A merry month indeed

May tentpole trend extending to '08

What's so special about May?

Of course, there's the grande dame of film festivals, the Festival de Cannes, which has been held in May for 60 years. But Thomas Mallory's hoary observation about the "lusty month of May" also applies to the global boxoffice, with summer tentpoles now staking out their day-and-date claims to the month with unprecedented gusto.

Internationally, the May syndrome received a major lift early this month when Sony Pictures' "Spider-Man 3" set all-time international opening records of $176.6 million for a conventional weekend opening and $231 million for a six-day blast.

DreamWorks Animation/Paramount's animated sequel "Shrek the Third" got off the ground in four international markets this past weekend. Then, on Wednesday, Disney/BVI's third film in the "Pirates" franchise, "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End," lifts off in France and explodes around the globe by the end of the week.

Even before "Spidey 3" ratified that May is a hot month for tentpoles as well as maypoles, the major studios penciled in or locked in no fewer than six potential blockbusters for May 2008. Dibs on overseas dates, tentative or firmed, have been taken by Paramount for "Iron Man," May 2; 20th Century Fox, "The Day the Earth Stood Still," May 9; Warner Bros. Pictures, "Speed Racer," also May 9; Disney/BVI, "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian," May 16; Paramount, the fourth film in the "Indiana Jones" franchise, May 22; and Fox, "Starship Dave," May 30.

And May hopes have extended to 2009, as well. Two studios have eyes on May 22, 2009, with Fox pitching James Cameron's "Avatar" and Paramount with "Monsters vs. Aliens."

Many believe the flowers-after-showers month first came into global prominence with Universal's "The Mummy" in May 1999. It was a time when the overseas market was just starting to take hold as a viable summer outlet as new air-conditioned multiplexes began to proliferate.

"It is the start of the U.S. summer," said Andrew Cripps, president of Paramount Pictures International. "And as such, day-and-date tentpoles need to go into that period to maximize worldwide boxoffice and to certainly get out in key markets before piracy eats away at revenue potential and to tie into certain holiday times."

David Kornblum, vp international sales and distribution at Buena Vista International, is of the school that believes that giant hit movies put global audiences in the mood for more of the same. He said that a "battle royal" is in store for May 2008. "That's not unusual," he added. "And it's good for the business because they work to get people in the moviegoing habit."

Based on experience, a gang-up of potential blockbusters during May can work to the benefit of all concerned. In 2004, Warners' "Troy," Universal's "Van Helsing" and Fox's "The Day After Tomorrow" opened almost back-to-back overseas during May, and all came out with an international boxoffice of about $200 million apiece.

"There's plenty of capacity out there," 20th Century Fox International co-president Paul Hanneman said at the time.

With "Spidey 3" getting this summer off to a roaring start, it has reinforced the early optimism that this year might set an all-time record at the offshore boxoffice.

A batch of sequels with a familiar ring — enhanced by such new tentpoles as "Transformers" (Paramount/DreamWorks), "The Simpsons Movie" (Fox) and "Ratatouille" (Walt Disney Co./Pixar) — have overseas distribution executives gushing about a record summer for the industry.

In July, theaters worldwide will embrace the fifth in a series of "Harry Potter" money-gushers, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix." Warners' eagerly awaited latest film adaptation of the J.K. Rowling novels will open in many key foreign countries on the same July 13 weekend it opens domestically and will extend to early August in others.

Warners' second prime summer offering is "Ocean's Thirteen," the third edition of the crime caper series directed by Steven Soderbergh, which takes off in key foreign territories June 8 simultaneous with its domestic bow.

Fox International will be steering several sequel-related films through the summer sweepstakes, starting with "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer," which launches in June and goes through August. "Live Free or Die Hard," the fourth time around for the action-adventure franchise famously identified with Bruce Willis, hits overseas multiplexes day-and-date in late June. "28 Weeks Later," a follow-up to 2002's sci-fi thriller "28 Days Later," is slated for some markets this month.

Fox's event-focused summer offering is "The Simpsons," the first film adaptation of the venerable animated TV sitcom, scheduled to encompass the international market in a day-and-date blast starting July 27.

Paramount will be represented by DWA's "Shrek the Third," which starts in Russia and Southeast Asia this month, but the bulk of the dates are in mid- to late June to capitalize on the period leading to school holidays.

BVI is counting on Disney/Pixar's newly minted "Ratatouille" to retain its laurels as animation's foremost purveyor. "Ratatouille," which centers on a rat in a Paris bistro who wants to be a chef, starts out in Latin America and Asia in June and July, moves to Europe from August to September and winds up in the U.K. in October.

Sony Pictures Animation's second in-house computer-animated entry, "Surf's Up," is set to follow a traditional family-film release pattern, starting day-and-date in the U.S. and Russia on June 8 and opening in new territories every month until it reaches Japan in December.

One of the most anticipated tentpoles of the summer, Paramount/DreamWorks' live-action sci-fi thriller "Transformers," has its roots in the famed animated TV series that ran from 1984-87 and in a Japanese-style animated big-screen cult version released in 1986. The Michael Bay-directed battle of the alien races, with Steven Spielberg as an executive producer, goes out July 4 in the U.S. and day-and-date in more than 30 markets worldwide.

Universal will have two sequels on its summer plate: Matt Damon will play Jason Bourne for the third time in "The Bourne Ultimatum," and Morgan Freeman will play God again in "Evan Almighty," the Steve Carell-starring sequel to 2003's "Bruce Almighty." "Ultimatum" opens day-and-date Aug. 3 in 10 countries and rolls out in August and September, while "Evan" bows in four countries June 22 and makes its way internationally during June and July.

The horror tale "Hostel: Part II," which Lionsgate Films is handling domestically, will be taken around the world by Sony International during June and July, while New Line's "Rush Hour 3" will reach the action aficionados starting in mid-August.
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