Can Hollywood do as well in summer of '08?


'08 outlook: With the summer off to a supercharged start and "Ocean's Thirteen" a safe bet to continue that boxoffice momentum with its opening Friday, the only disturbing thought that comes to mind these days is whether Hollywood can possibly hope to do as well this time next year?

After all, the presummer month of May was a perfect storm of brand name blockbuster franchise third episodes. Between them, Sony's "Spider-Man 3," DreamWorks and Paramount's "Shrek the Third" and Disney's "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" have already generated over $813 million in domestic grosses. June got off to a rip-roaring start with Universal's launch of "Knocked-Up," which by midweek had a cume of nearly $43 million. Now with Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow's "Ocean's Thirteen," also the third episode in a well-established blockbuster series, going into 3,400-plus theaters expectations are that it's going to be another high-roller weekend at the boxoffice. "Thirteen" looked like a likely big winner to me when I saw it at Warners' all-media screening Monday night where it couldn't have played any better than it did.

It's worth remembering that by this time last year we were already talking about disappointing ticket sales for several big movies. "Mission: Impossible III," a blockbuster franchise third episode starring Tom Cruise, had grossed only $125.4 million through June 9. The computer animated family film "Over the Hedge" had taken in just $122.9 million. And "Poseidon," a high-profile remake with no superstars but an A list director in Wolfgang Petersen, was sinking with just $53.6 million. While last summer turned out to be a big improvement over the Slump Summer of '05, there's no question that this summer is looking way better from the get-go.

The only thing wrong with having a great summer of '07 is that when we get to this point next year if the comparisons aren't favoring '08 the doomsayers will be sitting down to write more stories about how the movie business is back on the endangered species list. And the knee-jerk reaction from the global media companies that own but don't understand Hollywood will be to cut back on their marketing budgets the same way they did after the summer of '05. Of course, if they actually understood the movie business, what they'd do is put more money into marketing -- but less of it into network television, which fewer people are watching and more people are now using DVRs to zap their way through commercials -- and cut back on what they spend multi-hundreds of millions of dollars for on production.

Looking ahead to the films of May, June and July 2008 suggests that while there's a lot of potentially strong brand name product already positioned on key dates, Hollywood may not see the same slam dunk megaplex action it's enjoying this summer. Of course, these schedules are all subject to change and in all likelihood they will change as studios find that some pictures aren't ready in time or decide to revise their distribution plans for other reasons. Typically, one change on the competitive release calendar will trigger a handful of other moves. Also bear in mind that the producing credits indicated on films opening next summer in some cases may not be final and are also subject to change.

In any case, as things now stand May 2, 2008 will see Paramount and Marvel Enterprises' fantasy action-adventure "Iron Man" kick off the presummer. "Iron Man" is directed by Jon Favreau ("Elf"), produced by Avi Arad and Kevin Feige and stars Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Terrence Howard and Jeff Bridges. It's the story of billionaire industrialist and inventor Tony Stark (Downey) who's also a crime fighter decked out in high-tech body armor. Paltrow plays his trusted assistant, Virginia "Pepper" Potts.

Iron Man originated in Marvel's "Tales of Suspense" comic anthology series in March 1963 and in November 1964 began sharing the magazine with Marvel's Captain America. Iron Man, who was created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Don Heck and Jack Kirby, is said to have been based in part on Howard Hughes. In May 1968 Iron Man debuted in his own "The Invincible Iron Man." Unlike various other Marvel superheroes, Iron Man had his own human vulnerabilities, including a fight with alcoholism.

There were published reports in January 2004 that Tom Cruise was interested in playing Iron Man. The British magazine Empire quoted Cruise as saying at the time, "He's a fascinating character, but we've got to figure out how it's going to work. And everyone is doing a Marvel character these days. How do we make that new, create something fresh where it doesn't feel like, 'Oh, here comes another superhero story?'"

