Stepford Wives Set Up House For Summer Blockbuster 2004

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Painting: Tom Miro

Aug. 22, 2003
Hollywood Reporter
Looking ahead with high hopes to summer of ’04
By Martin A. Grove

Summer scenario: With this summer fading away without having rewritten boxoffice history, it’s time to start considering Hollywood’s scenario for next summer.

The nice thing about looking so far ahead is that sight unseen it’s easy to anticipate success. Looking at schedules now circulating, there are nearly 20 films that look — at least on paper — like they could do big business. Moreover, since next summer’s pictures are still being made, they haven’t been pirated yet. As a result, they haven’t been trashed yet in anonymous Internet postings.

Obviously, release schedules for a year from now are subject to change and are, in fact, likely to undergo changes between now and then. Typically, when one film moves to another date several other films on other dates also adjust their plans. Many of the dates for next summer that are turning up now on competitive release schedules haven’t been announced and are, therefore, not official. Nonetheless, at this point they’re at least a good indication of the structure we may find next summer. Needless to say, writing credits for any or all of these films may also change by the time they’re released and final credits have been arbitrated. Any references here to who did what are based on credits currently circulating. With that in mind, consider today’s comments as being based on a first draft of what’s ahead for the summer of ’04.

In focusing on next summer, it’s hard not to get excited about the prospects for such pictures as “Van Helsing” (Universal), “Troy” (Warner Bros.) “Shrek 2” (DreamWorks), “The Day After Tomorrow” (Twentieth Century Fox), “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” (Warner) “Riddick” (Universal), “The Stepford Wives” (Paramount), “Garfield” (Fox), “XXX 2” (Revolution Studios/Columbia), “Terminal” (DreamWorks), “The Woods” (Buena Vista), “Spider-Man 2” (Columbia), “I, Robot” (Fox), “The Bourne Supremacy” (Universal), “Mad Max: Fury Road” (Fox), “Catwoman” (Warner) and “Alien Vs. Predator” (Fox).

While this isn’t a short list of films, it doesn’t include a number of other titles that are also slated for release next summer. Some of those titles may turn out to be solid boxoffice successes, but they aren’t included here because they don’t jump off the page the way the others do when you consider their elements, source material and franchise status. In the months ahead as additional titles get dated for the summer, some of them will also add to its potential strength.

Missing from this list is Paramount’s “Mission: Impossible 3,” which was originally going to be a summer of ’04 tent pole release on May 21 for Memorial Day weekend. It wound up getting bumped into the future when director Michael Mann signed on to direct “Collateral” starring Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx for DreamWorks. With production starting on “Collateral” in October, “M: I 3” couldn’t start shooting in time to make a May 21 release. Paramount, which had a dismal summer this year, would have had a slam dunk blockbuster for next summer if “M: I 3” had not been delayed.

There also are films that were set for next summer, but that aren’t going to surface then. Revolution Studios and Columbia’s action adventure sci-fi horror film “Hellboy,” set during World War II, is directed by Guillermo del Toro (“Blade II”). It stars Ron Perlman in the title role as the demon child of Satan, born from a Nazi experiment that’s gone awry and results in him becoming a force for good not evil. At one point “Hellboy” was penciled in for a May 21 release, but it’s now set for April 2. That looks like a very smart move when you consider how well Fox did earlier this year with its Feb. 14 release of the superhero action thriller “Daredevil” starring Ben Affleck. “Daredevil” opened to $45 million for four days and went on to gross $102.5 million domestically.

As things now stand, the pre-summer should kick off with a bang and some real chills May 7 with Universal’s action adventure horror film “Van Helsing.” Written and directed by Stephen Sommers, it stars Hugh Jackman, Kate Beckinsale, Richard Roxburgh (as Count Dracula), David Wenham, Will Kemp (as the Wolf Man) and Shuler Hensley (as Frankenstein’s Monster). “Van Helsing” sounds like perfect programming to start the pre-summer with a boxoffice bang. Jackman plays the monster hunter Dr. Van Helsing and in this late 19th Century set story is pitted against three legendary creatures from Universal’s classic horror film days — Dracula, Frankenstein and the Wolf Man. While the title “Van Helsing” may be unfamiliar, Dracula, Frankenstein and the Wolf Man are brand names that don’t need any explaining and that will Universal with an enviable marketing hook.

