Summer 2005 Box Office Preview

by Gitesh Pandya

April 29, 2005


Sequels have been a staple of the summer box office with last summer's top-grossing films being Shrek 2, Spider-Man 2, and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. But this year, Hollywood has shifted gears and has fallen madly in love with remakes. Anything studios could acquire rights to have been remade into blockbuster hopefuls with today's movie stars attached. Remakes will bombard the nation's theaters all summer long and will come from all directions. Whether adapted from books (War of the Worlds, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy), old television shows (The Dukes of Hazzard, The Honeymooners, Bewitched), comics (Batman Begins, The Fantastic Four), or old movies (The Pink Panther, House of Wax, The Longest Yard, Herbie, The Bad News Bears), it will be impossible to dodge the rapid-fire assault of over a dozen remakes this summer. If enough succeed, maybe an overambitious studio exec will greenlight T.J. Hooker: The Movie for next summer.

Many of last summer's biggest stars are back again this time including Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Will Ferrell, and Brad Pitt but are also joined by other top stars like Angelina Jolie, Johnny Depp, and Steve Martin. The summer slate features an astonishingly low four sequels representing a far cry from 2003's thirteen. Of the quartet, only one, Star Wars Episode III - Revenge of the Sith, actually boasts a number in its title as studios try desperately to masquerade their franchise films hoping not to attract the dreaded "s" word.

Kicking things off this weekend is Sony with the explosive action film XXX: State of the Union starring Ice Cube instead of Vin Diesel which will face off against Buena Vista's sci-fi adventure Hitchhiker's Guide. Since 1999, studios have begun the summer season three weeks before Memorial Day weekend with early action films getting a lucrative headstart on the competition. That year, with Star Wars hysteria running out of control for the arrival of Episode I, Universal pushed the two-week window back to three with The Mummy and it has remained that way until now. The late April launches of XXX and Guide mark the earliest start ever for the summer season with two big-budget actioners opening four weeks before the holiday frame giving them both three weeks distance from Episode III.

The May 6 frame sees Fox's big-budget Crusades adventure Kingdom of Heaven take on the Warner Bros. horror remake House of Wax in a battle of R-rated films. Fox is taking a big gamble with its Ridley Scott film which will find out the hard way whether Orlando Bloom can anchor an epic like Russell Crowe or like Colin Farrell. In the weekend before the Sith arrive, four distributors will squeeze in a collection of product hoping to establish themselves in the multiplexes before the onslaught of Star Wars fans. Universal unleashes the promising Will Ferrell soccer comedy Kicking and Screaming, Miramax goes for horror with Mind Hunters, Focus offers action with the Jet Li-Morgan Freeman vehicle Unleashed, and New Line taps into adult women with the potential breakout comedy Monster-in-Law starring Jennifer Lopez and Jane Fonda.

Hitting theaters on May 19 is the summer's number one contender Episode III which concludes the recent George Lucas trilogy. After Episode I captured $431.1M in 1999, its sequel Episode II witnessed a 28% drop to $310.7M in 2002. Fox hopes that like with the original Star Wars trilogy, the third installment will improve upon its predecessor. That could very well happen as Revenge of the Sith is, allegedly, the final Jedi film to ever be shown on the big screen. Though some fans have been disappointed with the newer episodes, expect all fans to show up for the last saga especially since it ties the new trilogy to the beloved old one. Fox once again is opening the film on the weekend before the Memorial Day frame to guarantee two humongous weekends of business. Repeat biz throughout June will determine how far past $300M Episode III can reach.

While Episode III enjoys a sophomore frame boosted by Memorial Day weekend, DreamWorks boldly enters the family film market on May 27 with the computer-animated zoo comedy Madagascar featuing the voices of Chris Rock, Ben Stiller, and Jada Pinkett-Smith. Though Sith will still be a giant force, there should be room for both to thrive making the DreamWorks toon a likely runaway smash. Paramount may have a harder time competing with its football remake The Longest Yard starring Adam Sandler and Burt Reynolds. Rock also stars in Yard forcing the Oscar host to compete with himself over the holiday weekend which will surely result in a publicity tug-of-war between the studios.

