One thing's sure -- June won't be May

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June jewels: Although June doesn't boast the megablockbuster franchises that drove May to record heights, it does have a few jewels of its own, including a few potentially strong originals and sequels that could help keep May's momentum going. But one thing's sure -- June won't be May.

While May was easy to peg right from the start as a month that couldn't miss, June's a tougher call because a number of key openings are going to need great word of mouth to find their audiences. In today's wildly over crowded marketplace, of course, there's not always enough time for word to get around before the next title wave hits theaters and moviegoers are focusing on them. That could be the decisive factor in how well this June's potentially big films end up doing.

Not so long ago June was regarded as the official start of the summer season and distributors held films back from May because they wanted to have them playing when schools were out and, as they put it, "every night is Saturday night." With the rise in recent years of May as its own presummer season, studios have changed their thinking and the first weekend in May is now a plumb date to open brand name product like "Spider-Man 3" and lure moviegoers away from their giant plasma TV screens. Memorial Day remains ultra desirable because it's the summer's very lucrative first holiday weekend and a great place to showcase killer franchises like "Pirates of the Caribbean." Mid-May's less desirable because, on the one hand, you've got strong competition from whatever big picture opened two weekends earlier and, on the other hand, a week or so later you're going to run into whatever's opening for Memorial Day.

Unlike May with Memorial Day or July with July Fourth, June has no rip-roaring holiday weekends. The best June can offer is the fact that its last weekend leads into July Fourth, but how well that weekend and the nation's birthday relate to each other depends entirely on the calendar. This year, for instance, with July Fourth falling on a Wednesday, most people aren't going to be able to take off Monday and Tuesday from work so there won't really be an extended holiday weekend. When July Fourth falls on a Tuesday, however, that does lend itself nicely to a five-day holiday period that can launch a major picture in style.

Looking back at last June, it was an OK month but really nothing spectacular -- although insiders were thrilled that it was out-performing the hideous summer of 2005. On a weekend by weekend basis, key films -- those grossing $500,000 or more -- ranged from roughly $129 million to $148 million. Of course, the good news is that if Hollywood gets lucky this June it can compare very favorably to last year.

Here's a quick look at some of the most promising wide releases on deck for June and some notes on what happened this time last summer.

This weekend (June 1-3) will bring in Universal's "Knocked Up," written and directed by Judd Apatow and starring Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl, the summer's first youth appeal comedy. That mirrors how last June kicked off with Universal launching its youth appeal comedy "The Break-Up," directed by Peyton Reed and starring Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn, the first weekend in June. "Break-Up" arrived to $39.2 million and went on to gross $118.7 million domestically. Not only did "Break-Up" have two very high profile stars who were making real life headlines at the time, but it was rated PG-13, which made it more accessible to a broad audience than "Knocked Up" will be with its R rating. On the other hand, that's not to say that R rated films can't generate big boxoffice. Warner Bros.' "300"was rated R and just did over $209 million domestically.

Another key point of comparison for "Knocked Up" is bound to be Apatow's previous R rated youth appeal hit, "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," which Universal opened Aug. 19, 2005 to $21.4 million. It went on to gross $109.4 million domestically, making it nicely profitable since the film was reportedly made for about $26 million.

Other wide releases this weekend include: Picturehouse's PG-13 drama "Gracie," directed by Davis Guggenheim and starring Elisabeth Shue; and MGM's R rated suspense thriller "Mr. Brooks," directed by Bruce Evans and starring Kevin Costner and Demi Moore.

June's first weekend last year (June 2-4) saw key films gross $128.7 million. In the Top Five besides "Break-Up" with $39.2 million, there were 20th Century Fox's "X-Men: The Last Stand" with $34 million, DreamWorks and Paramount's "Over the Hedge" with $20.6 million, Sony's "The Da Vinci Code" with $18.6 million and Paramount's "Mission: Impossible III" with $4.7 million. Key films took in $128.7 million, up about 1% from the dreaded summer of '05's first weekend in June.

The second weekend in June (June 8-10) should see some major boxoffice action from Warner Bros.' opening of its PG-13 franchise three-quel "Ocean's Thirteen," produced by Jerry Weintraub, directed by Steven Soderbergh and starring a high profile ensemble cast led by returning stars George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon as well as new additions Al Pacino and Ellen Barkin.

Comparisons to "Ocean's Twelve" aren't really appropriate because that episode arrived in theaters Dec. 10, 2004 rather than in the summer. It opened to $39.2 million and went on to gross $125.5 million domestically. The series' original, "Ocean's Eleven" was also an early December release -- opening Dec. 7, 2001 to $38.1 million and winding up with $183.4 million domestically. "Thirteen," which takes the franchise into the more lucrative summer waters, should outperform the first two episodes.

