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AT THE MOVIES / WORD OF MOUTH

Summer collisions ahead

December 27, 2007|John Horn | Times Staff Writer

HOLLYWOOD accountants may not be finished tallying 2007's box office receipts, but that doesn't mean it's too early to take a look ahead at next summer. And already the showdowns are looming: Will Steve Carell's "Get Smart" have control over Mike Myers' "The Love Guru"?

A huge cut of annual movie tickets are sold between Memorial Day and Labor Day. This last year, summer grosses totaled $4.18 billion, up nearly 9% from the previous year, according to Media by Numbers. The box office tracking firm also is projecting that 2007's total take will be close to $9.6 billion, up just 2% from 2006, with actual admissions down slightly from a year ago (higher average ticket prices accounted for the increase in annual gross).

If the movie business is going to make any progress selling more tickets, it will need more $300-million-grossing hits, not an unreachable goal given that 2007 has produced four so far: "Spider-Man 3," "Shrek the Third," "Transformers" and "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End."

But the way Hollywood is trying to goose the number of admissions is a costly exercise in Darwinism: It simply keeps releasing more and more films. In 2004, 474 new movies arrived in the multiplex, according to the Motion Picture Assn. of America. By 2006, the volume of new releases had surged almost 30% to 599. If you had to choose among half a dozen movies opening most weekends, 2007 didn't seem any less crowded.

The consequence of this spray-and-pray strategy is that many films aimed at the same demographic inevitably land on the same weekend, when often only one film can succeed. If the movies appeal to different constituencies -- "I Am Legend" for teens and young adults, "Alvin and the Chipmunks" for families -- both can prosper, but usually there's carnage. Last summer's "Hot Rod" may have had its fans, but by going toe-to-toe with "The Bourne Ultimatum," it didn't stand a chance.

Given how competitive next summer appears, some movies have fled for safer shores. United Artists and Tom Cruise moved his "Valkyrie" from June 27 to Oct. 3, Warner Bros. delayed Richard Gere's "Nights in Rodanthe" from June 6 to Sept. 12, and MGM postponed its "Fame" remake from Aug. 15 to Dec. 25.

But other movies have moved into the summer: Disney took "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" from this month to May 16, and Universal switched the Angelina Jolie action thriller "Wanted" from March 28 to June 27.

With so many movies crowded into so few vacation weekends, there will be several key showdowns. Although some movies may still switch release dates, here's an early handicap of some prominent clashes.

May 2: It's not technically summer, but it's the weekend that launches the season. Robert Downey Jr. stars in the comic-book adaptation "Iron Man" for Marvel Enterprises and Paramount, while Patrick Dempsey, hot off "Enchanted," stars in the romantic comedy "Made of Honor" opposite Michelle Monaghan for Columbia Pictures. Advantage: "Iron Man."

May 16: Now things get complicated. Warner Bros.' "Speed Racer," from "Matrix" directors Larry and Andy Wachowski, will be in its second week, where it must fend off Disney's "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" and Fox's Cameron Diaz comedy "What Happens in Vegas..." Advantage: "Narnia."

June 20: Myers is back with "The Love Guru," his first grown-up comedy since 2002's "Austin Powers in Goldmember." But he must topple Carell in Warner Bros. adaptation of "Get Smart." Advantage: "The Love Guru."

July 11: Some movies have weekends all to themselves: Columbia's Will Smith movie "Hancock" opens unopposed July 2. The following weekend, though, has New Line's "Journey 3-D" with Brendan Fraser, DreamWorks' "Tropic Thunder" with Ben Stiller and Universal's sequel "Hellboy II: The Golden Army" with Ron Perlman. Narrow advantage: "Hellboy II."

July 18: Universal's "Mamma Mia!" has Meryl Streep, but Warner Bros. "The Dark Knight" has Batman. Advantage: "Dark Knight" in a landslide.

Aug. 8: The talking Chihuahuas of Disney's "South of the Border" would appear overmatched by Universal's sequel "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor." But never underestimate the late-season appeal of a family-friendly comedy. Disney released "The Game Plan" in September, and it grossed more than $77 million. Advantage: talking dogs.

john.horn@latimes.com

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