Summer b.o. to profit from sequels, reboots

'Sex and the City 2,' 'Robin Hood' will vie for audiences

Summertime moviegoers tend to vote early and, if things go well, often.

During the past five years, about 42% of annual domestic boxoffice has been rung up during the summer, which the industry marks beginning the first weekend in May. With summer boxoffice often notably front-loaded, executives usually have a pretty good sense of how the season is shaping up by the end of the first month.

Helpfully this year, each of the season's first three sessions will see a popular big-screen character march into multiplexes.

Paramount unspools "Iron Man 2" on May 7, Universal bows "Robin Hood" on May 14 and the Paramount-distributed 3D sequel "Shrek Forever After" from DreamWorks Animation debuts May 21. Then Disney offers the video game-spawned "Prince of Persia: Sands of Time" during the May 28 Memorial Day frame, and Warner Bros. is banking on a counterprogramming payday with the female-targeted "Sex and the City 2" set for May 27.

"Karate Kid"
 

Through Labor Day, this summer will feature a whopping 11 sequels and franchise reboots, the latter including Sony's June 11 opener "The Karate Kid," starring Jackie Chan. That compares with last summer's nine sequels and franchise extensions and seven during 2008's swimsuit season. Also continuing a recent trend, comics-based actioners will account for at least three tentpole releases this summer.

With such a clear tilt toward the tried and true, the summer has a good shot at matching last year's season record of $4.34 billion in U.S. and Canadian coin. There will be fewer wide releases (45, compared with 48 in summer 2009), but a cool half-dozen pics will be packing grosses padded with 3D ticket upcharges -- up from four extra-dimensional titles last summer.

"There are plenty of really important 3D movies coming," says Disney distribution boss Chuck Viane, whose "Toy Story 3" hits the third dimension June 18. "We're not the only guys out there, and this is going to be a summer where 3D really shines. The pictures are spread out well enough that they all should get pretty good 3D screen counts."

Fox will sit out May before jumping into the season fun June 4 with "Marmaduke," a live-actioner based on the comic-strip canine.

A week later, Fox unleashes "The A-Team," the Joe Carnahan-helmed adaptation of the classic TV series that figures among the summer's likeliest high grossers.

"I think it's a franchise down the road," Fox distribution topper Bruce Snyder says.

Arguably Fox's biggest summer release hits theaters June 25 with the action comedy "Knight & Day," featuring the big-screen reunion of "Vanilla Sky" co-stars Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz. But the studio's July 9 opener is no slouch: sci-fi actioner "Predators," the third sequel in the alien-mayhem franchise.

Meanwhile, the advent of hybrid releasing through a combination of 2D and 3D theaters might bolster moviegoers' tendency to take in repeat performances of the biggest blockbusters. That certainly has been the case with Fox's "Avatar" -- which finally winds down by May -- as many patrons first saw the sci-fi epic in 2D and returned to catch it in 3D, or alternately enjoyed it in 3D and wanted to experience the film in the Imax format.

Speaking of lucrative repeats, Warners last year used a second consecutive victory in the summer market-share competition as foundation for its repeat victory in annual boxoffice. Its summer 2010 tentpoles include the Christopher Nolan-helmed sci-fi thriller "Inception," a Legendary Pictures co-production starring Leonardo DiCaprio slotted for July 16. "That's a big one for us," Warners distribution president Dan Fellman says.

Counting its "Sex and the City" sequel, the Burbank-based studio has a third shot at a broad summer sizzler set for June 18. That's when Warners leaves family patrons to Disney's Buzz Lightyear while trying to lure every comic book geek in the galaxy with "Jonah Hex." Based on a comics series, the Legendary co-production has Josh Brolin in the title role of a butt-kicking Old West bounty hunter, Megan Fox as the co-starring vixen and summer blockbuster written all over it.

"They went crazy for it at Comic Con," Fellman says with a grin.

Universal finally elbows its way into the 3D party July 9 with the animated comedy "Despicable Me," produced by the studio's fledgling Illumination Entertainment unit.

Aiming to pick up 3D screens from "Toy Story 3," "Despicable" similarly targets family patrons with a voice cast topped by Steve Carell, Jason Segel and Julie Andrews. But the Universal pic could get squeezed: The "Toy Story" threequel will be entering only its third weekend when "Despicable" bows, just three weeks ahead of Warners' 3D sequel "Cats & Dogs: Revenge of Kitty Galore."

"Robin Hood"
 

"My hope is that there will be many more 3D screens by our release date, and that will stave off any problems that people may be having now," Universal distribution president Nikki Rocco says. "I do think there will be enough 3D screens."

Indeed, industry funding for a more robust rollout of digital hardware is expected to goose the rate of 3D installations during the next few months. Most distributors shoot for at least 2,500 3D screens and supplement those auditoriums with a similar number of 2D screens.

Continuing another recent trend, Universal has a summer tentpole planted in the season's once-somnolent fourth month. "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World," a comics-based franchise starter toplined by Michael Cera, unspools Aug. 13.

Sony likes to tout its seasonal pics as star-driven projects, and the studio's glitzy titles this year include the June 25 opener "Grown Ups," a comedy starring Adam Sandler and Kevin James; the Angelina Jolie starrer "Salt," set for July 23; and the Julia Roberts- and Javier Bardem-toplined "Eat, Pray, Love," a big-screen adaptation of the best-selling book slotted for Aug. 13.

Including "Pilgrim," three rival pics open wide against the Sony pic. The others: "Going the Distance," a romantic comedy from Warners starring Drew Barrymore and Justin Long, and "The Expendables," a rare summer release from Lionsgate starring Sylvester Stallone and Jason Statham, with Stallone also helming the actioner.

For Hollywood, August is summer's dog days no longer.

Paramount and director M. Night Shyamalan will exercise their family-fantasy chops during the meat of the season with "The Last Airbender," based on a Nickelodeon TV series and set to launch July 2. Paramount also pins big hopes on the DreamWorks-developed "Dinner for Schmucks," a Jay Roach comedy starring Carell and Paul Rudd bowing July 23.

Another of summer's biggest titles unspools ahead of Independence Day as Summit's vampire threequel "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse" gets a two-day jump with a June 30 midweek bow. With "Airbender" also hitting multiplexes, the fireworks-and-barbecues weekend could be primed for an all-time July 4 frame.

A fab Fourth also could serve as the linchpin for another record summer.

The continued surge in 3D interest has industryites predicting another record theatrical season following summer 2009's impressive haul. Still, admissions dipped despite last summer's record grosses, so Hollywood has its work cut out if it is to boost ticket sales as well as boxoffice.

"Both boxoffice and ticket sales are important," National Association of Theatre Owners chief John Fithian says. "Boxoffice is the driving factor in the industry's profitability. But as a long-term trend that indicates the health of the business -- that people still want to come to the movies -- we also do care about ticket sales."
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