Who will be box office heavyweights after this summer's cinema smackdowns?

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.

For Adults Only Insomnia vs. Enough (May 24)

This mature match pits old-guard superstar (Al Pacino) against new-guard superstar (Jennifer Lopez) in two psychological suspense flicks debuting just one week after Attack of the Clones. The R-rated Insomnia has the added bonus of in-demand Memento director Christopher Nolan. ”If [Warner Bros.] hypes Nolan’s name, it will attract that adult audience looking for a smart thriller,” says BoxOfficeGuru.com editor Gitesh Pandya. Survey Says Teen girls adore J. Lo. And the PG-13 rating should help Sleeping With Billy Campbell — er, Enough — kick some box office booty on the first weekend. But the smart thrills of Insomnia may keep the studio counting sheep—and receipts

About a Boy
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