May should be merry month at boxoffice


Pre-summer potential: Believe it or not, Hollywood kicks off the pre-summer season in just three weeks.

Looking back, last May brought only mixed boxoffice success. Paramount's "Mission: Impossible III" didn't live up to expectations, Warner Bros.' "Poseidon" missed the boat and DreamWorks' "Over the Hedge" fizzled. On the other hand, Sony's "The Da Vinci Code" and 20th Century Fox's "X-Men: The Last Stand" both sizzled. This time around, however, there's much bigger potential for the latest installments of Sony's "Spider-Man," DreamWorks and Paramount's "Shrek" and Disney's "Pirates of the Caribbean." In fact, at this point it looks as though this May should be a lot merrier than last May was.

What's nice about this May's three prime openings is that they're all established franchises. It was a very different story last May in terms of the kind of product that went into the pre-summer marketplace. "M: I3," for instance, started out with two strikes against it. To begin with, the franchise's previous episode had opened way back in May 2000. That's a long time between episodes. Besides the major time lag, the picture also had to contend with the headlines that Tom Cruise had been making prior to its release. After so much controversy involving Cruise's personal beliefs and his blossoming romance at the time with Katie Holmes, the superstar's popularity with women was being questioned by the media.

"M: I3" opened to $47.7 million the weekend of May 5-7, averaging $11,777 per theater at 4,054 theaters. Analysts said immediately that that was a far cry from the $57.8 million that "M: I2" had done its first weekend in theaters (May 26-28, 2000). Actually, "M: I2" had opened on May 24, the Wednesday before Memorial Day weekend and by Monday, May 29 its cume had soared to $91.8 million.

Based on "M: I3's" opening, Hollywood handicappers scaled back their expectations for the film. It wound up doing a disappointing $134 million domestically compared to "M: I2's" $215.4 million domestic gross six years earlier. It's also worth remembering that in 2000 the average ticket price nationally was $5.39 while by 2006 it had climbed to $6.55.

"M: I3" managed to top the chart again the following week, but it slid 48% to $25 million and its cume was only $85.1 million. In fact, it would have dropped out of first place had "Poseidon" sailed into theaters just a little bit stronger than it did. Unfortunately, "Poseidon," a reimagining of the classic 1972 disaster epic "The Poseidon Adventure," opened to only $22.2 million, averaging $6,232 per theater at 3,555 theaters. It was instantly clear that "Poseidon" was dead in the water. It ended up grossing only $60.7 million domestically compared to the $84.6 million domestic gross for the 1972 original. Of course, in 1972 the average price for a movie ticket in the U.S. was a lot less than it is now -- $1.70, to be precise.

So the first two pre-summer weeks of May 2006 were nothing to rave about. After 10 days in theaters "M: I3" had only grossed $85.1 million and adding "Poseidon's" $22.2 million to that gave them a combined total of just $107.3 million. Hollywood was ready for a hit and when "The Da Vinci Code" opened the weekend of May 19-21 there finally was cause for celebration.

Although "Da Vinci" received some of the worst reviews insiders could remember -- it scored a totally rotten 25% rating on RottenTomatoes. com's Tomatometer -- the film kicked off to $77.1 million, averaging $20,635 per theater at 3,735 theaters. This was the shot in the arm that Hollywood needed. While "Da Vinci" was technically an original film, it was based on a global best-selling book and fit the pattern of launching brand name movies in the pre-summer.

In its second weekend in theaters (May 26-29, the four day Memorial Day weekend), "Da Vinci" tumbled 45% to $42.4 million and gave up first place to "X-Men: The Last Stand." Nonetheless, "Da Vinci's" cume was already at $144.9 million. It ultimately grossed a solid $217.5 million domestically. Its strength was reassuring last May when insiders were looking back at the summer of 2005 when the industry fell into a major slump. In mid-May '06 Hollywood was still worried that it could be on the verge of another summer slump. "Da Vinci" was certainly a big help in boosting spirits with its domestic success -- although it made its big money outside the U.S. with nearly $541 million in international grosses.

DreamWorks' "Over the Hedge" opened opposite "Da Vinci" but was a distant second with $38.5 million, averaging $9,475 per theater at 4,059 theaters. Although there had been big expectations for "Hedge" because it was a computer animated family film and was opening against a controversial adult appeal thriller that the critics hated, "Hedge" was another May disappointment. It ended up with a respectable $155 million domestically, but that didn't really take any pressure off DreamWorks at the time.