The comparison "Thirteen" will have to deal with is to last year's second weekend in June blockbuster, Disney's launch of Pixar's "Cars" to $60.1 million. "Cars" ended up grossing $244.1 million. It was the second biggest film of 2006 if you go on the basis of grosses from that calendar year. But it ranks third for the year after Fox's "Night at the Museum" with $250.8 million if you count grosses that came in during 2007 for films that opened late in '06. Because "Museum" went into theaters Dec. 22, 2006, most of its ticket sales were done in '07.

Another film that will also have to deal with comparisons to "Cars" is Sony's PG computer animated family film "Surf's Up," directed by Ash Brannon and Chris Buck and featuring the voice talents of Shia La Beouf, Jeff Bridges, Zooey Deschanel, Jon Heder and others. While it's not as high profile an animated feature as "Cars" or, for that matter, "Shrek the Third," "Surf's Up" will have the advantage of being brand new and very suitable for parents to take young children to see.

It also helps that by June 8 millions of people will already have seen "Shrek 3" -- its late May cume of about $224.5 million translates into over 34 million admissions at an average national ticket price of $6.58 -- so they'll be ready for something else they can bring their kids to and "Surf's Up" will be the best answer. Moreover, its storyline about surfing penguins is an adult friendly subject and on the heels of "Happy Feet" and "March of the Penguins" parents may feel good about going to see penguin movies.

Also opening the same weekend is the horror sequel "Hostel 2" via Lionsgate. That will be measured against Fox's opening of its remake of "The Omen" a year earlier, which was fourth for the weekend with an OK $16 million ($5,886 per theater). It wound up grossing $54.6 million domestically and reportedly only cost $25 million to make.

Looking back at the Top Five for last year's second weekend of June we had: Disney's "Cars" first with $60.1 million, Universal's "Break-Up" second with $20.3 million, Fox's "X-Men: The Last Stand" third with $16.1 million, Fox's "Omen" fourth with $16 million and Sony's "Da Vinci Code" fifth with $10.4 million. Key films did $147.9 million, which was up about 6% from the comparable summer of '05 weekend in June.

June's third weekend (June 15-17) has a good shot at big numbers with Fox's launch of its franchise episode "Fantastic Four: The Rise of the Silver Surfer," directed by Tim Story and again starring Ion Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans and Michael Chiklis. Hollywood handicappers will be comparing it to the original "Fantastic Four," but that film opened about a month later in the summer of '05 -- on July 8 to $56.1 million. It went on to gross nearly $155 million domestically, and was one of that summer's few success stories.

"Surfer" will also face comparisons with the comparable third weekend in June '06 when nothing really opened to great business. The best of the youth appeal bunch was Paramount's "Nacho Libre," which arrived in second place with $28.3 million and ended up doing $80.2 million domestically.

Other wide releases opening in this year's third weekend in June include Warner Bros. and Virtual Studios' PG family adventure "Nancy Drew," directed by Andrew Fleming and starring Emma Roberts and Josh Flitter; and Dimension's PG-13 action-adventure "DOA: Dead or Alive," directed by Corey Yuen and starring Devon Aoki and Sarah Carter.

Looking back at last summer, the third June weekend saw key films gross $147.8 million, up about 13% from the previous summer. The Top Five included: Disney's "Cars" with $33.7 million, Paramount's "Nacho" with $28.3 million, Universal's opening of "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift" with nearly $24 million, Warner Bros.' launch of "The Lake House" with $13.6 million and Universal's "Break-Up" with $9.8 million.

The fourth weekend in June looks like it should deliver some sizzling grosses with Universal's opening of its PG comedy "Evan Almighty," directed by Tom Shadyac and starring Steve Carell and Morgan Freeman. Comparisons will be made, of course, to Universal's blockbuster "Bruce Almighty," but there are some key differences between the films that will make them tough to compare. "Bruce" arrived May 23, 2003 to nearly $68 million and went on to gross $242.8 million domestically. It was rated PG-13 so "Evan" has an important ratings edge in terms of being accessible to a broader audience. "Bruce" starred Jim Carrey along with Morgan Freeman, Jennifer Aniston and Steve Carell. While Carrey's not in the new film, it shouldn't matter. In the years since then Carell's become a much bigger star than he was at the time and that should be very helpful to "Evan."

Also opening wide June 22 are Dimension and MGM's horror film "1408," directed by Mikael Hafstrom and starring John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson and IFC Entertainment's R rated dark comedy "You Kill Me," directed by John Dahl and starring Ben Kingsley, Tea Leoni and Luke Wilson.

