Summer sizzling with sleepers, sequels

Spidey, 'Scooby,' 'Lilo' bolster skeds

HOLLYWOOD — Summertime, and the grading is easy.

Any review of box office perfs has its share of hits and misses, but there are remarkably few failing grades on this summer’s mid-season report card.

In fact, the whole industry is a big winner, as summer 2002 is well on course for record B.O. Nielsen EDI counts $1.48 billion domestic over seven summer weeks through July 7, with eight weeks remaining through Labor Day to outdistance summer 2001’s $2.96 billion.

The battle for seasonal marketshare is even more of a foregone conclusion.

Sony has yet to unspool big summer pics like family laffer “Stuart Little 2” and Vin Diesel actioner “XXX,” but distrib’s already rung up $312.8 million in grosses since the Memorial Day frame. That reps a season-leading 21% market share, with Sony also leading year-to-date B.O. at $1 billion-plus.

Mid-summer kudos — and just a few brickbats — go to some less obvious recipients. For instance, how many would have guessed Sony’s “Spider-Man” would out-slug the latest “Star Wars” prequel in both domestic and worldwide totals?

“Spidey” and “Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones” were May releases, but both remained strong well into summer. Yet, the Sony pic has grossed $400 million-plus domestically and $727 million worldwide, outstripping Fox-distribbed “Clones,” which has grossed less than $300 mil domestically and $520 million in total.

“As proud of we are of the domestic performance, we are just as proud of the international performance on ‘Spider-Man’ and hope to pass the $400 million mark there as well,” says Sony marketing and distrib boss Jeff Blake.

Elsewhere, pre-season handicapping suggested summer ’01 champ Universal would limp along with a lightweight summer slate this year. But good B.O. for spy thriller “The Bourne Identity” and contributions from urban laffer “Undercover Brother” have U hanging tough at No. 4 in seasonal market share — just below Warner Bros. — and No. 3 year-to-date.

Fox is No. 2 for both the summer and year so far on strong seasonal grosses from “Clones” and “Minority Report.”

A couple of little-known thesps fall squarely in the summer winners category, including “Clones” cast member Hayden Christensen.

The fortuitous gig — and generally favorable notices — mean the Canadian-born thesp can vie for other high-profile roles. Next up is a title role in “Shattered Glass,” a biopic about disgraced New Republic writer Stephen Glass.

Similarly, Matthew Lillard made the most of his casting as “Scooby-Doo” stoner Shaggy. He’s now set to star in an untitled romance under development for Signpost at Mosaic Media.

Auds seemed OK with Ben Affleck’s star turn as the latest Jack Ryan in “The Sum of All Fears.” So, that could point to a lucrative repeat stint in a future adaptation of another Tom Clancy yarn.

And best-bud Matt Damon earned his action hero creds from success with “Bourne Identity.” But fallout from underperforming “Bad Company” could derail Chris Rock’s morphing from supporting comic to topliner.

Breakout movies included Disney tooner “Lilo & Stitch,” whose $103 mil in domestic receipts exceeded pre-release expectations. The toon’s success was even more remarkable considering it wasn’t based on a publishing or TV property and took a sweet, low-key approach to storytelling which runs counter to noisy summer action fare. And the early-summer success of Warners’ “Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood” ($61.1 million domestic) has arguably breathed new life into oft-dissed chick-flick genre.

Among the season’s specialty titles, IFC Films has used a marketable ethnic hook and general script hilarity to ring up an impressive $24 million with “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” Ditto with the same distrib — and similar film ingredients — with Mexican road pic “Y tu mama tambien” ($13.2 mil).

Still, for all mid-summer sizzlers, there’s been the occasional cooked goose or two. John Woo’s opportunity to evolve into a helmer of more gravitas may be over after “Windtalkers,” whose wobbly bow also contributed to the untimely exit of MGM’s marketing and distrib chief Bob Levin.

Similarly, lackluster openings for both “Hey, Arnold! The Movie” and “The Powerpuff Girls” undermined any notion that all popular TV cartoons easily translate into successful movies — boffo B.O. for older-skewing “Scooby” notwithstanding.

But not all of the season’s releases to date are easily categorized as winners or losers.

DreamWorks’ family tooner “Spirit: Stallion of Cimarron” has grossed $71.3 domestically. That’s not bad for a pic about a wild horse that’s aimed mostly at little girls, but a bit skimpy considering the studio’s considerable investment in traditional-tooner infrastructure and pricey “Spirit” production.

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