Since late December, the studios have been preoccupied with the delicate challenge of releasing movies such as "About Schmidt," "Adaptation," "Antwone Fisher," "Chicago," "Gangs of New York," "The Hours" and other Oscar prospects. Careful orchestration has been the order of the day -- with the studios doing their best to get the movies in release in time to be eligible for the Academy Awards, while holding off on wide release in hopes of having the pictures in theaters just as they can get the most benefit from the Oscar buzz.
With the "important" movies off and running, Hollywood can turn its attention back to the work-a-day projects that account for the largest share of its output.
Just look at the box-office numbers for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, when "Kangaroo Jack" finished first with $21.8 million and Martin Lawrence's new comedy "National Security" was No. 2 with $16.8 million. The two new entries dropped the Brittany Murphy-Ashton Kutcher comedy "Just Married" from first place to third in its second week in release.
Potential Oscar contenders "Catch Me If You Can," "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" and "Chicago" finished fourth, fifth and sixth, while Jack Nicholson's "About Schmidt" and "The Hours" also made the Top 10.
Box-office analysts expect that this year's Golden Globe winners will pick up some strength this week, given that only one new release is on the schedule. "Darkness Falls" is a supernatural thriller that is being heavily promoted but does not bring very much star power to the marketplace.
The last weekend in January -- or the first weekend in February, if you want to look at it that way -- will deliver a handful of new releases to U.S. theaters.
Al Pacino returns to the screen in "The Recruit," as a CIA operative who brings recruit Colin Farrell into a deep cover assignment. Laurence Fishburne jumps onto a high performance motorcycle in "Biker Boyz," based on true stories of underground biker clubs. In "Final Destination 2," a group of people mysteriously cheats death.
The rest of February will bring a dozen or so new movies to theaters, including the highly anticipated "Daredevil" and a family drama that features a rare appearance by screen legend Kirk Douglas.
Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey team up in the romantic comedy "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days," the story of a woman who bets she can snag a man and dump him in short order, without realizing that the guy has his own reasons for not letting her go under any circumstances.
The schedule calls for Kirk Douglas to show up on Feb. 14 with his son Michael and grandson Cameron in "It Runs in the Family" -- a story about a family working out their issues. The same weekend will feature Ben Affleck in spandex as the Marvel comics character "Daredevil" -- as well as "The Jungle Book 2," the latest animated entry from Disney, with John Goodman as the voice of Baloo the bear.
February will also bring "Old School," "The Core" and "Cradle 2 the Grave" to a theater near you.
Luke Wilson, Will Ferrell and Vince Vaughn team up for "Old School" with the writing-directing team responsible for "Road Trip." Hilary Swank joins Aaron Eckhart in "The Core," an update on "Journey to the Center of the Earth." Rapper DMX returns to the big screen in "Cradle 2 the Grave," teaming up with action star Jet Li in a tale of kidnapping and an awesome new weapons system.
March's release schedule includes "Bringing Down the House," with Steve Martin and Queen Latifah, and "Tears of the Sun," with Bruce Willis as a Navy SEAL commander who must go against the book when a mission goes haywire.
"Boat Trip" has Cuba Gooding Jr. and Horatio Sanz signing up for a singles cruise -- for gay men as it turns out -- and Gooding falling for the shipboard dance instructor Vivica A. Fox. Crispin Glover ("Back to the Future") is also due on screens in a remake of "Willard," as a guy who can't relate to other humans and develops a meaningful relationship with a rate.
None of the movies scheduled for release in the first quarter of 2003 have "classic" written all over them. Movie fans and exhibitors will have to make the most of the situation, while waiting for the higher-profile pictures to begin arriving in May -- when the super-competitive summer season gets under way in earnest.