"Da Vinci" gave up first place in its second weekend to Fox's launch of "X-Men: The Last Stand" or "X3" as the media tagged it for short. "X3" went into theaters May 26, the start of the Memorial Day weekend, and grossed $107.8 million for the three day weekend, averaging $27,845 per theater at 3,690 theaters. Its cume through Monday, May 29 was a very healthy $122.9 million.

Between "Da Vinci," "X3" and "Hedge" there were $352.2 million in grosses as Hollywood transitioned from the pre-summer weeks of May to the start of the actual summer season. There also were $162.9 million in ticket sales between "M: I3" and "Poseidon." All told, the five key May titles accounted for $515.1 million through May 29.

This time around there are only three major contenders in the pre-summer period, but they're all brand name giants. Sony's "Spider-Man 3" starts the ball rolling May 4 with expectations that it should follow in the footsteps of the last Spidey episode, which opened Wed., June 30, 2004, the start of the extended July Fourth holiday weekend. "Spider-Man 2" grossed $152.4 million through Sun., July 4 (including $88.2 million for the Fri.-Sun. weekend, averaging $21,232 per theater at 4,152 theaters). It went on to gross $373.6 million domestically and over $410 million internationally.

DreamWorks and Paramount's "Shrek the Third" arrives May 18 with high hopes that it will echo the blockbuster success of "Shrek 2," which opened May 19, 2004 to $108 million, averaging $25,951 at 4,153 theaters. "Shrek 2" ended up with $441.2 million in domestic grosses and over $479 in international ticket sales.

Disney's "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" will be making boxoffice waves over Memorial Day weekend, kicking off May 25. The previous episode in the franchise, "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest," was last year's top grossing domestic film with $423.3 million in ticket sales plus over $642 million in international grosses. It opened last July 7 to $135.6 million, averaging $32,817 per theater at 4,133 theaters.

All three of these films are such well known brand name titles that it's hard to believe they can be anything other than a winning combination at the boxoffice. If they're all able to deliver the same level of moviegoer support they enjoyed the last time around, Hollywood's pre-summer will be off to a record setting start.

Filmmaker flashbacks: From May 3, 1989's column: "If Moustapha Akkad is right, the combination of 'Halloween 5' and a wide release starting Fri., Oct. 13 via his Galaxy International Releasing Co. should add up to bubbling boxoffice cauldrons.

"The first four 'Halloweens' grossed about $200 million from their theatrical and home video distribution, according to Akkad, who is executive producing this sequel and presented the series' first four films. 'The last one, No. 4, really worked in video,' he told me before 'Halloween 5' began production Monday. 'Before No. 4, video wasn't such a big thing.'

"Moviegoers may think of 'Halloween' as being like other horror genre films, but Akkad points to some key differences: "Halloween' is known for suspense rather than gore and shock. There is no random killing every three seconds. There is the stalking of a specific victim and that probably makes it unique in the genre.'

"Where 'Halloween' does share something in common with Hollywood's two other blockbuster horror genre series -- Paramount's 'Friday the 13th' and New Line's 'Nightmare on Elm Street' -- is that it has a killer character around whom each sequel revolves. Where 'Friday' has Jason and 'Nightmare' has Freddy, 'Halloween' has Michael Myers.

"Experience has shown, Akkad notes, that it's Myers who really makes the series work. 'No. 1 (released in 1978) is the classic,' he declares, referring to the original directed by John Carpenter, produced by Carpenter, Debra Hill and Irwin Yablans and fully financed and distributed by Akkad through Compass Film International. 'Two was okay, but not as good as One. Three was the bad one because we didn't follow the same storyline of Michael Myers. We went into a whole different story. Four came back and re-established 'Halloween.' We went back to the original and Michael Myers with the emphasis on suspense and no gore and blood.'"

Update: "Halloween 5" opened Oct. 13, 1989 via Galaxy International to $5.1 million at 1,483 theaters ($3,434 per theater). It wound up with a domestic gross of only $11.6 million. The franchise came back to life, however, in a big way when Dimension Films opened "Halloween: H20" Aug. 7, 1998 to $16.2 million at 2,607 theaters ($6,209 per theater). It went on to gross $55 million domestically. Dimension opened "Halloween: Resurrection" July 12, 2002 to $12.3 million at 1,954 theaters ($6,290 per theater). It ended up doing $30.4 million domestically.

All told, the eight titles to date in the "Halloween" franchise have grossed nearly $217 million domestically. A ninth film, "Halloween 2007,' written and directed by Rob Zombie, is set for release by Dimension through MGM Aug. 31. It's described in release schedules now circulating as going back to the series' roots and exploring the origins of Michael Myers.

Moustapha Akkad was killed in a November 2005 terrorist bombing at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Amman, Jordan. He was 75.

Martin Grove hosts movie coverage on the broadband television channel