Ten big-budget action movies. Ten chances for Hollywood studios to lose a boatload of money. Let the games begin.
OK, so it's actually hard to lose money in Tinseltown these days. Occasionally, a "Cleopatra," "Cutthroat Island" or "Heaven's Gate" will come along and actually put a studio out of business, but in today's global market, even the worst of the worst, like "Alexander" and "Waterworld," can be rebranded overseas or work its way back into the black through DVD rentals and sales.
But Hollywood is all about bragging rights, and studios demand that their gooses lay golden eggs like clockwork.
This summer, the playing field is extremely crowded with high-stakes action flicks. And with the budgets of some of them rivaling that of some Third World countries — literally — somebody has got to lose.
Here's what the devil's advocate would say about the top 10 most anticipated blockbusters of 2007:
'Spider-Man 3' — May 4 — Sony/Columbia
The biggest thing "Spider-Man 3" has going for it is momentum. The first two installments set opening-day box office records, and the franchise has already banked $1.6 billion.
Radar Online, however, reported that the third episode cost about $500 million to make and market; Sony insists it spent no more than $270 million on production, but stayed mum on marketing costs, which can run up to one-third of a movie's price tag.
Either way, that's not exactly chump change; "Spider-Man 3" has to win big.
Still, Spidey is first out of the gate in the blockbuster season, and has no competition in its opening weekend except for "The Flying Scotsman," the heartwarming story of a Scottish bicyclist who overcomes bipolar disorder and challenges the racing establishment's tyrannical notions of riding position — oh wait, that movie sounds completely lame. Never mind.
'28 Weeks Later' — May 11 — FOX Atomic
Even though it was a prototypical zombie movie — virus turns people into crazed zombies that crave human flesh, which in turn spreads said virus — "28 Days Later" was a smashing success in 2003. It may have pulled in only $82.7 million when all was said and done, but it cost only $8 million to make.
There is a perennial teenybopper audience for a zombie movie even if they trot out the same clichés over and over again. The challenge for "28 Weeks Later" is going to be finding that audience when it gets released smack dab in between two of the most anticipated movies of the year. Then again, it might pick up an audience from people who can't get tickets to sold-out shows of "Spider-Man 3" and "Pirates of the Caribbean."
'Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End' — May 25 — Buena Vista
Captain Jack Sparrow's third outing is the summer's second all-out extravaganza. Unlike the "Spider-Man" franchise, the last one banked more than the first, breaking the usual trend of diminishing returns for sequels.
But audiences might just say, "We get it: Johnny Depp does a spot-on imitation of Keith Richards" and just wait for the DVD. With a $1.7 billion already in the till from the first two films, Disney is more than willing to risk $225 million for this kiddie pleaser.
'Ocean's Thirteen' — June 8 — Warner Brothers
This first one had a too-clever-by-half heist and an A-list cast. The second one had an even more overly elaborate caper and even more stars. Is there anywhere left to go with this?
Star George Clooney and director Steven Soderbergh conjured up the usual dream team of suspects and even managed to get Al Pacino on board this time around.
Warner Brothers is only gambling $100 million here, but there's a chance that moviegoers have become allergic to Clooney's smug self-righteousness and might opt to catch this one when it comes to HBO.
As "300" proved this spring, star power is not everything in Hollywood. But the fact that Catherine Zeta-Jones and Julia Roberts are conspicuously absent from this one may be an ill omen for Warners.
'Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer' — June 17 — 20th Century FOX
Marvel's first family of superheroes makes it back to the big screen just shy of two years since their first outing.
The original "Fantastic Four" rode the coattails of a comic book movie that was actually good, "Batman Begins," and had little competition at its release after "War of the Worlds" fizzled during its Fourth of July premiere — partly because of mediocre word-of-mouth and partly because the public had just recently become aware that Tom Cruise is pretty quirky, to say the least.
But fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. Instead of riding the wave of publicity, a mega-hit in "Spider-Man 3" could remind audiences what a comic book movie is supposed to be like. Jessica Alba might look good in spandex, but doesn't look $11.50-a-ticket-plus-your-left-kidney-for-popcorn-and-a-drink good.
FOX was feverishly working on reshoots — a sign a studio doesn't have faith in a film — as late as early April.