While "Iron Man" may not be as well-known as some of Marvel's other superheroes, he's bound to turn into a household name around the world once Paramount's marketing team gets their hands on him. In a moviegoing universe where audiences can't get enough of their superheroes, "Iron Man" could walk off with boxoffice gold.

Sony's romantic comedy "Made of Honor" will also go into theaters May 2, providing female appeal counterprogramming to "Iron." Directed by Paul Weiland ("City Slickers II") and produced by Neal H. Moritz, it stars Patrick Dempsey, Michelle Monaghan and Sydney Pollack. Its story involves a man who loves a woman who's engaged to someone else and asks the man to be her maid of honor. He says yes, but then sets out to win her heart, himself.

May 9 will also see competition from two films. First, 20th Century Fox will launch its remake of its 1951 classic sci-fi action-adventure "The Day the Earth Stood Still," to be directed by Scott Derrickson ("The Exorcism of Emily Rose"). The original "Day" was directed by Robert Wise and starred Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal, Hugh Marlowe and Sam Jaffe. Its now famous storyline involves aliens landing on Earth to warn humans they must either live in peace or face destruction.

The film was based on the story "Farewell to the Master" by Harry Bates, which was originally published in the magazine Astounding Science Fiction. Bates is said to have been paid only $500 by Fox for the rights to his story. The British actor Michael Rennie was reportedly cast as the alien Klaatu, who arrives in Washington, D.C. in a flying saucer type spaceship, because he wasn't well known to American moviegoers and, therefore, would be easier to accept in the role of a space alien. As one of the best-known sci-fi films of all time, "Day" should be a highly marketable piece of escapist entertainment in the hands of the Fox marketing team.

May 9 will also see Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow launch writer-director brothers Andy and Larry Wachowski's ("The Matrix") action-adventure "Speed Racer," produced by Joel Silver. Starring are Emile Hirsch, Christina Ricci, Susan Sarandon and John Goodman. The live-action "Speed" is based on a classic 1960s Japanese animated series created by anime pioneer Tatsuo Yoshida and revolves around the adventures on and off the track of young race car driver Speed and his unique Mach 5 car. Silver's been quoted as saying the film will be shot mostly in front of a green screen.

Earlier this year Warners had great success with Zack Snyder's "300," which also was shot against a green screen so that extensive and elaborate digital effects could be created and put into the movie. "300," which was rated R, wound up grossing nearly $210 million domestically. The Wachowski Brothers are, of course, known for revolutionary visual effects and cutting edge storytelling. "Speed" can be expected to reflect those same strengths and appeal to the same audience that's already accounted for the brothers' three "Matrix" films grossing over $592 million domestically.

It won't be until May 16 that the summer of '08 will see its first brand name blockbuster sequel -- Disney and Walden Media's fantasy family film "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian." Directed by Andrew Adamson ("The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe"), it is produced by Adamson, Mark Johnson and Philip Steuer. Its cast is once again led by Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, William Moseley and Anna Popplewell as four youngsters in World War II London who find a magical wardrobe through which they can travel to the mythical land of Narnia. The 2005 franchise original grossed nearly $292 million domestically and there's every reason to expect more of the same from the franchise's first sequel.

The 2008 Memorial Day weekend will get underway May 22 with a major event movie in Paramount and Lucasfilm's fourth installment of its "Indiana Jones" action-adventure series. Directed once again by Steven Spielberg, it is produced by Frank Marshall, who produced the 1981 original "Raiders of the Lost Ark," co-executive produced with George Lucas the 1984 sequel "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" and the 1989 sequel "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade." Lucas and Kathleen Kennedy are executive producers of the fourth "Indiana Jones." Harrison Ford returns as Indy and others starring include Ray Winstone, Cate Blanchett and Shia La Beouf. The "Indiana Jones" franchise has grossed over $619 million, including about $34 million from the 1982 and '83 reissues of the original "Raiders."

Say what you will about whether Harrison Ford is getting too old to still be playing an action hero, "Indy 4" is a safe bet to make a major impact at the boxoffice next Memorial Day weekend.

