General News

2003 Summer Sked Heats Up

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Jan 02, 2003 | 8:52am EST

As the holiday movie rush comes to an end, major studios are already jockeying for summer slots, looking to get the best bang for their buck.

What do the studios have in store? Apparently, more of the same as last summer--big, splashy sequels and sleeper hit hopefuls.

"Hollywood likes to give people what they want, and clearly right now what people want is the familiar," David Tuckerman, president of domestic distribution at New Line Cinema, told The Hollywood Reporter. "That is why this summer's lineup looks like a carbon copy of last summer. We're seeing a continuation of the trends we've seen the past couple years as well--a front-loaded schedule packed with sequels."

It used to be the onslaught of summer blockbusters started after Memorial Day, but because the competition for your box office dollars is hotter than ever, blockbuster season will now begin in early May.

Twentieth Century Fox is first out of the gate, releasing its major mutant sequel X-Men 2 on May 2, with Warner Bros. following close behind with the highly anticipated The Matrix Reloaded on May 15. Disney and Pixar will release their big summer animated flick Finding Nemo May 30.

June heats up even more. Two major films narrowly avoiding going head-to-head on one weekend: Universal Pictures' The Hulk and Sony Pictures' Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle. Both films were originally slated to release June 20, with each studio staking its claim almost a year ago. Neither seemed willing to back down, but Sony finally relented, changing the Charlie's Angels release date to June 27. Also in June: Universal's The Fast and the Furious 2.

"I do think (the claiming of release dates so far in advance) has become a little overblown," Dan Fellman, Warners' president of domestic distribution, told The Reporter. "There's a tendency for a lot of distributors to put their tentpole in the ground and pick a date far in advance, but those dates change so often due to production concerns or how strong the product winds up being. Plus, you can't scare anybody away today because there is so much competition and so much strong product being crammed into a relatively short frame."

The Fourth of July weekend is jam-packed, with Warners' sequel Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger; MGM's Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde, with perky Reese Witherspoon; and Dreamworks' animated Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas.

"July 4th falling on a Friday is not the greatest for the business, but it's not the worst either," one studio distribution president looking for a silver lining told The Reporter. "At least you can pick up Thursday the third as a kind of holiday night. It's not the best, but it's better than when the holiday falls on a Wednesday or a weekend."

August's battles aren't as clearly drawn. So far the only big films scheduled are the third American Pie sequel, American Wedding, on Aug. 1 and the Nicolas Cage crime drama Matchstick Men on Aug. 8.

According to The Reporter, distribution execs expect a great deal of shuffling once they start to get a sense of what other studios' films look like. "Most distribution guys are in a spot right now--they haven't seen other people's trailers yet so they are kind of operating on assumptions," one top distribution executive said. "Once we start to see each other's stuff in late March, things will really start to move."

The schedule may not be set in stone yet, but the stakes will be just as high for the movies released through Labor Day. "This summer's lineup looks comparable to the past few summers, which have been record-breakers," Bruce Snyder, president of domestic distribution at Fox, told The Reporter. "Unless you're taking out an 800-pound gorilla, it's become real tough to place pictures anywhere in the summer."

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