Monday, April 29, 2002

Sony produces own summer blockbuster lineup of movies

By David Germain
The Associated Press

        LOS ANGELES — Sony Pictures is spinning a commanding box-office web this summer, with a lineup anchored by that blockbuster-in-the-making, Spider-Man, and sequels to Men in Black and Stuart Little.

        Beyond those three franchise films, the movie studio has Adam Sandler in Mr. Deeds, a remake of the Frank Capra classic Mr. Deeds Goes to Town; the Dana Carvey comedy The Master of Disguise; the Jennifer Lopez thriller Enough; and the extreme-sports spy caper XXX, reuniting star Vin Diesel, director Rob Cohen and producer Neil Moritz, the team behind last year's surprise smash The Fast and the Furious.

        “I've never seen such a strong slate from any one studio in any given summer,” said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc., which tracks the movie box office. “Everything came together for them this summer.”

        It even surpasses Sony's 1997 summer schedule, when Men in Black, Air Force One and My Best Friend's Wedding propelled the studio to a record box-office haul of $1.26 billion domestically for the entire year.

        Since then, Sony has been a middle-of-the-pack studio at best, lagging well behind recent box-office leaders such as Warner Bros., Disney and Universal. Sony has had a scattering of hits, including the original Stuart Little and Mr. Sandler's Big Daddy, but plenty of duds, among them Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, Ali, Jakob the Liar and The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc.

        Even some of Sony's hits were qualified successes.

        Sony's The Patriot, starring Mel Gibson, was expected to debut as the No. 1 movie two years ago, but was trounced by George Clooney's The Perfect Storm, which went on to gross $182 million compared with $113 million for The Patriot.

        “You always try, and we've certainly had some hits,” said Jeff Blake, Sony's head of distribution and marketing. “With Patriot, our only crime was losing the weekend to The Perfect Storm.”

        Sony is virtually assured of a blockbuster with Spider-Man, one of the most anticipated comic-book adaptations ever. The studio already is moving ahead with a sequel, following the same pattern as Men in Black II and Stuart Little 2 by putting the next film in the hands of the same director, Sam Raimi.

        “Episode two is under way,” Mr. Raimi said.

        Opening next week, Spider-Man stars Tobey Maguire as the web-slinging super hero, with Kirsten Dunst as the romantic lead and Willem Dafoe as the villainous Green Goblin.

        The sequel is expected to begin shooting next year, with Mr. Maguire and Ms. Dunst signed to reprise their roles.

        Once viewed as quick-cash knockoffs, sequels often are treated more tenderly today, with studios hoping reunions of the original creative teams can produce new installments that match or exceed the revenues of the originals.

        Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones return for Men in Black II, opening July 3, with Barry Sonnenfeld again directing. On Stuart Little 2, debuting July 19, Michael J. Fox is back as the voice of the rodent along with the rest of the original cast and director Rob Minkoff. Additions to the voice cast are Melanie Griffith and James Woods.

        “People have recognized the value of sequels commercially for a long time,” Minkoff said. “But I think Steven Spielberg (Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park) and maybe Bob Zemeckis (Back to the Future), they took some of their bigger hits and stayed with them, and that was the critical element. It's not just taking the title and making another movie, anymore. It's about making another good movie.”

        Sony also hopes its second-tier slate will produce some hits. Ms. Lopez, who has demonstrated good screen presence in so-so movies, could achieve a breakout success with Enough, directed by Michael Apted (The World Is Not Enough).

        XXX looks to have the fast action and youth appeal that made The Fast and the Furious a winner.

        Aiming for the lucrative family crowd, The Master of Disguise features Mr. Carvey at what he did best on Saturday Night Live, mimicking others.

        And the mix of proven box-office draw Mr. Sandler with a beloved Capra tale could be an irresistible lure for audiences.


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