Wide releases skedded as of March 10

LAST YEAR: April 30
Top titles (weeks in release) B.O.
1. Mean Girls (1) $24 million
2. Man on Fire (2) $15 million
3. 13 Going on 30 (2) $10 million
Weekend total: $103 million

APRIL 29

XXX: State of the Union (Revolution/Sony): Ice Cube fills in for Vin Diesel in the sequel to the 2002 summer action hit that grossed $141.2 million.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Walt Disney): Douglas Adams’ cult classic is adapted for the bigscreen by first-time helmer Garth Jennings.

The calendar may say that summer doesn’t start until Memorial Day, but for Hollywood the summer box office season begins much earlier. For the last several years, the starting line has set on the first weekend of May. Continued crowding of prime summer real estate — and last year’s solid $24.4 million opening of “Mean Girls” on April 30 — has encouraged two studios to unleash big summer properties on the last weekend in April, pushing the summer movie season ever closer to Easter. Now, despite schools being in session and few people taking vacations, distribs argue that there is no reason the last weekend of April can’t be the new first weekend of May. Sony was the first to slot “XXX” on April 29, but “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” which suddenly found things pretty crowded May 6, followed suit.

LAST YEAR: May 7
Top titles (weeks in release) B.O.
1. Van Helsing (1) $52 million
2. Mean Girls (2) $14 million
3. Man on Fire (3) $8 million
Weekend total: $112 million

MAY 6

Kingdom of Heaven (Fox): Ridley Scott returns to the historical epic with a film starring Orlando Bloom as a man who joins the 12th-century crusades.

House of Wax (Warner Bros.): Passing through a small town on the way to a football game, a group of college kids fall prey to a sinister plot.

Crash (Lions Gate): L.A.-set caper about a man found murdered on the side of the road that follows the 24 hours before his killing. Ensemble cast includes Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon and Sandra Bullock. “Million Dollar Baby” scribe Paul Haggis directs.

One of the most highly prized dates on the summer sked, the first weekend of hosted “Spider-Man’s” three-day opening record of $114.8 million in 2002. But 1999’s “The Mummy” (opening to $43.4 million) and 2000’s “Gladiator ($34.8 million) were early signs that this frame is an ideal launch pad for a summer tentpole. Fox was the first to claim the date this year for “Kingdom of Heaven,” given Scott’s success with “Gladiator” here, but other films have reconsidered the weekend — “Hitchhiker’s Guide” moved up a week and “Monster-in-Law” moved a week back. For now, the only other titles sharing the date are horror pic “House of Wax” and action-drama “Crash.”

LAST YEAR: May 14
Top titles (weeks in release) B.O.
1. Troy (1) $47 million
2. Van Helsing (2) $21 million
3. Mean Girls (3) $10 million
Weekend total: $112 million

MAY 13

Kicking & Screaming (Universal): Will Ferrell stars an overbearing kids soccer coach in a broad comedy.

Monster-in-Law (New Line): J. Lo meets J. Fo. In a femme twist on “Meet the Parents,” Jennifer Lopez meets her fiance’s mother from hell, played by Jane Fonda in her first onscreen appearance in 15 years. Helmed by “Legally Blonde’s” Robert Luketic.

Unleashed (Rogue): Jet Li plays an enslaved fighter who encounters the kindness of a blind piano tuner, played by Morgan Freeman.

With two broad comedies set to go head to head, the battle between “Monster-in-Law” and “Kicking and Screaming” looks to be a slugfest. Contest comes in a frame when box office typically takes a breather. For the last several years, the month of May has been bookended with big releases — over the last five years, the second weekend in May has averaged $104 million, compared with $126 million the first week, $145 million the third and $204 million over Memorial Day weekend. In fact, the biggest second week of May came in 2002, boosted by “Spider-Man’s” amazing $71.4 second-week gross. Nonetheless, “Troy” still plundered nearly $47 million in its opening in the frame last summer.

LAST YEAR: May 21
Top titles (weeks in release) B.O.
1. Shrek 2 (1) $108 million
2. Troy (2) $24 million
3. Van Helsing (3) $11 million
Weekend total: $171 million

May 20

Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith (Fox): Eighteen years — almost to the day — after the first “Star Wars” was released on May 25, 1977, George Lucas completes his prequel trilogy of the sci-fi series. The first five films have grossed more than $3 billion worldwide. (Opens Thursday, May 19.)

How much clout does “Revenge of the Sith” bring to the box office? Consider this: In the entire 19-weekend stretch from April 29 to Aug. 19, this is the only weekend with just one wide release scheduled so far. The two most recent “Star Wars” films went out over this pre-Memorial Day weekend (“The Phantom Menace” rang up $105.7 million in five days; “Attack of the Clones” debuted with $110.2 million) and then went on to dominate the holiday frame the following week. (All three original “Star Wars” pics opened over the Memorial Day frame in 1977, 1980 and 1983.) While “Sith” is likely to get its opening weekend all to itself, no one’s conceding the Memorial Day frame to “Star Wars” this year, with sturdy competitors “Madagascar” and “The Longest Yard” skedded to enter the market. Still, last year, after “Shrek 2″ opened May 19 with $129 million over five days, it picked up $95.6 million the following weekend, despite the $85.8 million debut of “The Day After Tomorrow.”

LAST YEAR: May 28
Top titles (weeks in release) B.O.*
1. Shrek 2 (2) $96 million
2. The Day After Tomorrow (1) $86 million
3. Troy (3) $15 million
Weekend total: $248 million

May 27 (Memorial Day)

Madagascar (DreamWorks): A lion, zebra, giraffe and hippo who’ve always lived in a zoo find themselves stranded on Madagascar. Voice talent includes Ben Stiller and Chris Rock.

The Longest Yard (Paramount/Sony): Adam Sandler and Chris Rock (yes, again) star in the remake of the 1974 comedy about a football game held inside a prison.

Mindhunters (Dimension): Renny Harlin directs this thriller about a group of FBI profilers trying to figure out who among them is a serial killer.

Studios are gambling that the lesson of last year’s Memorial Day — that the market can expand to accomodate multiple big films — holds for this year. With “Star Wars” still expected to be playing huge, Paramount has high hopes for “The Longest Yard” to play as a broad comedy blockbuster, while “Madagascar” is DreamWorks’ first animated release since the IPO of its toon division. Like the Fourth of July, Memorial Day was once thought of as a holiday when most Americans would prefer to barbecue at the beach than sit inside a movie theater, but the frame has emerged to be one of the most lucrative of the year. Besides setting a holiday record, last year was the third year in a row to collect more than $200 million at the wickets over the four-day frame.

*All figures are four-day

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