(Part of UPI's Special Report reviewing 2002 and previewing 2003)
LOS ANGELES (UPI) -- The movie business was dominated by sci-fi and fantasy in 2002, with "Spider-Man" leading the way as it grossed $403.7 million, climbed to No. 5 on the all-time list of U.S. box-office hits and prompted Sony Pictures Entertainment to commit to two sequels.
"Star Wars: Episode II -- Attack of the Clones" was the second-biggest domestic grosser of the year, taking in $308.8 million and taking No. 12 on the all-time list. The fifth of producer-director George Lucas' "Star Wars" pictures was still playing on close to 200 U.S. screens in early December, so it stood a chance of vaulting past "The Return of the Jedi" and "The Lion King" into the all-time Top 10.
Six movies grossed more than $200 million in 2002, and seven cracked the all-time Top 50 list -- helping establish the movie business as one of the stronger components of an otherwise struggling economy.
Mel Gibson had his biggest hit ever, starring in "Signs" ($226.8 million), the supernatural thriller from writer-director M. Night Shyamalan ("The Sixth Sense"). Mike Myers struck gold with "Austin Powers in Goldmember" ($213.1 million), the third and most successful in his series of James Bond spoofs about a goofy, randy, time-traveling British spy.
One of the biggest hits of the year, "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," was also one of the biggest surprises of the year. Made for a reported $5 million, the independent comedy about a young woman who comes to appreciate her ethnic identity was still in the weekly Top 10 in December after more than seven months in release, and had taken in an astonishing $210.6 million.
The second of the "Harry Potter" movies, "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets," easily topped $200 million in its first three weeks in theaters in November, and appeared to be on a straight line to join 2001's "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" on -- or near -- the Top 10 all-time list.
Seventeen other titles grossed more than $100 million, including two animated hits ("Ice Age," "Lilo & Stitch"); the latest James Bond picture ("Die Another Day"); and the winner of the 2001 Oscar for best picture "A Beautiful Mind."
Some of 2001's breakout stars continued their hot streaks in 2002. Reese Witherspoon ("Legally Blonde") proved her box-office worth this year in "Sweet Home Alabama" ($124.2 million), and Vin Diesel ("The Fast and the Furious") burnished his action-star image with "XXX" ($141.2 million).
"Scooby-Doo" enjoyed a successful bigscreen adaptation, taking in $153.3 million, which prompted Warner Bros. to move ahead with plans for a sequel. Another family film, "The Santa Clause 2," was at $113.6 million and counting as Christmas drew near.
The first pairing of Oscar-winning director Steven Spielberg and superstar actor Tom Cruise, "Minority Report," was a box-office hit, with $132 million. And a Christmas 2001 release, "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring," finished 2002 with $313.4 million -- good for No. 9 on the all-time list of U.S. box-office hits.
Adam Sandler ("Mr. Deeds"), Matt Damon ("The Bourne Identity") and Ben Affleck ("The Sum of All Fears") kept their star credentials in order, and rapper Eminem became a movie star in his first outing, as "8 Mile" took in upwards of $107.4 million.
Tom Hanks and Paul Newman pulled off a neat trick, turning the somber "Road to Perdition" into a $104.1 million hit. And Jodie Foster -- a late replacement for an injured Nicole Kidman" -- helped lead "Panic Room" to a take of more than $95.3 million.
"Red Dragon" -- Anthony Hopkins' third time around as Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lechter -- took in $92.9 million, and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson scored a $90 million hit in his first starring role as "The Scorpion King."
Other sizeable hits included "Spy Kids 2," "Blade 2" and "Snow Dogs" -- a Disney comedy starring Oscar-winners Cuba Gooding Jr. and the late James Coburn that overcame brutal reviews to reach $81 million.
"The Rookie" -- starring Dennis Quaid as a high school baseball coach and his long-delayed trip to baseball's big leagues -- was the feel good hit of the year. "Barbershop," set in a black barbershop in Chicago, generated $75 million at the box office -- and untold amounts of free publicity thanks to a controversy over some dialogue that Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton complained was disrespectful to civil rights icons Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr.
"Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron," "John Q," "Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood," "Insomnia" and "Changing Lanes" weighed as modest box-office hits. Some titles that fell short of expectations -- or at least fell short of studio hopes -- included "Stuart Little 2," "The Time Machine" "The Tuxedo" and "Windtalkers."
"Treasure Planet," the latest animated entry from Disney, was developing a reputation at year's end as one of the studio's most notable failures -- and was being largely blamed for a steep drop in the company's stock price during the week after Thanksgiving, when it opened with just $16.6 million.
Joining Eminem in the ranks of pop stars enjoying movie success in 2002, Bow Wow -- formerly Lil Bow Wow -- headlined "Like Mike" and Mandy Moore shared top billing with Shane West in "A Walk to Remember."
Murphy had a modest hit with "Showtime," co-starring Robert De Niro, but "I Spy" and "Pluto Nash" were not so well received. Schwarzenegger's "Collateral Damage" -- postponed from a 2001 release because of sensitivity over the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks -- grossed just $40 million. And Ford's "K-19: The Widowmaker," topped out at $35.1 million.
A 20th anniversary reissue of "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial" grossed that much, and ran the movie's overall total to $434.9 million. Steven Spielberg's sci-fi fantasy now stands at No. 3 on the all-time list -- behind "Star Wars" ($460.9 million) and the all-time champ "Titanic" ($600.8 million).
The release schedule for the final weeks of 2002 included several long-awaited titles -- most of which were generating Oscar buzz before they even reached theaters.
"Adaptation," paired Oscar-winners Nicolas Cage and Meryl Streep in an off-beat adaptation of Susan Orlean's best-selling book "The Orchid Thief." "About Schmidt," with Jack Nicholson getting some of the best reviews of his career, promised to catapult Alexander Payne into the top tier of Hollywood writer-producers.
"The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" promised to be as spectacular are "The Fellowship of the Rings."
Director Spike Lee was getting good reviews for his latest movie, "The 25th Hour," and Denzel Washington's directorial debut, "Antwone Fisher," was the subject of serious Oscar speculation.
Perhaps the biggest Oscar showdown featured four movies set for release during the final week of 2002 -- Martin Scorsese's "Gangs of New York," Steven Spielberg's "Catch Me if You Can," the movie version of Bob Fosse's Broadway hit "Chicago" and the Meryl Streep-Nicole Kidman-Julianne Moore drama "The Hours ."
It will be interesting to see where the year-end blue-chip releases figure when the U.S. box-office story for 2003 is written.