May 14 will see Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow launch the action adventure period piece drama “Troy” May 14. Directed by Wolfgang Petersen and written by David Benioff, among its many stars are Brad Pitt, Eric Bana (“The Hulk”), Orlando Bloom (“Pirates of the Caribbean”), Diane Kruger, Sean Bean and Brian Cox. When the Greeks and Trojans go to war following the kidnapping of Helen, Queen of Sparta, by Paris, a prince of Troy, the Greeks are led by Achilles (Pitt) and the Trojans are led by Prince Hector (Bana). Besides a classic tale of war and Pitt’s name on the marquee, “Troy” has a superstar director in Petersen (“The Perfect Storm”). It’s hard not to bet with the house on “Troy.”

May 21 ushers in next summer’s Memorial Day weekend. DreamWorks has staked out the holiday weekend for its animated franchise “Shrek 2,” directed by Andrew Adamson (co-director of “Shrek”) and Kelly Asbury (“Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron”) and featuring such star voices as Mike Myers (Shrek), Eddie Murphy (Donkey), Cameron Diaz (Fiona), John Cleese, John Lithgow (Farquaad), Antonio Banderas, Rupert Everett, Jennifer Saunders and Julie Andrews. The original “Shrek” grossed over $267 million domestically in 2001. The sequel is a brand name animated comedy that should play to all demographic quadrants. “Shrek 2” should keep the franchise fires burning.

Another franchise that looms as a summer of ’04 mega-blockbuster is Warner Bros.’ “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.” Directed by Alfonso Curaron and written by Steve Koves, among its many stars are Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Michael Gambon, Gary Oldman, David Thewlis, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith and Julie Walters. This is the first time that our friends at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry are arriving during the summer when their core audience is out of school for many more weeks than has been the case during the holiday season releases of the first two “Potters.” With the franchise’s audience all the more available, “Azkaban” could out-perform the $262 million domestic gross for “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” which opened last November.

June 11 is opening day for two films targeted to very different audiences and both look like they should do well. Universal’s “Riddick” is a sci-fi horror thriller that is targeted to the young male audience. It’s a higher profile sequel to the 2000 hit “Pitch Black,” which was released by USA Films and grossed about $39 million domestically. The film’s success in home video suggested it could work as a mainstream franchise at Universal, where USA Films became one of several companies folded into the studio’s new Focus Features specialized films division. Directed by David Twohy, who wrote the original “Pitch,” the sequel stars Vin Diesel as Riddick, a hunted man who can see in the dark and winds up between two opposing forces during a major crusade 500 years in the future. Also starring are Judi Dench and Colm Feore. “Riddick” sounds like a perfect summer chiller.

Paramount’s remake of the 1975 thriller “The Stepford Wives,” also opening June 11, is aimed at female moviegoers and adult men. Directed by Frank Oz, its screenplay by Paul Rudnick is based on the original film and the best-selling novel by Ira Levin (“Rosemary’s Baby”). Starring are Nicole Kidman, Matthew Broderick, Bette Midler, Glenn Close and Christopher Walken. Its dark comedy storyline involves a group of husbands living in suburban Stepford, Connecticut who manage to transform their wives into robots catering to their every whim. Paramount could have some good counter-programming for adults in “Stepford.”

Fox’s “Garfield,” opening June 18, is a live action family comedy with CGI animation. Directed by Peter Hewitt, its cast includes Breckin Meyer, Jennifer Love Hewitt and Stephen Tobolowsky. Also featured are the voices of Bill Murray, Nick Cannon and Debra Messing. Garfield the Cat is, of course, a brand name among family audiences. The film’s story revolves around Garfield’s owner acquiring Odie, a sweet but dumb dog, who’s kidnapped by a nasty dog trainer. Garfield feels responsible and swings into action to rescue Odie. Family comedies are one of the staples of summer moviegoing and Fox could do very well with “Garfield.”

