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‘Shrek’ to ‘Pirates,’ box-office record brewing

There are big years for movies, and there are BIG years. Then there’s 2007, which has some Hollywood types thinking a record box-office year may be at hand.
/ Source: The Associated Press

There are big years for movies, and there are BIG years. Then there’s 2007, which has some Hollywood types thinking a record box-office year may be at hand.

The month of May alone has dollar signs dancing in studio executives’ heads as the third installments to three of the all-time biggest movie franchises hit theaters within a three-week span.

First up, “Spider-Man 3,” with Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst returning as the young superhero and his dreamgirl. Next comes “Shrek the Third,” with Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy and Antonio Banderas back as mouthpieces of the lovable animated fairy-tale kooks. Then there’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End,” with Johnny Depp continuing the cliffhanger left from last summer’s blockbuster.

Two other heavyweights follow soon after: the animated “Ratatouille,” a comedy about a gourmet rodent from the Disney-Pixar partnership; and “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” with Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint going back to wizardry school in the fantasy series’ fifth chapter.

“There is a lot to see,” said Maguire, whose boyish Peter Parker — the nerd turned superhero by a mutant arachnid’s bite — finds himself wrestling with his dark side in “Spider-Man 3” just when he thought he’d gotten his act together.

“Things are going pretty well for Peter. He’s got his girl, he’s got his job and school. He’s kind of just managing his whole life,” Maguire said. “Generally, Peter’s in a good state. Of course, it doesn’t stay that way.”

If they matched the business their predecessors have done, those five films alone would account for nearly 20 percent of the $9.4 billion haul that all movies rang up domestically last year.

The schedule is so loaded that even the sequels “Ocean’s Thirteen,” “The Bourne Ultimatum,” “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer,” and “Rush Hour 3” would make for an impressive summer. Plus, there’s an animated lineup that includes a big-screen take on “The Simpsons.”

Winter and spring have some intriguing movie prospects, including comedies from Eddie Murphy (“Norbit”) and Will Ferrell (“Blades of Glory”), a dramatic turn from Adam Sandler (“Reign Over Me”), and thrillers featuring Hilary Swank (“The Reaping”) and Sandra Bullock (“Premonition”).

The fall and holiday season presents such highlights as Will Smith in the apocalyptic tale “I Am Legend,” Nicolas Cage in the sequel “National Treasure: Book of Secrets,” Nicole Kidman in the fantasy “The Golden Compass,” Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe in the crime saga “American Gangster,” and the voices of Jerry Seinfeld and Renee Zellweger in the animated comedy “Bee Movie.”

But as usual, the real heavy hitters are crowded into summer. Here’s a look at what’s up with summer’s key blockbusters in waiting:

“Shrek the Third” — All a hideous ogre wants is to settle down in the swamp with his not-so-beautiful bride. But Myers’ Shrek finds himself drafted into the family business after his kingly father-in-law expires and the ogre faces the prospect of ruling the land in his stead.

“For Shrek, he’s just convinced he’s not capable of that. He’s an ogre. He’s not wired that way,” said Chris Miller, a story artist on “Shrek” and head of the story department on “Shrek 2” who now graduates to directing “Shrek the Third.” “There is another option, which is finding the next heir.”

Shrek heads out with sidekicks Donkey (Murphy) and Puss In Boots (Banderas) to find the future King Arthur, a royal cousin next in line for the throne. Meantime, Fiona (Diaz) finds herself mentoring Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Rapunzel and Snow White, teaching the pampered princesses to stand on their own after Prince Charming usurps the kingdom.

Among the new additions to the voice cast: Justin Timberlake, Cheri Oteri, Amy Sedaris and Ian McShane.

“Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” — When we last saw rascally buccaneer Jack Sparrow (Depp) in “Dead Man’s Chest,” Davy Jones had hauled him to a watery hell. Jack’s pals (Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley) joined their villainous rival (Geoffrey Rush) to begin a quest to retrieve him.

The new film picks up right at that point, said producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who shepherded the first two movies based on the Disney theme-park ride to blockbuster status.

For scheduling and financial reasons, Bruckheimer and director Gore Verbinski shot much of the second and third films at the same time. The advantage for audiences: They only have to wait a matter of months to see how last summer’s cliffhanger turns out, rather the usual two or three years between major sequels.

“When we showed ‘Dead Man’s Chest,’ kids came up to us. They wanted to go to the theater next door and see the third one. They were ready to see it the same day,” Bruckheimer said.

“Spider-Man 3” — Maguire’s bright-eyed Peter and Spidey also pick up where they left off in the last film. Peter’s finally hooked up with girl-next-door Mary Jane (Dunst), managing to juggle his photography job, schoolwork, his love life and the superhero gig.

But after he gains fresh powers when his blue-and-red Spider-Man costume turns black, Peter’s dark side asserts itself, leaving him caught in an inner struggle just as two new villains (Thomas Haden Church and Topher Grace) turn up.

And hanging over all of Peter’s problems is the enmity of his former best friend, Harry (James Franco), who blames Spider-Man for the death of his father.

Sam Raimi, who made the first two “Spider-Man” movies, is back to direct again in what could be the last film for the franchise.

“I feel like this film is kind of a natural conclusion to a lot of stuff that’s happened in the first two movies. It kind of feels like a natural trilogy,” said Maguire, adding that he’s open to donning Spidey’s suit again. “If a story presents itself, if we come up with something we feel deserves to be told. I’m not going to make them just because they’ve been successful.”

“Ratatouille” — Hollywood has offered dueling animated bug movies and killer-asteroid movies. On the heels of the rodent cartoon “Flushed Away” comes another rat tale, this one from the animation masters at Pixar.

Directed by Brad Bird (“The Incredibles”), “Ratatouille” follows the adventures of a rodent living in Paris who dreams of becoming a French chef, despite family objections and the obvious obstacles to the idea of rats in the kitchen.

But when chance lands him in the sewers directly beneath a restaurant where his culinary idol cooks, our whiskered friend hopes for a chance to break into the world of fancy cuisine.

The voice cast includes Brad Garrett, Janeane Garofalo, Ian Holm, Brian Dennehy and Patton Oswalt.

“Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” — Boy wizard Harry (Radcliffe) and buddies Hermione (Watson) and Ron (Grint) come back to school for year five, only to find a conspiracy in the magical community afoot over the return of the dark Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) in the last movie.

Disbelieving that the evil one has come back, bureaucrats hamstring Hogwarts headmaster Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), appointing a new instructor whose classes leave the kids ill-prepared to defend themselves against the dark arts.

So Harry and his crew form a secret society to learn the magic tricks they need to take on Voldemort.

“It’s quite political. Harry has witnessed the return of Lord Voldemort and is shocked that the discovery he’s made is being quashed by the ministry of magic,” said “Order of the Phoenix” director David Yates. “Harry and his friends discover the grown-up world is quite complex and you can’t always rely on grown-ups to sort things out. Sometimes, you have to stand on your own.”