While nothing else is presently scheduled to compete with "Indy 4" for holiday weekend moviegoers' time and money, May 30 will be another story. Two new wide releases will go into theaters that weekend hoping to play through the early summer weeks. Fox's sci-fi comedy "Starship Dave," is directed by Brian Robbins ("Norbit") and stars Eddie Murphy. Its producers are Jon Berg, Todd Komarnicki, David T. Friendly and Marc Turtletaub. Its storyline involves a huge fireball from space that hits New York's Central Park. It turns out that the man who emerges from the fireball is actually the spaceship and the aliens are a hundred human-looking quarter of an inch tall figures operating the spaceship. They're trying to save their planet, but things get complicated when their captain falls in love with an Earth woman.

Also set for May 30 at this point is MGM's live action-animated family film "Gnomes," written and directed by Kyle Newman and Micah Herman. It's a story about a boy who discovers that the gnomes in his garden at home are actually alive.

June 6 will kick off with DreamWorks and Paramount's animated family film "Kung Fu Panda," directed by John Stevenson and Mark Osborn and featuring the voice talents of Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, Lucy Liu and Ian McShane. Set in the jungle, its story involves a gang of snow leopards who have to be stopped by an inept panda who must do so by becoming a kung fu master.

Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow will be going after an adult audience June 6 with its opening of the drama "Nights in Rodanthe," directed by George C. Wolfe, for whom it is his first feature after directing episodic TV like "Lackawana Blues." "Rodanthe," which is based on the best-selling book by Nicholas Sparks, is produced by Denise Di Novi and stars Diane Lane and Richard Gere, who starred in the 2002 hit drama "Unfaithful."

June 13 will also see two new wide openings. Fox's suspense thriller "The Happening" is written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan and involves a family running from a natural crisis that threatens humanity. Shyamalan's last film, the 2006 thriller "Lady in the Water," only grossed $42.3 million domestically but he's had some big hits in the past, including "Signs," which grossed about $228 million in 2002, and "The Sixth Sense," which grossed $293.5 million in 1999.

Also arriving June 13 is Universal and Marvel Enterprises' fantasy action-adventure sequel "The Incredible Hulk," directed by Louis Leterrier and starring Edward Norton, Liv Tyler and Tim Roth. Norton plays the role of Dr. Bruce Banner, the brilliant scientist who after being exposed to radiation finds himself transformed into a green giant whenever he's consumed by anger. The role was originated by Eric Bana in 2003's "The Hulk," directed by Ang Lee, which only grossed about $132 million in the summer of 2003. Marvel has said the new film will be less serious than the first one and more like the comic book in its tone.

June 20 will also see two new wide openings. Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow's comedy "Get Smart" is directed by Peter Segal ("The Longest Yard") and stars Steve Carrell, Anne Hathaway and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. The classic 1960's TV series "Get Smart" starred Don Adams as Maxwell Smart, Agent 86, and Barbara Feldon as Agent 99. In the new film Carrell and Hathaway are Agents 86 and 99 and their assignment, once again, battling the forces of KAOS.

Also on tap for June 20 is Paramount's comedy "The Love Guru," directed by Marco Schnabel (a first time feature director who was a second unit director on "Austin Powers in Goldmember") and starring Mike Myers as Pitka, a self-help guru who's asked to solve a couple's romantic problems.

It's unusual to see two comedies opening head-to-head so it's possible this could change as we get closer to next summer.

June 27 will see the arrival of Disney and Pixar's animated feature "Wall-E," directed by Andrew Stanton ("Finding Nemo"), about a young robot looking for a home in outer space. Not surprisingly, nothing else is opening opposite the latest Disney-Pixar event.

Sony's action-adventure "Tonight, He Comes" arrives July 2, directed by Peter Berg ("The Kingdom") and starring Will Smith, Jason Bateman and Charlize Theron. Its storyline involves a troubled superhero (Smith) who crash-lands in Brooklyn and winds up in major romantic trouble.

