BIG BUCKS ON SUMMER
Copyright © www.variety.com
[ November 2nd 2001 ]
execs, wracked by anxious times, already are taking
solace in their favorite pastime: plotting strategy
for their summer tentpoles. The complete lineup
for summer 2002 is far from final, but some of
its defining traits are clear: a maze of mega-budget
sequels, several action films whose releases were
delayed due to the events of Sept. 11 and a surprising
number of star vehicles.
season promises to be more packed and pricey than
last year's -- 25 pics already have release dates,
versus 23 at this time a year ago. The ranks of
summer candidates swelled due to a surge in production
last spring ahead of threatened strikes. Film
bizzers will be intrigued to find out if doing
the hustle pays off at the box office.
the sensitivities, all indications are that summer
2002 will mark a return to normalcy. Action-prone
normalcy, Hollywood-style. Marc Shmuger, vice
chairman of reigning summer champ Universal, believes
films can succeed at any time of year. Still,
he concedes, "There are certain times when you
have overwhelming franchise opportunities and
you salivate at the prospect of summer moviegoing."
of mouths are watering over pics already planted.
Sony appears to have its best (and biggest-budget)
slate since its 1997 record-setter, with "Spider-Man,"
"Men In Black 2," "Stuart Little 2," "Mr. Deeds,"
"Enough" and Revolution's "XXX." Fox will usher
in the next "Star Wars" installment and Steven
Spielberg's "Minority Report."
dated are New Line's third "Austin Powers" pic;
MGM's "Windtalkers"; Warner Bros.' "Showtime"
and "Scooby-Doo"; Miramax/Dimension's "Spy Kids
2"; and DreamWorks' "Spirit: Stallion of Cimarron"
and "The Tuxedo."
just a sampling of the pics with dates. Still
undated but ticketed for summer are Disney's "Reign
of Fire" and "Signs"; MGM's "A Guy Thing" and
"Barber Shop"; Paramount's "Sum of All Fears"
and "Four Feathers"; and Universal's "Bourne Identity"
and an untitled pic starring rapper Eminem.
power returns in force after a 2001 ruled by newcomers
like Paul Walker, Reese Witherspoon and Anne Hathaway.
Among the heavyweights are Tom Cruise ("Minority
Report"), Eddie Murphy and Robert De Niro ("Showtime"),
Mike Myers ("Austin Powers in Goldmember"). After
much deliberation, Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones
agreed to reunite for "Men in Black 2," helping
boost the budget to $140 million.
dating may not stick, of course. Only a third
of early summer entrants held to their original
dates last summer. "It used to be that when you
changed the date the movie was in trouble," says
Tom Sherak, a partner at Sony-based Revolution
Studios. "Now, you still have the tentpole movies,
but you also have these movies that become tentpoles."
for example, likes to keep dates a mystery, enabling
it to maximize the upside of sleepers like "The
Fast and the Furious" and "Bring it On." Shmuger
describes summer dates as being "carved in Jell-O."
Without dates, however, the risks for newer prospects
like Miramax's "Gangs of New York" are considerable.
seems pretty crowded already," says Jeff Blake,
distribution and marketing chief at Sony and a
proponent of claim-staking. "There's a little
more activity than has happened before." There
are several reasons for the forward-looking stance.
appetite for action pics, sequels and special-effects
says summer quite like bullets, beasts and buddies
- ingredients sure to be in steady supply in 2002.
After all of the angst from the FTC report and
then Sept. 11, next summer will see no phase-out
of violent or hard-hitting content.
"Spider-Man" to "Star Wars, Episode II -- Attack
of the Clones" to "Scooby-Doo," CGI creatures
will abound. So will sequels -- perhaps not as
many as in 2001, but followups don't get much
bigger than "Star Wars," "Men in Black" and "Austin
Powers." Animation will have its usual DreamWorks-Disney
slated for 2001 got bumped to 2002:
which Miramax just pushed from Christmas to a
possible summer bow, is one of many high-profile
2001 titles now looming in 2002. DreamWorks has
"Road to Perdition" set for spring. Fox's "Behind
Enemy Lines" and Disney's "Count of Monte Cristo"
are other examples of pics pushed into 2002 due
to delays and an ample year-end crop in 2001.
Many delayed releases will be in the winter or
spring of 2002, but the net effect will be to
add weight to next summer.
2001 releases succeeded with early dating:
Harbor" claimed Memorial Day 2001 about a year
in advance. Almost as much lead time was given
to "Planet of the Apes," "Shrek" and "Tomb Raider,"
all of which delivered. It may be a tad early
to assess the overall landscape, but one element
remains constant: special effects. Just as last
summer was dominated by tech touches (even the
much-loved "Shrek" was a wholly digital creation),
so too will 2002 have an array of expensive computer-driven
futuristic sheen is the reason why studio marketers,
who have mouthed all of the right bromides about
how Sept. 11 undid the industry, secretly can't
wait to get back to doing what they do best. Production
budgets may be blown due to the strike threat,
premieres may be downsizing, Oscars are up in
the air, but Hollywood's metier remains mass entertainment
on a massive scale. The months of hype building
up to a pic's launch contribute to a common complaint
about summer fare. Namely, that it is too ephemeral,
skyrocketing to colossal first weekends and then
falling sharply back to earth.
studios started this by asking, 'How do you make
a movie an event?' " Sherak says. "How do you
make it like a concert, where everyone wants to
get in? They figured out how to do that but the
problem is that each film has its own playability.
Only once in a while does a film like 'Shrek'
come along and captivate everybody." Big drops
appear just as likely to occur in the high-octane
summer of 2002. But after the 2001 season reaped
a record $2.95 billion, most studio execs grew
accustomed to the laws of gravity.