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Season's Gradings

From ‘Gladiator’ to ‘Survivor,’ a look back at this summer’s hits and misses

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It began with a pack of ruthless gladiators fighting it out in the sand and ended with … a pack of ruthless gladiators fighting it out in the sand. And between the rise of Maximus and the demise of Susan the Truck Driver came a summer grosser than last (see Scary Movie‘s scatology), sillier than last (see John Travolta), and just as fun to dissect. Here, our annual summer scorecard.

The Winners

Time for that Yahoo Serious comeback! This summer, Down Under stars sizzled like shrimp on … well, you know. Along with Russell Crowe’s Gladiator turn ($183 million), Hugh Jackman tore up screens in X-Men ($151 million), and Heath Ledger helped flag down audiences for The Patriot ($111 million). Even Adam Garcia escaped unscathed from the critically doused Coyote Ugly. What’s with the boomerang effect? ”It’s not a new thing,” Crowe admonishes. ”Australia’s relationship with Hollywood stretches all the way back to Errol Flynn, Bryan Brown, that Mel bloke, whatever his second name is … ” Wait, Mel Brooks is Australian?

A viewership of 12 million — that’s a number most prime-time sitcoms would die for. But 12 million on a Sunday afternoon? Watching men swat little white balls on manicured grass? That’s crazy talk. CBS’ Aug. 20 broadcast of the PGA Championship capped a historic ratings season for the gentlemanly sport. And the network can thank one gentleman in particular: the Nike-wearing, telegenic, youth-skewing 24-year-old champ himself, Mr. Woods. Says a grateful Sean McManus, president of CBS Sports: ”There are people who don’t watch any golf any other time of the year except when Tiger is pulling off one of these amazing athletic performances.”

She’s the biggest thing to happen to the video biz since that other cleavage queen Pamela Anderson. The Aug. 15 release of Julia Roberts’ Erin Brockovich video brought in $15 million its first week — beating the debut numbers for sci-fi behemoth Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace. And thanks to a slick sales campaign — including ads on the Survivor finale — Roberts became the first leading lady to generate orders of 1 million DVDs, territory long dominated by guy-friendly eye-poppers like The Matrix. ”This is one where I think Mom grabbed the remote and said, ‘This is going to be our DVD player,”’ says Craig Kornblau, president of Universal Studios Home Video, which distributed Brockovich. ”It just speaks to the power of Julia Roberts.” All hail.

They’re hot, they’re sexy, and they’re … not dead yet. With Space Cowboys, Clint Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones, James Garner, and Donald Sutherland — combined age: 260 — proved that the Clapper crowd can open a movie, to a surprise $64 million gross thus far. Earlier in the summer, Ian McKellen, 61, and Patrick Stewart, 60, headlined the blockbuster X-Men; and Harrison Ford, no spring chicken at 58, landed his What Lies Beneath a chilling $131 million. This in a summer that saw teen movies hit some growing pains (see the aptly titled Loser). ”It’s an encouraging phenomenon,” says AARP spokesman Tom Otwell. ”Anytime the entertainment industry recognizes that there’s [older] talent out there, it’s a good thing.” So, Freddie Prinze Jr., call us when you’ve grown a little hair on your ears.