The summer's most prominent names include Robert Downey Jr. (" Iron Man 2"), Russell Crowe ( " Robin Hood"), Angelina Jolie ("Salt"), Tom Cruise ("Knight and Day") and Julia Roberts ("Eat, Pray, Love"). But the season's biggest star might not be an actor, but a technique: 3-D.
The stereoscopic filmmaking process has been driving any number of box-office hits. Some 80% of "Avatar's" grosses came from multiplexes with 3-D screens, and those theaters accounted for about 70% of the "Alice in Wonderland" haul. The immersive technology has boosted the bottom lines of "How to Train Your Dragon" and "Clash of the Titans," which competed head-to-head for 3-D screens this spring.
Summer's 3-D titles will be more evenly spaced and their makers should continue to benefit from higher 3-D ticket prices (about 8% higher in some cities, compared to 2-D admissions) , particularly in giant Imax locations (where the 3-D surcharge can exceed 10%). Here's a look at the summer's 3-D releases, with a handicap of their prospects:
May 21: "Shrek Forever After" ( DreamWorks Animation). The fourth — and promised last — installment in the mammoth ogre franchise could well be one of summer's most popular releases. The first movie in 2001 grossed more than $267 million domestically, 2004's "Shrek 2" took in $441.2 million and 2007's "Shrek the Third" grossed $322.7 million. The series seems to have peaked, but is still in the stratosphere. The "Shrek" sequel pretty much has the weekend to itself; Universal's action movie spoof "MacGruber" is the only other movie premiering in wide release.
June 18: "Toy Story 3" (Pixar/Disney). Tom Hanks and Tim Allen's first talking plaything movie launched the computer animation revolution in 1995, and the third film in the series is the first in the franchise to be designed, made and exhibited with 3-D in mind (the previous two films were re-released in new 3-D versions in October). Pixar has an unparalleled critical and commercial track record (each of its 10 movies has grossed more than $350 million worldwide) and "Toy Story 3" should continue the streak. Only Fox's bounty hunter comic book adaptation "Jonah Hex" opens opposite the sequel, but it's the second weekend of Sony's strong-looking "The Karate Kid" remake.
July 9: "Despicable Me" (Universal). The first animated movie from the new alliance between Chris Meledandri's Illumination Entertainment and Universal Studios, it's among the very few original 3-D movies this summer. Steve Carell plays Gru, an accomplished thief whose plans to steal the moon are altered after he meets three orphan girls. At Fox, Meledandri worked on the "Ice Age" movies and "Alvin and the Chipmunks," and unlike the DreamWorks and Pixar films, Illumination's movies don't break the bank, costing about $100 million less than the competition — about $75 million. Fox's "Predators" revival comes out the same weekend, but will play much older.
July 30: "Cats & Dogs 3: The Revenge of Kitty Galore" (Warner Bros.). No studio has been more aggressive about 3-D than Warners, which is making an array of its live-action movies (" Harry Potter," "Green Lantern") in the format. A sequel to a 2001 movie about talking animals, the new "Cats & Dogs" combines the spy antics of "G-Force" with the preternaturally loquacious creatures of "Babe." But don't expect Pixar-level reviews. The CBS Films teen-girl romance "Beastly" is set for that same weekend, as is Universal's sci-fi thriller "The Adjustment Bureau."
Aug. 6: "Step-Up 3-D" (Disney). Although Disney's dance movie series (this is the third film in the franchise) doesn't deliver the returns of 3-D animated movies, the live-action films have been successful, with the last film grossing more than $58 million domestically. Disney has dabbled in 3-D live action, hitting a homer with "Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour" but whiffing with " Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience." If "Cats & Dogs" is a hit, Disney may scramble to find 3-D screens. Also opening that weekend: Sony's police comedy "The Other Guys,""Anchorman," "Talladega Nights") with Will Ferrell.
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