Summer 2004 Box Office Preview

by Gitesh Pandya

May 7, 2004


Following the summer of sequels, Hollywood enters this year's big season with a few less franchise films in an effort to keep this year's Passion-fueled box office hot streak alive and kicking. Event pictures are getting more expensive than ever with production budgets north of $150M popping up around every corner. Helping to keep those costs high, A-list stars will be fighting it out on screen and on the box office charts all summer long in a battle for the time and money of ticket buyers. Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Brad Pitt, Will Ferrell, Denzel Washington, and many others will all carry big pictures on their backs as they trek in search of blockbusterland.

Adults often complain about how when students start getting out of school, there are fewer and fewer movies for them to enjoy during the sweltering months. This summer, however, will provide a constant diet of films catering to moviegoers that have long since moved on from the mean girls of high school. With Brad Pitt's epic warrior flick Troy, Nicole Kidman in The Stepford Wives, Tom Hanks finding a home in The Terminal, M. Night Shyamalan's The Village, Denzel Washington in The Manchurian Candidate, and Tom Cruise going grey in Collateral, adult audiences will have plenty to choose from. Whether ticket buyers have time to see them all will be another story.

As usual, the first weekend of May gets the summer going with an early start with a guaranteed blockbuster packed with action and digital effects. Van Helsing sees director Stephen Sommers follow his pair of Mummy films with a battle royale between humans, Count Dracula, the Wolf Man, and Frankenstein's monster. Usually, studios refrain from opening another big-budget action pic the very weekend after the first summer sensation opens, but Warner Bros. did not get the memo as it launches the R-rated epic Troy just seven days after Van Helsing. Joining Pitt are The Hulk's Eric Bana and rising sex symbol Orlando Bloom who together aim to bring in a wide audience with the promise of Gladiator-like battles with tons of hunks.

Just five days later, on May 19, DreamWorks launches its soon-to-be megahit Shrek 2 with superstar voices Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, and Eddie Murphy all coming back to claim their heftier paychecks. The green ogre will try to rule Memorial Day weekend in its second frame, but will have to face the promising disaster film The Day After Tomorrow from ID4 director Roland Emmerich.

June will be bookended with two of the summer's most anticipated sequels - Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban on June 4 and Spider-Man 2 on June 30 bowing on a Wednesday to get a headstart on the Independence Day frame. Both will be smash hits and are spaced apart enough to have plenty of breathing room. With Potter playing younger, parents may make a date with Nicole Kidman who joins an all-star cast including Matthew Broderick, Bette Midler, Christopher Walken, and Glenn Close in The Stepford Wives.

A week later, box office titans Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg join hands for their third feature together in The Terminal which exhibitors are sure to make room for. Studios usually reserve this kind of adult fare for July and August, but with such starpower, DreamWorks is boldly going forward with a mid-June release. Disney's animation division gets benched when schools let out and will be replaced by Jackie Chan in the live-action adventure Around the World in 80 Days. Also hitting the screen in June are Vin Diesel in the Pitch Black sequel The Chronicles of Riddick, the Wayans brothers in the potential hit White Chicks, and Fox's family film Garfield which will face stiff competition for the family audience.

With the webslinger and Doc Ock fighting it out in the top slot in the early weeks of July, the real studio battle will be for the number two slot. Superproducer Jerry Bruckheimer brings back his new favorite gal Keira Knightley in the Depp-less period adventure King Arthur which launches just one week after Spider-Man 2 followed on July 9 by Will Ferrell's attempt to have the big daddy of summer comedies with Anchorman. Mr. July Will Smith aims for the top spot on the 16th with his latest sci-fi actioner I, Robot which hopes to be more MIB and less WWW.

Look for a catfight on July 23 when Halle Berry dons black leather in the comic-inspired Catwoman which faces off against another action pic with a built-in audience, The Bourne Supremacy with Matt Damon reprising his role as an assassin with memory problems. To end off the month, the bankable Denzel Washington offers the political remake The Manchurian Candidate which opens on July 30. Disney counters with its own reliable gun, M. Night Shyamalan whose latest thriller The Village will have to sell tickets without the likes of Bruce Willis or Mel Gibson on the marquee.

The August 6 frame will be one to watch as Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx take on a host of holdovers with the action thriller Collateral. With Shyamalan and Denzel only in their sophomore frames, the adult audience will surely be stretched thin. Later in August, Disney will use one of its many patented formulas releasing The Princess Diaries 2 while Fox will put on the gloves for the promising sci-fi battle pic Alien vs. Predator which will occupy the same slot as last summer's horror hit Freddy vs. Jason.

With kids out of school, the family audience is always a prime target that Hollywood aims for in the summer. For the first time in over a decade, Disney has no animated athlete competing in the summer games. Instead it offers the Jackie Chan adventure Around the World in 80 Days on June 16 when schools let out and the Princess sequel in the back-to-school slot of mid-August which worked wonders for the studio in the past with Freaky Friday and the first Diaries. The Mouse House picked a good year to bench its toons. DreamWorks will cannibalize the family market for a healthy chunk of time in early summer with Shrek 2, Warner Bros. will fascinate kids with the third Potter pic and Sony will catch children of all ages in its web with the Spidey sequel. With so much competition during the first half of the season, Fox's Garfield, arriving just a week after the boy wizard, could get skinned alive.

One year ago, most bets were on The Matrix Reloaded to be the summer box office champ. It ended up winning the bronze. Today, the industry looks at Spider-Man 2 and Shrek 2 as the tentpoles that will lift the marketplace to new heights with each hoping for $300M+ domestic hauls. Moviegoing audiences will vote with their dollars this election year and determine which films become surprise sensations and which become this year's Gigli.

Summer 2004 Release Schedule (dates subject to change)