A year ago, the fourth weekend in June saw Sony launch its PG-13 youth appeal comedy "Click" starring Adam Sandler in first place to $40 million. It went on to do $137.4 million domestically. Other films in the top five were: "Cars" with $23.3 million, "Nacho" with $12.7 million, "Fast and the Furious" with $9.8 million and Rogue Pictures' opening of "Waist Deep" with $9.4 million. Key films took in $135.6 million, up 10% from the prior summer.

June's fifth weekend straddles the months of June and July. This time around it looks very promising with three wide releases that could do very well with very different core audiences. Fox will get the jump on the weekend with its Wed., June 27 opening of the action adventure sequel "Live Free or Die Hard," directed by Len Wiseman and starring Bruce Willis. It's the first "Die Hard" episode since "Die Hard With A Vengeance," which opened May 19, 1995 to $22.2 million and wound up with $100 million in domestic grosses.

June 29 will see Disney launch Pixar's new G rated animated feature "Ratatouille," directed by Brad Bird and Jan Pinkava with such voice talents as Patton Oswalt and Brad Garrett. Comparisons will be made to "Cars" and all the previous Pixar films. With "Ratatouille" being a smaller film than the earlier Pixar pictures, it's not likely to out-perform them, but should still do well given its brand name status and the usual first-class marketing that Disney puts behind its product.

Also arriving June 29 is Lionsgate and The Weinstein Company's PG-13 Michael Moore documentary "Sicko," one of the highest profile films screened at this year's Cannes Film Festival and likely to benefit from the customary ton of media coverage that Moore's movies attract. Comparisons here will be to "Fahrenheit 9/11," which opened June 23, 2004 to $23.9 million and wound up doing $119.2 million domestically. "Fahrenheit" only opened at 868 theaters and with talk of "Sicko" kicking off at 1,800 or so theaters the new film could do much more business.

A year earlier, the last weekend in June saw Warner Bros.' open "Superman Returns" to $52.5 million for the weekend and $84.6 million for five days. Other Top Five films included: Fox's second place launch of "The Devil Wears Prada" with $27.5 million, "Click" with $19.9 million, "Cars" with $14.6 million and "Nacho" with $6.6 million. Key films grossed $148.6 million, up about 8% from the prior summer.

Filmmaker flashbacks: From July 3, 1989's column: "Films that generate various sequels often tend to attract various directors, but Columbia's hit series of 'Karate Kid' movies is an exception to that. All three 'Karates,' the latest of which kicked off Friday, have been directed by John G. Avildsen.

"Avildsen, whose 25-year career as a director includes such other hits as the original 'Rocky,' 'Joe,' 'Save the Tiger' and 'Lean on Me,' was my guest Sunday on The Hollywood Reporter's Movietime cable network series to talk about 'Karate Kid III,' which was produced by Jerry Weintraub and reteams stars Ralph Macchio and Noriyuki 'Pat' Morita.

"When did he decide he wanted to direct 'Karate III?' 'When the second one sold enough tickets,' Avildsen laughs. 'When it was decided we were going to do a third one I was excited about it right away. Two things make the 'Karate Kid' movies so appealing to me. One is the people involved because if you're working with people you don't get on with then it's no fun at all. But from Pat and Ralph to Robert Kamen, who writes the stories, to Jerry, who produces them, it's as close to family as you can get in the cut-throat movie business. The second factor is the philosophy that the 'Karate Kid' movies espouse. I hear back from friends that they know kids or that their kids have seen the movies and their lives have been turned around...'

"For some directors the idea of doing even a first sequel would be unattractive. 'I can certainly understand why a director would say, 'I've done that and I can't do anything more with it and, therefore, I want to expand or go off in a different direction and make another totally different picture.' I want to do the same thing, also, but the 'Karate Kid' movies are very special. I think they're sweet and while they're about karate, they also preach a certain nonviolence, which I can go along with.'

"If earlier plans for shooting 'Karate III' had worked out, the picture would have wound up being particularly timely given current world events. 'It's unfortunate that we weren't able to make 'Karate Kid III' in China as we originally hoped to because the timing couldn't have been better,' he observes. 'But that's history..."

Update: "The Karate Kid, Part III" opened June 30, 1989 to $10.4 million at 1,560 theaters ($6,643 per theater) and went on to gross nearly $39 million domestically, making it the year's 13th biggest film. It ranks third in the series of four episodes that together have grossed nearly $254 million domestically.

Martin Grove hosts movie coverage on the broadband television channel www.UpdateHollywood.com.
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