“Cats” vs. “Scary” sequel

Independence Day has built a reputation for being a mammoth weekend in the movie business, launching such blockbusters as Independence Day, Men in Black, Armageddon and The Perfect Storm.

This year’s July Fourth releases are Dimension Film’s Scary Movie 2 and Warner Bros.’ Cats and Dogs, starring Jeff Goldblum. Fox’s Kiss of the Dragon will open wide Friday.

The films, of different genres, will appeal to two different audiences. Scary Movie 2 is an R-rated comedy aimed at teens; Cats and Dogs‘ PG rating will draw in a family crowd.

The teen slasher spoof Scary Movie opened last year with an impressive $42.3 million, giving it the largest opening ever for an R-rated film. It opened July 7, 2000, almost one year to the day of the release of the sequel. Its only competition came from Buena Vista’s The Kid, starring Bruce Willis, which came in fourth, earning $12.6 million. It also bumped from the No. 1 spot The Perfect Storm, which came out one week earlier.

“We know this: If we can get parents to leave in the opening scene, we know we’ve got a bigger hit,” Scary Movie 2 costar, co-executive producer and co-writer Marlon Wayans said of the sequel.

Scary Movie was not supposed to have a sequel, according to its tagline.

“When you do a sequel to a parody,” Wayans said, “it’s important not to do the same joke twice. This time, we did the supernatural, from What Lies Beneath, to The Exorcist, to The Haunting. We got some old, we got some new, but at the end of the day, we got jokes.”

Scary Movie 2 has stiff competition in the form of Steven Spielberg‘s A.I.. In its debut last week, A.I earned $30.1 million, which is well below any Independence Day opening film within the last five years. Considering the recent rash sequels and their box office successes, coupled with the fact that A.I. will be entering its second week, Scary Movie 2 could emerge triumphant.

How Cats and Dogs fits into the picture remains to be seen. The PG-rated film will appeal to younger viewers and their parents who might consider the content of A.I. too difficult for children to comprehend or too violent for them to watch.

While A.I. is no E.T., it’s no Saving Private Ryan either, Spielberg said.

“This is a PG-13 movie that I would take my 9, 10, 11-year-old to see. But I would take them to see it with me sitting there next to them,” he said.

“One thing Steven [Spielberg] has proven he can do time and time again is understand what young people want to see,” Jude Law, who costars in A.I. said.

Whether Cats and Dogs will wipe out the Dr. Dolittle 2 audience also remains uncertain. Both are similarly themed live-action films revolving around talking animals. Dr. Dolittle 2 has already made $51 million since its June 22 opening, so does Jeff Goldblum have what it takes to bump the powerful Eddie Murphy Dr. Dolittle machine?

The July Fourth weekend-traditionally a time for studios to reap in the big bucks-often sees several releases vying for box office supremacy.

Last year’s July Fourth weekend was to feature a showdown between two expensive would-be blockbusters, George Clooney‘s The Perfect Storm and Mel Gibson‘s The Patriot. Sony blinked, and moved up The Patriot‘s release by two days. In the end, The Perfect Storm debuted with $62.7 million during the five-day July Fourth holiday weekend. The Patriot made $35.2 million over the same period. Universal’s The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle flopped, coming in at No. 5 with $10.3 million.

In 1999, three movies hit the big screen on July Fourth. While Will Smith‘s Wild Wild West roped in $36.4 million, it was not as explosive as predicted, considering the size of its advertising campaign and a top selling soundtrack. South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut came in fourth, grossing $23.1 million, and Summer of Sam in eighth spot with $8 million.

Armageddon, the only film to open in 1998 on July Fourth, easily grabbed the No. 1 spot with a final holiday weekend gross of $36.1 million. Although this was a huge chunk of change, it was no where near the $51.1 million raked in by Men in Black in 1997. And MIB was not the only film opening that Independence Day weekend. Out to Sea opened to $5.9 million; Wild America took a meager $1.8 million.

No talk of July Fourth movie weekend watching would be incomplete without the mention of Independence Day. The 1996 blockbuster earned the biggest weekend gross for a July Fourth weekend. While MIB took in $51 million over the three-day weekend, Independence Day took in $12 million more during the same Tuesday through Sunday period, earning $96.1 million.