that dream for Oscar season. Just kidding!