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Steven Spielberg?s next project

Steven Spielberg’s next project–We speculate on what movies are on deck for the ”Jurassic Park” director

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Forget that shagadelic spy. Steven Spielberg is the real man of mystery. The director still hasn’t revealed why doctors removed his kidney in late January — a spokesman will only say it was because of an ”irregularity.” And now that he’s returned to work (his first day at DreamWorks was Feb. 15), Hollywood is buzzing about another long-brewing puzzle: What the heck will his next project be? Though the on-the-mend director has expressed interest in several films since 1998’s Saving Private Ryan, ”he hasn’t decided yet,” insists spokesman Marvin Levy. But that can’t stop us from handicapping the front-runners.

HARRY POTTER, the adaptation of the wildly popular fantasy novels by J.K. Rowling. In the words of one source close to the director, ”Potter is the biggest franchise in 10 years. What do you think [he’ll do]?” The Warner Bros. film — which, sources say, would be live-action, likely shot in Britain, and budgeted at a minimum of $85 million — could net Spielberg up to 50 percent of the gross, plus cash from producing the sequels. Even for a rich man, those are some serious golden Galleons. Adding to the pressure: It’s not clear whether Warner would wait for Spielberg if he decided to do another movie first. Though Warner spokeswoman Nancy Kirkpatrick says ”all timetables are negotiable,” sources say the studio wants to strike while the Potter is hot. Odds: 3-2

MINORITY REPORT, the sci-fi crime thriller from Fox, starring Tom Cruise. Minority once was considered the front-runner. But then Cruise got delayed Down Under shooting Mission: Impossible 2 for John Woo, and the studio had to bump the fall start date. Since then, rumors of script problems have cooled the Minority buzz. A Fox source denies any screenplay snafus and says heavyweights Cruise and Spielberg wouldn’t have attached themselves to a weak script. But even if Spielberg opts for Potter next, the source says, Fox would be happy to make Report in 2001. Odds: 2-1

A.I., a flick about an artificially intelligent robot-child that Stanley Kubrick developed before his death in 1999. On the one hand, A.I. is the first script Spielberg’s written since 1977’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. ”It’s a real labor of love for him,” says a source. On the other, with no stars attached, the script unfinished, and preproduction but a glimmer in the director’s eye, it doesn’t take a supercomputer to figure out that this one’s a long shot. Odds: 20-1

MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA, Oscar-winning screenwriter Ron Bass‘ adaptation of Arthur Golden‘s best-selling 1997 novel about a Japanese woman sold into service. While Bass notes, ”We’re waiting to hear like everyone else,” a source close to the production says Spielberg will almost certainly helm the project, though it won’t be his next. Odds: 40-1

Additional reporting by Judith I. Brennan