While other Sequels Suffer - X2 Movie STILL Summer's Big Winner

"20th Century Fox's big budget "X2: X-Men United" got the pre-summer season off on the right foot May 2, opening to a hefty $85.6 million for a plain old non-holiday three day weekend while schools were still in session. With about $214 million in hand as
Originals' summer success raises hopes for future

By Martin A. Grove
Franchise focus: With sequels underperforming lately and Hollywood's "biggest booty" no longer a reference to J Lo, but rather to the boxoffice doubloons for Disney's hit original "Pirates of the Caribbean," franchises could find themselves walking the plank.

This summer has seen some high profile franchises deliver less than insiders were anticipating given their mega-budgets and the level of success they had enjoyed in the past. While it's way too early to cry about the sky falling, it is increasingly clear that sequels are no longer the surefire blockbusters they once were. With originals looking good this summer, Hollywood's creative community could find itself with new opportunities to shine in the future.

There's actually been a range of performances in terms of how summer sequels have fared. On the high-profile front, Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow's mega-budget "The Matrix Reloaded" has done about $274 million and is heading for around $280 million. Insiders who were certain it would be the summer's biggest film and gross over $300 million saw it overtaken by a surprisingly strong original, Disney and Pixar Animation Studios' "Finding Nemo." With $291 million already in, "Nemo" is on its way to around $325 million domestically. Not only is it the summer's top grossing film, it will probably also rank as the year's biggest boxoffice hit.

Another high-profile franchise, also distributed by Warners, is Intermedia and C2 Pictures' mega-budget "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines." With $110 million-plus already under its boxoffice belt, but having suffered a 55 percent second weekend drop, "T3" appears heading for around $150 million domestically. Of course, before it hit theaters, insiders were buzzing about how it was going to do $200 million or more. On the other hand, the highly complex financing and distribution deals for "T3," which Sony's Columbia TriStar International is releasing in most markets abroad, makes it all but impossible to figure out who's making money and how much.

By comparison, MGM's "Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde" was made on a shoestring. But with its $45 million budget, "Blonde 2" is clearly a success. The $15 million that MGM reportedly paid Reese Witherspoon for returning to star in the sequel was a smart move. With about $63 million grossed so far, "Blonde 2" is showing good legs, falling only 46 percent last weekend, and looks like it should do $100 million domestically.

Universal's "2 Fast 2 Furious" tumbled faster than insiders anticipated. After its $50.5 million opening June 6, the best opening ever for the first weekend in June, "2 Fast" plunged 63 percent the following weekend. Nonetheless, it's done nearly $123 million to date and should get to around $130 million domestically. Universal made "2 Fast" for a relatively modest budget (for a summer event film) of around $76 million. The restrained budget figured in Vin Diesel not returning for the sequel, but that doesn't seem to have made much difference. Given the film's big potential in DVD and video, Universal should wind up doing fine.

Columbia's very expensive "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle" took its lumps when it kicked off to $37.6 million rather than $70 million or more as Hollywood handicappers had been predicting. Its 63 percent second weekend skid had insiders calling it a big disappointment. Nonetheless, with its domestic cume now at about $81.5 million and its international cume having topped $77 million, it's got a good shot at beating the original "Angels'" worldwide total of about $263 million. "Throttle" is playing much better abroad than it is domestically. In the U.K., for instance, the sequel has topped the boxoffice chart for the past two weeks.

20th Century Fox's big budget "X2: X-Men United" got the pre-summer season off on the right foot May 2, opening to a hefty $85.6 million for a plain old non-holiday three day weekend while schools were still in session. With about $214 million in hand as it nears the end of its domestic run, "X2" is clearly a summer winner.

For a sequel that died, consider New Line's low budget "Dumb and Dumberer," which has done about $25.5 million domestically and is going nowhere. The original grossed $127 million-plus domestically and over $246 million worldwide. The 1994 original was made by the Farrelly Brothers and starred Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels, none of whom returned for the sequel. Of course, New Line has a certain other sequel coming late this year, the third "Lord of the Rings" epic, which should more than make up for "Dumb's" demise.

There's still a long list of sequels waiting in the wings this summer and if enough of them perform well, that could put a better face on the franchise business. Disney's "Freaky Friday" (Aug. 6) is a comedy remake -- remakes are essentially a hybrid form of sequel and original -- directed by Mark Waters and starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan. MGM's horror-thriller "Jeepers Creepers 2" (Aug. 29) is directed by Victor Salva and stars Ray Wise and Jonathan Breck. Miramax's Dimension Films has its action adventure "Spy Kids 3D: Game Over" (July 25), directed by Robert Rodriguez and starring Antonio Banderas, Carla Gugino, Alexa Vega, Daryl Sabara and Ricardo Montalban.

New Line has "Freddy vs. Jason" (Aug. 15), a horror original revolving around two longtime horror franchise villains, directed by Ronny Yu and starring Monica Keena and Kelly Rowland. Paramount has the action adventure "Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life" (July 25), directed by Jan De Bont and again starring Angelina Jolie. Columbia has the buddy cop action film "Bad Boys 2" (July 18), directed by Michael Bay and reteaming Martin Lawrence and Will Smith. And Universal has the youth appeal comedy "American Wedding," the sequel to "American Pie" and "American Pie 2," directed by Jesse Dylan and starring an extensive returning cast, including Jason Biggs, Alyson Hannigan and Eugene Levy.

Considering how things have turned out to date this summer, Hollywood will have to think long and hard about risks versus rewards where sequels are concerned. The super-sized budgets that went into some of the franchise installments that opened during the early and mid-summer weeks required levels of success beyond those that were achieved.

On the other hand, looking at how well many original films performed this summer shows that moviegoers consistently responded to originality, particularly in terms of comedies. Besides last weekend's "Pirates," which Disney launched to nearly $71 million for five days, and Fox's "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen," w
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The Hollywood Reporter