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Sight unseen, some likely hits on deck for ’05

‘Star Wars’ finale, ‘King Kong’ should score at box office
/ Source: Hollywood Reporter

Most years look good on paper before they get underway since Hollywood always fields enough high profile movies to make any year sound promising.

Of course, there’s no way to know sight unseen which films will prove to be box office winners. A year ago, for instance, who would have predicted that “The Passion of the Christ” would gross $370 million domestically, nearly matching “Spider-Man 2’s” $373 million?

Nonetheless, looking ahead at 2005 suggests there are enough high profile films in the pipeline to keep Hollywood in good spirits. Here’s a quick look at 10 prime releases arriving later this year for which there are very high hopes. Opening dates, of course, are always subject to change.

1. George Lucas' “Star Wars: Episode III
— Revenge of the Sith” (May 19)
With its Thursday release, the sci-fi saga isn’t facing competition from any other wide releases the weekend of May 21-23. It’s the same launch pattern that’s worked so well for Lucas in the past. “Episode II - Attack of the Clones” opened May 19, 2002 to $80 million and went on to gross nearly $311 million domestically. “Episode I - The Phantom Menace” arrived May 19, 1999 to nearly $65 million and ended up doing over $431 million.

The “Star Wars” gang is back, of course, including Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman and Hayden Christiansen. This story takes place three years after the end of “Episode II” when a massive battle is underway during the last days of the Clone Wars. The gap between the prequels and the original “Star Wars” trilogy is bridged with the fall of the Republic and the rise of the Empire at the conclusion of the Clone Wars. At this time, the Jedi are scattered, Anakin Skywalker becomes Darth Vader and we meet the infants Luke and Leia.

2. Steven Spielberg's “The War of the Worlds” (June 29)
By the time Tom Cruise declares “War,” “Star Wars” will have had nearly six weeks of playing time and moviegoers will be ready for another slice of prime sci-fi. In this case, the source material is H.G. Wells’ classic novel about Martians invading the Earth, prompting an intergalactic war that could wipe out the human race.

“War” won’t, however, have the July 4th marketplace entirely to itself. Friday, July 1 will see Disney open its animated family film “Chicken Little” while Fox kicks off its sci-fi comic book based action adventure “Fantastic Four.”

3. Ridley Scott's “Kingdom of Heaven” (May 6)
In recent years Hollywood has made the first weekend in May the summer season’s unofficial start. It’s great timing for big event films since the preceding four months of the year are typically a blend of bland low profile pictures and fading holdovers from the previous holiday season.

“Kingdom” is an action adventure set during the 12th Century about a young blacksmith who becomes a knight and helps defend Jerusalem during the Crusades. Needless to say, there’s a princess and a romance, as well as lots of battle action. Orlando Bloom (“The Pirates of the Caribbean”) stars opposite Liam Neeson and David Thewlis.

4. Christopher Nolan's “Batman Begins” (June 17)
Given Warner Bros.’ success over the years with its “Batman” franchise, there’s every reason to expect more of the same from the latest episode. This one arrives in the mid-June slot that benefits from schools being out across the country and every night now being the equivalent of Saturday night.

“Begins” stars Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne and the Dark Knight, Michael Caine, Katie Holmes, Liam Neeson and Morgan Freeman. Directed by Nolan, whose career was launched by his critically acclaimed dark suspense thriller “Memento” in 2000, “Begins” film explores the origins of the Batman legend and how Batman emerged as a force for good in Gotham City.

With around eight years having elapsed since Joel Schumacher’s underwhelming “Batman & Robin,” Warner has orchestrated a new beginning that evokes the tone of the early “Batman” comic books rather than the later films.

5. Michael Bay's “The Island” (July 22)
Summer and sci-fi fantasy popcorn films from high profile action directors go hand in hand, which certainly should work in favor of “Island,” which is directed by Michael Bay (“Bad Boys II,” “Armageddon”), and stars Ewan McGregor, Scarlett Johansson, Djimon Hounsou and Steve Buscemi.

“Island’s” storyline is set in a utopian mid-21st Century world in which human clones are created in order to provide spare parts for original humans. McGregor and Johansson’s characters manage to escape before they’re to be “harvested” for parts and are now in a desperate race to survive as the forces that once nurtured them are now out to kill them.

6. Mike Newell's “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” (Nov. 18)
For the franchise’s fourth episode, “Goblet of Fire,” Warner is going back to the series’ fall release roots. With less competition to deal with than in the hot-and-heavy summer, and with family fare being precisely what plays best in the pre-Thanksgiving through Christmas weeks, “Fire” should generate some true box office heat.

“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” kicked off the series Nov. 16, 2001 with $90 million-plus and wound up grossing nearly $318 million domestically. It was followed by “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” which arrived Nov. 15, 2002 to over $88 million and ended up with about $262 million. Last summer, “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” bowed with almost $94 million and got to $249.5 million.

7. Shawn Levy's “The Pink Panther” (Sept. 23)
This will be the 10th theatrical feature since the series began in 1963 with Blake Edwards’ wonderfully inventive comedy starring the incredibly zany Peter Sellers as Inspector Jacques Clouseau.

In the years since Sellers’ death in 1980 there have been efforts to breathe new life into the classic series, but they’ve never quite worked. There was, for instance, Edwards’ own attempt to rekindle the flames for MGM with 1993’s “Son of the Pink Panther,” starring the then very hot Roberto Benigni. In the end, it grossed only about $2.4 million domestically.

This time around success seems much more likely thanks to the inspired casting of Steve Martin as Clouseau. Levy’s last film, the family comedy “Cheaper By the Dozen,” starring Martin and Bonnie Hunt, grossed nearly $139 million domestically.

8. Martin Campbell's “The Legend of Zorro” (Nov. 4)
Just as Hollywood starts the summer in early May it now starts the holiday season in early November. This year Columbia seized the opportunity to do so with the latest in its western adventure romance “Zorro” franchise, moving it out of late September when Disney’s “Cars” sped off to the summer of 2006.

Columbia’s 1998 episode “The Mask of Zorro,” directed by Campbell and starring Antonio Banderas, Anthony Hopkins and Catherine Zeta-Jones, opened in mid-July to $22.5 million. It did nearly $94 million domestically. This time Banderas, Hopkins and Zeta-Jones are back in action again with Campbell still at the helm.

9. Peter Jackson's “King Kong” (Dec. 14)
After the now legendary success that Jackson achieved with his New Line trilogy “The Lord of the Rings,” you’d have to be certifiably loony not to bet the farm on his remake of “King Kong” for Universal. As things now stand, nothing else is going up against “Kong,” and that’s likely to remain the case as we get into the New Year.

Jackson’s “Kong” stars Naomi Watts, Jack Black and Adrien Brody in this familiar beauty and the beast story in which a documentary film crew and team of explorers goes searching for a giant gorilla they believe is living in the jungles of Skull Island. What may differentiate this remake from the classic 1933 original is Jackson’s focus on events in the film taking place in those perilous jungles filled with prehistoric creatures. As competitive as the ’05 holiday season is likely to be, “Kong” looms as a true 800-pound box office gorilla.

10. Mel Brooks and Susan Stroman's
“The Producers” (Dec. 21)
As powerful a box office force as “Kong” is likely to be next December, there’s always room for more as long as you’re targeting a different audience. Enter, “The Producers.”

Directed by Susan Stroman, who directed the blockbuster Broadway musical, written by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan, who collaborated on the hit play the film is based on, and starring Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick who starred in the smash show, how could “The Producers” do anything but succeed?