|You can blame Steven Spielberg. Not for messing with ET almost 15 years after he released it (or even for making that soppy family alien flick in the first place). Not for The Terminal, though hes responsible for that, too.
Im talking about how he changed summer movie-going for everyone. The term "blockbuster" had been bandied about, but it never really stuck until his classic horror flick Jaws scared people out of the water and into the theatre in droves in the summer of 1975. His pal George Lucas did much the same thing with Star Wars in 1977, and by the time the pair teamed up for Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981, summer had officially become an event-movie extravaganza.
As time went on, summer also became the dumping ground for many an overblown franchise. Whether it was superheroes (Batman, Spiderman, X-Men), disaster flicks (Twister, Perfect Storm, Independence Day) or sci-fi adventures (Jurassic Park, Ghostbusters, Men in Black) you knew exactly what someone meant when they said "summer movie" big, expensive popcorn movies that allowed you to turn your brain off and enjoy a couple of hours of air-conditioned bliss.
But in recent years another trend has become more apparent. As Hollywood budgets balloon well over the $100 million mark, studios need more and more time to recoup their costs. Jaws was released in late June. As the years wore on, directors started laying claim to the Memorial Day weekend a U.S. holiday synonymous with blockbuster season. This year Mission: Impossible 3 kicked off summer movie season on May 5. What used to be two months of lightweight fare while the kids were out of school has ballooned to a quarter of the calendar year.
What that means to you depends on the kind of filmgoer you are. Either you get extra time to revel in the car chases, explosions and alien invasions, or you have to wait that much longer for the low-budget, character-driven awards contenders that arrive in the fall. Either way, heres what you can expect in the next four months.
THE ONE TO BEAT
· The Da Vinci Code with a built-in fan base, the big screen version of Dan Browns bestselling novel is bound to be reigning champ at the box office this summer. Even without the all-star international cast that includes Tom Hanks, Paul Bettany, Audrey Tautou, Jean Reno and Ian McKellen, the Catholic church seems hell-bent on giving the film free publicity.
ONE FOR THE MONEY
· Superman Returns after several scripts were bounced around Hollywood, Bryan Singer of X-Men fame offered his take on the man of steel. Casting relative unknown Brandon Routh as Clark Kent could be risky, but expect Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor to chew up every scene hes in.
TWO FOR THE SHOW
· Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Mans Chest, Garfields: A Tail of Two Kitties Hollywood loves sequels. Theyre a known quantity with an eager fan base and more often than not they make more money than the original. Johnny Depp returns as Capt. Jack Sparrow for more high-sea adventures in Pirates of the Caribbean 2, but seriously, could any amount of money make you sit through a sequel to Garfield, even with Bill Murray on board?
THE RULE OF THREES
· Mission: Impossible 3, X-Men: Last Stand, The Fast and the Furious, Tokyo Drift M:I 3 has already opened (some would say disappointingly) and audiences are eagerly awaiting more mutant mayhem with the X-Men, but does anyone want a Fast and the Furious sequel with no original cast members?
DO IT AGAIN
· Poseidon, The Omen 666, Miami Vice Hollywood loves sequels, but it loves remakes just as much (almost as much as films based on TV shows). In this case, all three movies have the chance to surpass the originals based on budget alone. Poseidon is a brainless romp. With Michael Mann at the helm, Miami Vice will be as stylish as it is gritty. That leaves horror junkies to find out what the son of Satan has been up to.
THIS ONES FOR THE KIDS
· Over the Hedge, Monster House, The Barnyard cartoons stopped being kids stuff a long time ago. This summer sees big-name stars lending their voices to all manner of little kids and critters. Can a haunted house outperform the cute and cuddly animals? Tap your paw once for yes and twice for no.
NIGHT IS FALLING
· The Lady in the Water twist-meister M. Night Shyamalan left some audiences disappointed with his last outing, The Village. In an attempt to win them back, Shyamalan brings to life a bedtime story he wrote for his kids and casts Paul Giamatti in the lead.
THE SLEEPER HIT
· Nacho Libre the creative force behind School of Rock teams with the director of Napoleon Dynamite. Jack Black stars as a man who follows his dream of becoming a Mexican wrestler. Instantly people tire of hearing their friends quote from the movie.
BELIEVE THE HYPE
· Snakes on a Plane Samuel Jackson, ruthless terrorists, a planeload of poisonous snakes this kind of story writes itself. This high-concept action flick has more Internet buzz than any other film in history. Even if its only half as cheesy as it sounds, it will be twice as good as it should be.