The dog days of summer are almost here, and along with pimply teenagers, your local multiplex is about to experience the annual movie logjam. More than 50 major titles — everything from ”Spider-Man” to ”Star Wars” to ”Scooby-Doo” to ”Spy Kids 2” — are slated for release in the next four months. ”Summer is all about sequels and name recognition, and this summer you have more of that than ever,” says analyst Adam Farasati of ReelSource, who predicts that 2002 could top last summer’s record $2.96 billion box office haul from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
But with such fierce competition, experts are anticipating a reprise of last summer’s bloated openings and giant audience drop-offs, when hits like ”Planet of the Apes” lost 60 percent of their gross by the second week. ”It’s in everybody’s interest that movies open big,” says Century Theatres CEO Raymond Syufy. In addition, he notes, ”studios want movies to stay on the screen.”
To insure a supersize debut, studios are expecting to ratchet up the promotional expenditures. (Last year, they spent $31 million on average to promote each film — a figure that’s typically inflated for big summer films.) ”You’ve got to be ready with your marketing so that everybody in town knows you’re there,” explains John Calley, chairman/CEO of Sony Pictures Entertainment. ”If you don’t do that, you wake up with a Bruce Willis movie that did $4 million in its opening weekend and you wonder what happened.”
Actually, the disappointing ”Hart’s War” made $8.9 million in its first three days, but Calley’s got a point. With so many films plugged into so few slots, there are bound to be some bitter death matches. For every hit, there’s a ”Big Trouble.” Here’s EW’s take on some of this summer’s hottest weekend showdowns, and our predictions on who’ll wear the box office crown come Monday morning.
DAVID MEETS GOLIATH
”Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones” vs. ”About a Boy” (May 16?17)
”Classic counterprogramming,” laughs Exhibitor Relations’ Paul Dergarabedian of Universal’s decision to launch its Hugh Grant dramedy against the sci-fi titan. ”Not everyone, believe it or not, is going to want to see ‘Episode II.”’ (In 1999, Kate Capshaw’s ”The Love Letter” logged a paltry $2.7 million bowing against ”Phantom Menace” — but Grant’s ”Notting Hill,” costarring Julia Roberts — boasted $28 million one week later.) Ironically, ”Boy” codirector Paul Weitz says Universal almost opened his breakthrough, ”American Pie,” against ”Menace” before shifting it to a July 4 slot. ”I remember the call we got saying ‘You know what? We’re going to change your weekend,”’ says Weitz. ”And we were so p—ed at the time because we knew nothing about releases.” SURVEY SAYS Like you need to ask. Still, ”Boy” smells like a word-of-mouth sleeper.