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Analysis: Box-office blast

By PAT NASON, UPI Hollywood Reporter   |   July 27, 2004 at 7:07 PM   |   Comments

LOS ANGELES, July 27 (UPI) -- One year after Hollywood openly questioned the wisdom of relying too heavily on sequels, the U.S. box office is putting up record numbers thanks mostly to the performance of three of them.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, the summer box-office session -- just past its halfway mark -- is running more than 14 percent ahead of last year's record-breaking performance, with $2.12 billion already in the bank and a handful of high-performance movies still in the pipeline. If the second half of the summer runs to form, the paper said, the movie business will likely ring up record highs in both grosses and individual tickets sold.

In 2003, sequels such as "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle," "Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life" and "2 Fast 2 Furious" prompted box-office analysts to wonder whatever happened to the conventional wisdom that sequels were almost guaranteed profit centers. However, after flirting with sequel disaster last year, movie executives are taking solace from this summer's numbers -- and likely putting more sequels on the drawing board.

This year, DreamWorks' "Shrek 2" has already grossed $429.4 million and is threatening to overtake "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial" for No. 3 on the list of all-time U.S. blockbusters. Sony Pictures' "Spider-Man 2" is up to $328.5 million and will crack the Top 10 without breaking a sweat. Warner Bros. Pictures' "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" has grossed $241.8 million -- not the kind of number put up by the first two "Potter" movies, but still good for No. 36 on the all-time list.

Another sequel, Universal's "The Bourne Supremacy," opened with $52.5 million and could be on track to outdo its 2002 predecessor, "The Bourne Identity," which took in $121.7 million.

There is already talk in Hollywood that Jason Bourne could be the next James Bond, given that "The Bourne Supremacy" opened bigger than any Bond picture and also outdid the opening numbers for all the movies that have been made from Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan books. It was the sixth-biggest opening of the year so far -- behind "Shrek 2," "Spider-Man 2," "The Passion of the Christ," "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" and "The Day After Tomorrow."

It has been a pretty good summer for 20th Century Fox, with "The Day After Tomorrow" grossing $184.1 million and "I, Robot" up to $74 million after two weekends in release. "DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story" grossed $109.3 million to become the seventh-biggest film of the summer so far, and "Garfield: The Movie" overcame the disapproval of critics to take in $72 million.

All that success has put Fox slightly ahead of DreamWorks for the summer box-office market-share leadership, although The Reporter pointed out that the first five days of receipts for "Shrek 2" -- $128 million worth -- fell outside the summer counting session.

In a classic case of found money, the summer box office got an unexpected infusion from Michael Moore's provocative "Fahrenheit 9/11," which ran its total to $103.1 million in its fifth weekend in theaters.

According to The Reporter's analysis of this summer's box-office numbers, seven of the first eight weeks of the season recorded new highs for the comparable seven-day periods of any summer in history. Two of those seven-day periods featured box-office grosses of more than $300 million -- the first time that grosses reached that figure during the summer. There have been three $300 million weeks, but they all fell during the Thanksgiving-Christmas holiday period.

No box-office season can avoid disappointing performances by pictures that come to the market with high expectations, and the summer of '04 features such underachievers as "Catwoman," "Envy," "The Chronicles of Riddick" and "The Stepford Wives." At the same time, there have also been a few sleeper hits -- including "Mean Girls" and "The Notebook."

Stephen Sommers' horror fantasy "Van Helsing" topped out at $120 million -- considerably short of expectations for the writer-director's follow-up to "The Mummy" and "The Mummy Returns."

Disney's Buena Vista has had a tough year, with disappointments such as "Around the World in 80 Days" ($22.8 million) and "King Arthur" ($45.2 million). Disney is hoping for a better performance out of "The Village." The movie features a solid cast that includes Joaquin Phoenix, William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver and Oscar-winner Adrien Brody -- but the studio is marketing it as an M. Night Shyamalan film, in effect pushing the writer-director of "The Sixth Sense" and "Signs" as a brand of his own.

The remainder of the summer will also see the release of such high-profile pictures as "Collateral," starring Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx; "The Manchurian Candidate," starring two-time Oscar winners Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep; and "The Princess Diaries 2," director Garry Marshall's follow-up to his 2001 hit comedy.

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(Please send comments to nationaldesk@upi.com.)

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