Perhaps even worse, director Tim Story recently told fans that they had not decided how the big bad guy, Galactus, was going to appear in the movie yet: as a planet-sized giant in ridiculous purple armor, like in the comic books, or as a talking intergalactic "storm cloud." Hey, wasn't that the plot of one of the "Star Trek" movies?
And the Silver Surfer is not the most accessible character. He's a metallic cosmic being who flies around the universe on a "surf board" preparing worlds to be eaten by a giant cloud. There's a reason Superman always fights Lex Luthor in his movies.
'Live Free or Die Hard' — June 27 — 20th Century FOX
Um, I'll take die hard, please. No wait! I meant live free! Live free!
Bruce Willis is back as super cop John McClane a full 12 years after the release of the third film in the series, "Die Hard With a Vengeance."
This time, he's trying to stop terrorists from systematically shutting down the Internet. After all, if its citizens weren't able to watch people getting hit in the groin with a variety household objects on YouTube every day, America would be brought to its knees in a matter of hours.
"Die Hard 4.0," as it was originally called, is hoping the promise an "old-school" action flick without needless CGI chicanery will hit the mark with moviegoers.
But FOX could be taking a big risk, because the movie will be competing with three special effects-heavy movies in the surrounding couple of weeks. Here's looking at you, Brucie.
'Transformers' — July 4 — Paramount
Dueling races of alien robots travel through the galaxy and land on Earth for their final showdown. Conveniently, each can transform into a different type of human machine to disguise itself.
So, let's get this straight: Alien robots have the technology to travel through space, but their best military technology is the ability to "hide" among humankind's wimpy Camaros and boomboxes?
The good news is that Steven Spielberg is the executive producer, and the man who brought us "Indiana Jones" and "Jurassic Park" knows a good summer blockbuster when he sees one.
The bad news is that "Transformers" is directed by Michael Bay, who brought us the royal schlock-fests that were "The Island" and "Pearl Harbor."
The MPAA hasn't weighed in yet, but word on the street is this reportedly $150 million CGI blowout is still flirting with an R rating, which would severely limit its audience.
There's a lot of good will from the '80s nostalgia behind this one, but those kids who were playing with Optimus Prime and Megatron toys when they were 8 are now 28 and have, you know, jobs and stuff.
'Harry Potter and the Something of the Something Else' — July 13 — Warner Brothers
Six years and four films later, the "Harry Potter" series has made a bajillion dollars, so how could a fifth movie not be a sure thing?
Like all inevitably insufferable child actors, Daniel Radcliffe, who is now 18 and no longer remotely adorable, grew tired of just being known as Harry Potter and decided to expand his "range."
So, the thespian — who has been in exactly two other movies, mind you — took a part in a play that involved full frontal nudity and simulated bestiality in London's West End.
Parents might think twice before taking their kids to this movie now that images of Harry's sexy role have been burned into their brains.
Oh, who are we kidding? Your children might actually never forgive you if you don't take them to this movie.
'The Bourne Ultimatum' — Aug. 3 — Universal
Three movies into the franchise and Matt Damon is still playing a guy who doesn't know who he is.
Of course, Ben Affleck's better half isn't the only one in the dark; the author of the bestselling spy book series, Robert Ludlum, is going to be surprised at the promised big reveal of Jason Bourne's secret past, too. That's because about the only thing about the movie that resembles the book to which it owes its namesake is the title.
Ludlum fans were disappointed in the liberties that Universal took with the previous two chapters in the franchise. In a summer crowded with action movies, will fans turn on their amnesiac hero?
'Rush Hour 3' — Aug. 10 — New Line
Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan reprise their roles as a black cop who runs into hilarious situations when he is unwittingly paired with a Chinese cop who has trouble understanding him.
With Tucker getting $25 million, Chan grabbing another $15 million and director Brett Ratner pulling in $8 million before a single second of film was shot, that puts the movie way past the $40 million average price tag on a Hollywood movie.
The second film in the series was basically an homage to the first film, anyway. And while kung-fu hijinx and "black people do this; Asian people do that" one-liners made "Rush Hour 2" the most successful comedy in history, New Line is putting a lot of faith into a seriously tired formula.
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