/ 17 April 2007

Hollywood prepares for sequel blitz

Hollywood is banking that good things really do come in threes as it prepares to unleash an unprecedented series of blockbuster sequels on the box office.

In a rare alignment of the Tinseltown stars, three of the most profitable franchises in history release their long-awaited third instalments next month: Pirates of the Caribbean, Spider-Man and Shrek.

The trio of blockbuster follow-ups are part of a broader trend of sequels as Hollywood studios opt for tried-and-tested formulas on the basis that ”if ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

”Somebody counted it and said there were 14 sequels this summer,” Lew Harris, the editor of the respected Movies.com website. ”This is absolutely the summer of the sequels.”

As well as Pirates, Spider-Man and Shrek, a number of other successful films of recent years are readying sequels, with a fifth instalment of the money-spinning Harry Potter based on JK Rowling’s books heading the field.

George Clooney and Brad Pitt will return for crime caper Ocean’s 13, while Matt Damon is reprising his role as assassin Jason Bourne for a third time in The Bourne Ultimatum.

Other sequels include the Bruce Willis action movie Die Hard IV (Live Free and Die Hard), Fantastic Four, Evan Almighty and Hostel II.

”The funny thing is that this summer, they [the sequels] are going to do well,” Harris said. ”They’re all kind of different. In fact, all of these sequels are going to rule the summer.”

Sequel blitz

Leading the first wave of the sequel blitz is Spider-Man III, which premiered in Tokyo on Monday. The two previous films in the series about the Marvel comic-book hero have already raked in $1,6-billion worldwide since 2002.

Two weeks later, the jolly green ogre that is Dreamworks’ Shrek will return, three years after the phenomenal success of Shrek II, the third highest-grossing film in US box-office history behind Titanic and Pirates of the Caribbean II.

The third film in the Pirates series, starring Johnny Depp as captain Jack Sparrow, opens in the US on May 25. The two previous films in Disney’s Pirates series have grossed more than $1,6-billion, and Harris is tipping the third to be the granddaddy of this year’s sequel season.

”My money would be on Pirates,” Harris said. ”There’s something about Johnny Depp as well. You just mention Depp and people go crazy. It’s a lot of fun.”

The trend of sequels reflects the cautious nature of studios as well as the enduring appeal of characters like Depp’s Jack Sparrow and Spider-Man, Harris said. ”Studios are more and more afraid of trying something new,” he said. ”In fact, the more familiar things are, the more people seem to like them. We seem to go more and more that way in books and music.”

Creative risks

Yet the recent success of films like 300 — a stylised historical epic about ancient Greece — proved that rewards remained on offer for studios willing to take creative risks, Harris said.

”The studios don’t want to take a chance,” Harris said. ”The films that they want to rely on are the movies that they think there’s very little chance that they’re going to lose money. But then you get something like 300 and look what happens. The different things do quite well.”

Gitesh Pandya, an analyst with Boxofficeguru.com, said that while Spider-Man, Pirates and Shrek will slug it out as the biggest box-office films of the year, they will affect each other’s earnings.

”May is going to be the biggest month in box-office history,” he said. ”You have three 800-pound gorillas stepping out at the same time. I don’t think they’re going to cannibalise each other that much. They’re so important and so popular that people are going to take the time and see each of them.”

More Spider-Man?

Meanwhile, the stars and the director of Spider-Man III gave no clear clues on Tuesday whether Sony’s money-spinning superhero will return to the screen in a fourth adventure, but Kirsten Dunst gave fans a glimmer of hope.

Asked how her character — Peter Parker’s love interest, Mary Jane Watson — had developed in the latest film, Dunst told a news conference: ”I admire her bravery and she’s always been a challenging character for me. I think this last film — not the last film, but the third film — has really been a combination of that growth of family,” she said, referring to the cast.

Tobey Maguire, who plays Parker in the action series, and director Sam Raimi were also at the packed news conference, but no reporters got a chance to ask the question on every fan’s mind: Will there be a fourth movie?

Entertainment Weekly magazine on Monday cited Raimi as confirming a long-held Hollywood rumour he might direct a movie version of JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit if Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson is not eventually hired.

Dunst separately told the magazine that a Spider-Man IV without Raimi, herself and Maguire would be ”disrespectful to the whole team” and a big flop. — Sapa-AFP, Reuters