Revolution and Columbia’s sequel “XXX 2” is a perfect film to split June 18 as an opening date with “Garfield,” which is exactly where some schedules have it. (Others have it somewhere in the future, but time will tell.) With its extreme sports storyline, “XXX 2” is, needless to say, targeted to an action adventure audience that will be heavily male. Directed by Rob Cohen and written by Rich Wilkes, the director and writer of the original, it reteams Vin Diesel as Xander Cage and Samuel L. Jackson as Agent Agustus Gibbons. The original “XXX” grossed over $141 million last year.

DreamWorks has a potential blockbuster in Steven Spielberg’s adult appeal comedy drama “Terminal,” opening June 25. Starring are Tom Hanks, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Chi McBride, Stanley Tucci and Bernie Mac. The film’s storyline revolves around Hanks as an Eastern European immigrant who winds up living in an airport terminal in New York when a war that breaks out wipes his country off the map and voids his passport. After a while, he falls in love with a flight attendant (Zeta-Jones). Spielberg, Hanks and the summer? What a team.

Buena Vista/Touchstone’s suspense thriller “The Woods,” written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, is turning up on schedules as a third quarter release. Starring are Ashton Kutcher, Joaquin Phoenix, William Hurt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Sigourney Weaver and Adrien Brody. Shyamalan’s last film, “Signs,” grossed about $228 million domestically. If you’re only as good as your last film, Shyamalan’s good. Really good.

Columbia’s “Spider-Man 2” has July 2 entirely to itself, which is far from surprising considering the first Spidey’s domestic gross of nearly $404 million in 2002. Directed again by Sam Raimi, the sequel reteams Tobey Maguire (as Peter Parker) and Kirsten Dunst (as Mary Jane Watson). Parker’s nemesis this time around is Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina), his former science teacher and source of inspiration. This is probably as close to being a boxoffice slam dunk as a movie can be.

Fox’s sci-fi fantasy thriller “I, Robot,” based on the book by Isaac Asimov, is arriving July 16 with strong potential based on its high profile elements. Directed by Alex Proyas (“The Crow”) and written by Jeff Vintar, Hillary Seitz and Akiva Goldsman, its stars include will Smith, Bridget Moynahan, Chi McBride, Alan Tudyk, Bruce Greenwood, James Cromwell and Shia La Beouff. Asimov’s book is set in a world dependent upon robots in which a detective winds up investigating a crime that could only have been committed by a robot although in this society robots are regulated so that they aren’t allowed to injure humans.

Universal’s “The Bourne Supremacy” opens July 23 and is the sequel to “The Bourne Identity,” which grossed $121.5 million in 2002. Directed by Paul Greengrass (“Bloody Sunday”), it reteams Matt Damon and Franka Potente. Its screenplay by Tony Gilroy is based on another of Robert Ludlum’s novels. The sequel’s story involves the assassination of a Chinese official, which appears to be the work of Jason Bourne (Damon). The success of the first “Bourne” came as a surprise. Its sequel sounds like another winner.

Fox’s “Mad Max: Fury Road” is a sci-fi fantasy action adventure directed by George Miller and starring Mel Gibson. Given the past success of the “Mad Max” films from Miller and Gibson, there seems little doubt that there’s a big audience waiting for this one, set again in the post-apocalyptic Australian outback.

July should go out with boxoffice fireworks thanks to Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow’s fantasy action adventure “Catwoman,” arriving July 30. Directed by the one-name French director Pitof, it stars Halle Berry in the title role. If things work out, it may also star Sharon Stone as the film’s female villain. This sounds like perfect summer popcorn movie fare and should benefit from having a brand name title and in Berry one of Hollywood’s hottest stars.

Next August should get off on the right foot with Fox’s “Alien Vs. Predator” slated for Aug. 6. Written and directed by Paul W. S. Anderson (“Resident Evil”), its storyline involves scientists on a distant planet experimenting on aliens and predators with one scientist making the mistake of hatching some alien eggs. Sounds like a big mistake — hatching those alien eggs, not making the movie. In fact, “Alien Vs. Predator” sounds like it could hatch quite nicely at the late summer boxoffice.

Martin Grove is seen Mondays at 9 a.m., 5 p.m. and 8 p.m., PT on CNNfn’s “The Biz” and is heard weekdays at 1:55 p.m. on KNX 1070 AM in Los Angeles.

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