Sequels are the latest trend in Hollywood -- Analyzing the movie industry's major franchises: new directions, old faves, and who?s wearing the tights
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Summertime is franchise time in Hollywood. Time for Dark Knights, Sith lords, and towering tripod-driving aliens, all in the name of fun, art, and multibillion-dollar media machines. Since both X-Men and Mission: Impossible hit speed bumps recently, it seems like a good time to check in on several of the biggest studio franchises coming soon — or perhaps not at all.

X-MEN

Fox’s Marvel-ous band of mutant freedom fighters have done their fair share of evolving lately. After original helmer Bryan Singer opted to direct Superman, Matthew Vaughan (Layer Cake) stepped in. . .and then stepped out. An X-insider says Vaughan wanted to stay in Britain (X3 starts shooting in Vancouver in August). With Fox determined to meet a Memorial Day 2006 release, Rush Hour‘s Brett Ratner was quickly hired to shoot a script on which he had no input. ”Other directors might have been wary. But Brett is very confident,” says producer Avi Arad. Adds Ratner: ”It wasn’t like there were any mistakes to clean up. It was all fantastic.” The entire X-cast returns, including Hugh Jackman (now also a producer; the star endorsed Ratner) and Halle Berry (in an expanded role). Joining them: Kelsey Grammer as a furry blue genius named Beast.

RUSH HOUR

Ratner, Chris Tucker, and Jackie Chan were set for a third installment of New Line’s mismatched-buddy-cop action comedy…and then they weren’t. According to Ratner, the trio verbally approved screenwriter Jeff Nathanson’s pitch, but the film fell apart after Tucker refused to waive his right to script approval. Ratner sympathizes with his star: ”Jeff came up with a brilliant concept. . . .It’s just a scary thing when you’re signing off on a start date and a treatment; that’s a lot of pressure.” Still, Tucker is optimistic: ”Rush Hour 3, we’re gonna do it,” he told EW during a chat at the MTV Movie Awards. ”We’re just trying to get it together.”

INDIANA JONES

Finally free of Star Wars, producer George Lucas still hopes to bring Harrison Ford’s now-grizzled archaeologist back for a fourth tumble. His collaborators may not be on the same schedule. Director Steven Spielberg, who Lucas has said could shoot early next year, has to get through both his untitled ’72 Munich Olympics drama and an Abraham Lincoln biopic first. Meanwhile, a rep for Ford can’t confirm if a new script by Rush Hour‘s Nathanson is finished, and a Lucas spokeswoman insists that none of the principals have signed off on a script.

SPIDER-MAN

Director Sam Raimi and stars Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst begin shooting their third wall-crawler flick this winter for a summer ’07 release. But who will be the colorfully clad nemeses? It could be any combination of the three announced costars — the returning James Franco, Sideways‘ Thomas Haden Church, and That ’70s Show‘s Topher Grace. Producer Avi Arad says the actors do know who they’re playing, but he ain’t telling us; he thinks Sony’s most bankable franchise needs an aura of intrigue. ”It’s the third film,” he says. ”If we spelled it out now, two years from now you’d be yawning.”

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