Also penciled in for July 2 is Picturehouse's family film "Kitt Kittredge: An American Girl Mystery," starring Abigail Breslin ("Little Miss Sunshine") as a girl growing up during the Great Depression.

Universal's blockbuster sequel "The Mummy 3" opens July 11, directed by Rob Cohen and starring Brendan Fraser, Maria Bello, Jet Li, Luke Ford and Michelle Yeoh. The first two "Mummy" episodes grossed $448.5 million domestically. Universal's timing with the three-quel should be very good since it's set in China, includes Jet Li as one of its stars and will be playing while NBC is airing the Summer Olympic Games from China.

Also due July 11 is DreamWorks and Paramount's comedy "Tropic Thunder," directed by Ben Stiller ("Zoolander") and starring Stiller, Jack Black, Robert Downey, Jr. and Jay Baruchelo. In the film's story everything goes wrong during the making of a very expensive war film, whose actors wind up becoming the commandos they're playing.

July 18 also brings a double-header of new arrivals. Warner Bros.' "The Dark Knight," the next Batman episode, directed by Christopher Nolan ("Batman Begins") and starring Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Heath Ledger, Morgan Freeman, Aaron Eckhart and Maggie Guyllenhaal. "Knight" looms as one of the summer's biggest hits. It's being shot, by the way, so that four sequences are filmed with extremely high resolution IMAX cameras, which is a first for a major studio feature. This will make it unique in the marketplace when it opens in the summer of '08 and should add significantly to its boxoffice potential.

Also arriving July 18 is Universal's musical "Mamma Mia," directed by first time feature director Phyllida Lloyd and starring Meryl Streep, based on the worldwide stage musical hit featuring the songs of ABBA. Counter-programming is the name of the game here with something for the boys in Batman and something for the girls in "Mamma Mia."

July 25 will see Sony's comedy "Step Brothers" go into theaters. Directed by Adam McKay ("Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby"), it stars Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly. It's the story of two guys still living with their single parents, who wind up getting married, which makes the guys step brothers.

Filmmaker flashbacks:
From July 13, 1989's column: "After its lively $20.4 million opening, Warner Bros.' 'Lethal Weapon 2' is holding up splendidly. It grossed $3 million Monday and an estimated $2.9 million Tuesday, according to Warner Bros. Distribution Corp. president D. Barry Reardon, making its five day cume about $26.3 million. It should do a huge $32 million its first week.

"'Lethal' producers Joel Silver and Richard Donner, who also was its director, and Reardon were my guests Sunday on The Hollywood Reporter's weekly Movietime cable network series...'When we first put Mel (Gibson) and Danny (Glover) together and had a reading at Dick's house very early on, there was a unique chemistry between them, really a great magic that we hoped would work in the first picture,' Silver recalls. 'As we said (in the sequel's marketing campaign), 'the magic is back.' At the very outset we knew there was something special there.

"'We wanted to begin the movie almost at the end credits of the last picture. We decided to start in the middle of another movie -- almost like 'Lethal 1-A' as opposed to 'Lethal 2.' So the picture begins with no titles and just starts flat out with a very exciting action chase sequence. You're right in the movie before you even sit down with your popcorn.'

"Since just watching 'Lethal 2' leaves you out of breath and with a racing pulse, I asked Donner how tough a picture this was to make. 'About the same as the first one,' he replies. 'All pictures are difficult. If it's two people sitting in a living room making idle conversation or it's one of our chases, everything is crazy and difficult and hard to do well.' To that he adds, with a laugh, 'The secret is to surround yourself with a lot of good talent and send them out and stay home for the day.'"

Update: "Lethal Weapon 2" wound up grossing $147.3 million domestically and did nearly $81 million more internationally, which was great business in 1989. Of the four films in the "Lethal" franchise, it's the top grossing domestic episode.

Martin Grove hosts movie coverage on the broadband television channel