Summer 2003 Box Office Preview

by Gitesh Pandya

May 9, 2003


With the spectacular opening of X2: X-Men United, the summer of sequels has launched with impressive firepower and aims to continue the non-stop assault with an endless string of franchise films expected to keep moviegoers locked into their seats at the local megaplex. A record sixteen sequels are on the schedule for the May-to-August span and are joined by other big-budget entries hoping to reverse the recent box office slump and bring audiences back to cinemas. Top stars like Eddie Murphy, Jim Carrey, Keanu Reeves, and Harrison Ford are all back in action and a handful of hits from the summer of 2001 return in sequel form just two years later.

As X2 marches towards the $200M mark, a potentially bigger slugger awaits in the on-deck circle in the form of The Matrix Reloaded - the much-hyped sequel to 1999's pop culture phenomenon. Warner Bros. has put the marketing campaign into overdrive and even if the film fails to reach the incredibly high expectations of its fans, Reloaded should still become the highest-grossing R-rated film of all-time breaking the nearly two-decade-old record held by 1984's Beverly Hills Cop. Opening next Thursday, May 15th, The Matrix Reloaded should easily top the charts in its first two weeks and could blast through $200M by the end of its sophomore session which is the lucrative Memorial Day holiday frame. Reaching $300M is also possible, but will depend on how satisfied fans will be with the picture. After all, heavily-hyped May tentpole films like last year's Star Wars Episode II, 2001's Pearl Harbor, and 1998's Godzilla all failed to reach the lofty expectations that analysts had before their debuts.

Another heavy hitter scaring off competition is Universal's The Hulk which should clobber the box office on June 20. Marvel Comics fans will show up in huge numbers and will be joined by those who love big summer movies. Current trailers are causing excitement to grow exponentially and other studios have ceded the weekend to the green one as only the counter-programming femme flick Alex and Emma will launch on the same weekend.

Come Labor Day when the sun sets on the summer box office, the top ten seasonal chart should be littered with sequels. Tons of sequels are already lined up on the calendar during the May-to-August period led by this month's one-two punch of X2: X-Men United and The Matrix Reloaded. June's biggest sequels are 2 Fast 2 Furious and Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle which are followed by the big Fourth of July weekend battle of the sexes between macho actioner T3: Rise of the Machines and the female-driven comedy Legally Blonde 2. Other top sequels in July include Angelina Jolie's Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life with Jan De Bont at the helm and Bad Boys II which reunites Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, director Michael Bay, and producer Jerry Bruckheimer.

Finally the month of August brings back the American Pie team for a third slice of shenanigans in American Wedding followed two weeks later by New Line's long-promised horror showdown Freddy vs. Jason which combines two long-running slasher franchises into one. With so many sequels in development these days, studios have become more creative with titles rather than just sticking a number on the end of an existing hit's name.

Nowadays sequels show erratic behavior. In the summer of 2001, many like The Mummy Returns, Rush Hour 2, and American Pie 2 were outgrossing their predecessors by 30-60%. Out of seven sequels last summer, the only one to do so was Austin Powers in Goldmember which inched up by less than 4% from The Spy Who Shagged Me. Sequels most likely to outgross their predecessors this summer include X2, The Matrix Reloaded, Legally Blonde 2, and Bad Boys II. Ones that might not live up to previous installments include T3, Lara Croft, and Dumb and Dumberer.

With school children on summer vacation in need of entertaining, Hollywood honchos are serving up a menu of family films that aim to please both kids and parents. Having seen enormous summer success with Doctor Dolittle and Shrek, Eddie Murphy gets the fun started by returning to the genre with Daddy Day Care opening on May 9th. A week later, Warner Bros. offers the latest installment in the dying Pokemon franchise with Pokemon Heroes which should provide little competition for Daddy. Disney is waiting until after Memorial Day weekend to launch its big summer toon Finding Nemo which sets sail on May 30. Produced by Pixar, the underwater computer-animated pic is expected to be a big fish at the box office. June 13 sees the launch of Paramount's Rugrats Go Wild and is followed by the DreamWorks entry Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas over Independence Day weekend. Towards the second half of the summer, Miramax tosses in Spy Kids 3D with Antonio Banderas and Assassins pal Sylvester Stallone while Disney's live-action remake division offers Freaky Friday with Jamie Lee Curtis.

Although summer is known for its action-packed testosterone movies that fight over which can blow up more stuff, studios are also offering female-skewing alternatives to provide some balance. Opening against Neo and Morpheus is Fox's romantic comedy Down With Love which teams Chicago's Renee Zellweger with Moulin Rouge's Ewan McGregor. Programmed against The Hulk is the Luke Wilson-Kate Hudson pic Alex and Emma while pop singer Mandy Moore stars in How to Deal which bows opposite Bad Boys II. Showing promise in August is the much-publicized pairing of Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck in Gigli which will have its work cut out for it when it opens opposite American Wedding.

Although year-to-date box office is down 6% from 2002, the summer of sequels could bring the marketplace back to parity come September. Sure, there may not be a $400M+ webslinging juggernaut this year, but the shear volume of potential hits could make up for it. Momentum should continue until the end of the year as the fourth quarter brings a pair of highly-anticipated trilogy enders - The Matrix Revolutions on November 5 and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King on December 17 - as well as the big-budget Dr. Seuss pic The Cat in the Hat, starring Mike Myers, which opens in between on November 21.

And if you thought this year was packed with its share of sequels, studio honchos already have a full menu of franchise flicks in store for next summer including Mission: Impossible 3, Spider-Man 2, and a third Harry Potter film. Hooray for Hollywood - the land of originality!

Summer 2003 Release Schedule (dates subject to change)