With so many films aimed at kids and teens, adult audiences will have some star-driven options in early June. Russell Crowe and Renee Zellweger team up for director Ron Howard in the boxing tale Cinderella Man opening on June 3. Typically, high-profile dramas from Oscar-winning talent usually hit theaters in the second half of summer (Seabiscuit, Saving Private Ryan) or towards the end of the year (A Beautiful Mind, Million Dollar Baby) for awards consideration. Universal is taking a big risk hoping that mature older audiences will be in the mood for serious fare at the beginning of the summer. A more commercially-potent couple will be found in Mr. & Mrs. Smith which pairs Brad Pitt with Angelina Jolie as married assassins secretly assigned to take out the other. Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity) directs the film which opens a week later on June 10.

Up next will be the second big summer tentpole film Batman Begins which sees Warner Bros. trying to rejuvenate a popular franchise run into the ground eight years ago by George Clooney and Arnold Schwarzenegger. The darker story about a younger caped crusader stars Christian Bale as the new Bruce Wayne and Batman with co-stars Morgan Freeman, Ken Watanabe, and Michael Caine along for the ride. The studio is so confident in their product that they moved the opening date up from Friday June 17 to Wednesday the 15th. Should Batman Begins become a summer sensation, it will bode well for next summer's Superman Returns as well as future Bat-sequels. Much is on the line, indeed.

A week later, remake fever hits a new high with Sony offering Bewitched starring A-listers Nicole Kidman and Will Ferrell while Disney counters with Herbie: Fully Loaded with Lindsay Lohan behind the wheel gunning for parents, kids, and the NASCAR crowd. Following those comedy offerings on June 29 is one of the biggest summer contenders, Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds starring Tom Cruise and Dakota Fanning. The escapist sci-fi action smash boasts talent that just cannot be doubted and a launch right ahead of Independence Day weekend will ensure sensational fireworks from all audience segments.

Two more remakes lead the way among July releases. On the 8th, dangerously close behind the War launch, Fox attacks with the effects-heavy comic book flick The Fantastic Four tapping into some of the Marvel Comics vault's most popular heroes. Micheal Chiklis and Jessica Alba hope to limit Cruise and Spielberg to only one weekend atop the charts. July's other likely smash is the Warner Bros. film Charlie and the Chocolate Factory which reunites Johnny Depp with director Tim Burton for some eccentric fun for ticket buyers of all ages.

As usual, things slow down in August, but not before the remake showdown on the 5th when Warner Bros. unveils The Dukes of Hazzard starring Johnny Knoxville, Seann William Scott, and Jessica Simpson which will go head to head against another comedy, The Pink Panther, which features Steve Martin playing the bumbling Inspector Clouseau. How much will moviegoers stand for recycled product by late summer? Time will tell. But both films are adapted from well-known and popular source material and boast strong star power countering the non-stop string of action films from earlier in the summer.

The summer blockbusters keep getting bigger with each passing year and Hollywood hopes 2005 will follow the trend. Last summer's top three films grossed a combined $1.06 billion, up from 2003's top trio which took in $927M. On occasion, the most-favored contenders go on to become the biggest hits as was the case last year with the sequels to Shrek, Spider-Man, and Potter. But 2003 proved to be a surprising summer as nobody predicted at the start of the season that Finding Nemo and Pirates of the Caribbean would both outgun The Matrix Reloaded. If Episode III, War of the Worlds, and Batman Begins power ahead of the rest of the pack, then sci-fi will once again rule the summer box office which the industry needs to be explosive in order to bounce back from a lackluster spring.

Summer 2005 Release Schedule (dates subject to change)