Movies have never been more expensive to make or to see, and sometimes, as with much of this year's underwhelming crop of blockbusters, they take a toll on viewers. Would it be a better idea to skip the films and just play with their accompanying toys? The A.V. Club investigated:
The film: Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End. In a third go-around, Johnny Depp and others pretend to be pirates while battling CGI monsters and each other.
The toy: Mega Bloks' Jack Sparrow play-set. This Lego-ish set features Johnny Depp's loveable pirate character standing on a pier.
Advantage, film: Fans who enjoyed/tolerated the first two entries in Disney's theme-park-attraction-turned-action-movie franchise can see how it all ends. Also, the film won't get lost between couch cushions.
Advantage, toy: The toy captures the core appeal of the Caribbean films—Hey! It's Johnny Depp, and he's dressed up like a pirate!—without making viewers submit to three hours of headache-inducing CGI clap-trappery.
Toy may also be used to re-enact: Michael Moore's Sicko. Accursed with gout and scurvy, tiny Jack Sparrow can sail your living room's seven seas in search of a more sensible approach to health care.
The film: Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix. In this fifth installment of the book/film series about the boy wizard, the evil, pink-clad Dolores Umbridge takes over Hogwarts School Of Witchcraft And Wizardry, while the evil Voldemort gets further into Harry's head.
The toy: Lego's Order Of The Phoenix Hogwarts set. This suspiciously generic castle comes packaged with film-specific Lego characters, including Hagrid, Dumbledore, Hermione, Ron, Draco Malfoy, Umbridge, and a Death Eater, plus two of the horse-ish monster thestrals, and of course, a little Harry Potter.
Advantage, film: Imelda Staunton as Umbridge makes a far more intimidating yet infuriatingly sickly-sweet villain than this set's little pink plastic nubbin, with its pop-off hair and vaguely puzzled frown. Also, most of the film's most exciting scenes take place away from Hogwarts, which means kids with this set are relegated to playing "Harry Potter and friends sit around school, waiting for something to happen."
Advantage, toy: As the series steadily gets grimmer and the body count rises, increasingly traumatized kids may be lured out of their shell-shock with a rousing game of "Harry Potter and friends sit around school, huddled together for comfort and all still alive, see, honey? They're fine? Honey?"
Toy may also be used to re-enact: Various Harry Potter slashfic fantasies, particularly those that cross over into the Lego Star Wars universe. The Lego folks have even helpfully released a line of keyfobs that feature these figures dangling from little chains.
The film: Spider-Man 3. Everyone's favorite wall-crawler takes a dark turn when simultaneous attacks by Sandman, New Goblin, and an alien symbiote leave Peter Parker questioning his commitment to heroism.
The toy: Hasbro's Punch Attack Sandman action figure. Detachable oversized fists let this tiny doll replicate the shape-shifting powers and super-sock of a devilishly elusive bad guy.
Advantage, film: Spider-Man 3's kinetic action sequences and puckish comic interludes have a fluidity that no stiff plastic toy can duplicate.
Advantage, toy: The film's Sandman storyline is really the only one worth following. Forget about torturous relationship troubles and the umpteenth restatement of the "with great power comes great responsibility" theme. With this toy, it's all about the punching.
Toy may also be used to re-enact: Scrape the paint off the legs, arms, and torso, replace one of the mammoth sand-fists with a piece of stemware, and you can re-enact several Oscar-nominated scenes from Sideways.
The film: Shrek The Third. The big green ogre returns and is forced to own up to his responsibilities as a father and a leader, when he'd rather be eating, drinking, and farting.
The toy: MGA's Shrek 3-D Memory Match-Up Game. Twenty miniature figures from the Shrek cast sit beneath 20 plastic cups, as kids try to find the hidden pairs, Concentration-style.
Advantage, film: No expense was spared in making every ripple of Shrek's butt-cheeks look spookily realistic.
Advantage, toy: With constant drilling, children might someday be able to distinguish one archly postmodern Shrek character from another.
Toy may also be used to re-enact: A typical Shrek pitch meeting. "So Shrek is walking through the kingdom, and he meets…" [Lift cup.] "…Donkey!"
The film: Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer. The world's greatest superhero family faces its greatest challenge when the sky-riding herald of planet-eater Galactus comes to Earth to prepare everyone for imminent extinction.
The toy: Toy Biz's Fantasticar with Super-Stretch Mr. Fantastic figure. Just like the real Fantasticar, this toy version snaps apart into separate mini-vehicles for each member of the clan. And just like with the real Fantastic Four, only Mr. Fantastic really thinks this is cool.
Advantage, film: At a brisk 89 minutes, Rise Of The Silver Surfer is over and done much quicker than the time it takes to think of something fun to do with a play-set that only includes one action figure.
Advantage, toy: Imagine the long, science-y soliloquies that Mr. Fantastic can deliver without suffering the interruptions of his nagging wife, smug brother-in-law, and grumpy best friend.
Toy may also be used to re-enact: You could always disassemble the car and try to make a robot out of the pieces, à la Transformers.
The film: The Simpsons Movie, the long-awaited big-screen version of the long-running TV hit.
The toy: The Simpsons Movie Action Figure Set, featuring an "Itchy & Scratchy" scene, Homer caught in a compromising position with a pig, and the Simpsons in separate movie-theater sets, noticeably not paying much attention to the theoretical film. Then again, they're probably just waiting for it to start… like everyone else who's wondering why it took perilously close to 20 years to bring The Simpsons to the screen.
Advantage, film: It's extremely likely to be bigger, more dynamic, and contain more than three scenes total.
Advantage, toy: The soundtrack on the movie will probably work even if the pegs in its stupid little plastic feet aren't precisely notched into the corresponding stupid little playset ports. Dammit.
Toy may also be used to re-enact: A Simpsons-themed version of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Just line the Simpsons' little movie seats up in front of your TV so they're in silhouette, turn off the lights, and provide your own voices. Hint: That really dumb plot development would probably make Homer say either "D'oh!" or "Stupid TV! Be more funny!"
The film: Transformers, Michael Bay's mega-blockbuster about giant shape-shifting robots from outer space making things go kablooie.
The toy: The Transformers Monopoly Game
Advantage, film: According to the Amazon product description, Transformers Monopoly "is the first and only game that allows you to buy, sell and trade the planets, bases, locations and transports in the race for Energon Cubes and Anti-Matter." So suck it, Risk!
Advantage, toy: Who needs giant robots battling over the fate of humanity when you can experience the giddy, mind-warping visceral thrill of collecting rent and buying and trading property?
Toy may also be used to re-enact: Worlds and summer blockbusters collide when you combine Transformers Monopoly with Simpsons Monopoly to create a crossover master-game that all but ensures that you'll never get laid or move out of your parents' basement.