Tom Cruise kicks off the summer in another impossible mission, but can Tom Hanks crack the code for boffo B.O.? <I>Daily Variety</I> scrutinizes the summer sked in a look at those important four months.

MAY

MAY 5: “Mission: Impossible III” (Paramount) Tom Cruise is back in the third installment of the high-tech adaptation of the 1960s spy show, with J.J. Abrams at the helm and a supporting cast including Philip Seymour Hoffman.

By starting summer off with “M:I3,” it’s not just Par that’s breathing easier. Movie execs take it as an article of faith that, at the box office, hits beget more hits. The thinking is that when one big movie comes into the market, it can create interest in the titles that follow it on the schedule.

art of the effect is tangible: All the people who show up to see a hit are going to see the trailers for the coming attractions. And part of it is intangible: People who see one big movie they like are going to want to see another big movie they like.

So far, despite a crowded schedule, “M:I3″ is just one of two blockbusters to have a weekend all by itself. That may be due to the fact that every studio has an interest in it igniting biz on what has become the starting line for summer.

That didn’t happen last year. Twentieth Century Fox hoped Ridley Scott’s “Kingdom of Heaven” would generate the same kind of excitement as his previous historical epic, “Gladiator.” But it turned in an opening of just $19.2 million and, combined with a $12.1 million start for Warner Bros.’ horror remake “House of Wax” the first frame of May — consistently one of the year’s biggest grossing nonholiday periods — was one of the weakest weekends of the entire year in terms of overall business.

Things didn’t get better when the second summer weekend’s entrants, “Kicking & Screaming” and “Monster-in-Law,” failed to turn in blockbuster openings. Indeed, it wasn’t until May 19 when Fox delivered “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith” that wicket biz started to resemble summer levels.

There is plenty of reason to think that the third “Mission: Impossible” will give the industry hope for a strong season when it opens May 5. Though the franchise is now a decade old on film, the only two times Par has posted three-day openings over $50 million has been with a Cruise starrer: Last summer it saw “War of the Worlds” collect $64.9 million in its Friday-Saturday frame and back in 2000 when “Mission: Impossible II” took in $57.8 million on its opening.

With a budget north of $150 million and a reported 25% of the gross going to Cruise and his producing partner Paula Wagner, Par is counting on an opening that’ll go down in its record books.

LAST YEAR (MAY 6)
Title (weeks in release) B.O.
1. “Kingdom of Heaven” (1) $19.6 million
2. “House of Wax” (1) $12.1 million
3. “Hitchhiker’s Guide …” (2) $9.8 million
2005 weekend total: $87 million
2004 weekend total: $112 million

MAY 12: “Poseidon” (Warner Bros.) Wolfgang Petersen gets back in the boat for a third time in his career — what he has called his personal water trilogy, started with 1981′s “Das Boot” and continued with 2000′s “The Perfect Storm” — with a remake of the 1972 cruise ship disaster pic.

“Just My Luck” (Fox) Lindsay Lohan stars in this romantic comedy helmed by Donald Petrie (“How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days”) as a wealthy Manhattanite who swaps her fortunes with a down-and-out (but dreamy) guy.

“Goal! The Dream Begins” (Buena Vista) Tale follows an aspiring soccer player’s journey from a hard life in L.A. to playing for U.K.’s Newcastle United. BV hopes pic — helmed by Danny Cannon (“Judge Dredd”) and starring Kuno Becker — kicks off a franchise.

With big titles typically being skedded on the first and last weekends of May, the middle two weeks have been a bit of a grab bag. But not this year, as every May weekend is programmed with a pic that is swinging for the fences.

In some ways the chanciest of the May tentpoles is “Poseidon”: it’s not a sequel, is based on a well-known property that was a hit waaaay back in 1972 and has no big-name stars. Still, Warner is counting on the public’s appetite for digitally induced mayhem to bring this ship in. With an early marketing campaign that’s already reminiscent of 2004′s “The Day After Tomorrow,” studio believes a monster-size opening is within its reach.

Continuing a trend that’s also become familiar in recent years, “Poseidon” will not be the only pic jumping into the pool this weekend. Fox is hoping that femme auds will be more entranced by the latest pic from teen queen Lindsay Lohan than they will be by the shipwreck epic. But counterprogramming female-targeted pics against tentpoles has had mixed success in recent years.

In the absence of competish from a gargantuan release on this same date last year, “Monster-in-Law” managed to win the weekend with a $23 million opening. But three weeks later, the teen-oriented “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” opened to just $9.8 million, in fifth place behind several tentpoles: “Madagascar,” “The Longest Yard,” “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith” and even the disappointing opening of “Cinderella Man.”

Still, tabloid favorite Lohan is amassing something of a box office track record. Both “Freaky Friday” and “Mean Girls” opened above $20 million, while “Herbie: Fully Loaded,” only took in $12 million in a crowded weekend last summer where it bowed with “Bewitched” and “Land of the Dead.”

LAST YEAR (MAY 13)
Title (weeks in release) B.O.
1. “Monster-in-Law” (1) $23.1 million
2. “Kicking & Screaming” (1) $20.2 million
3. “Unleashed” (1) $10.9 million
2005 weekend total: $102 million
2004 weekend total: $112 million

MAY 19: “The Da Vinci Code” (Sony) Tom Hanks stars, Ron Howard directs and Brian Grazer produces the adaptation of controversial book phenom by Dan Brown.

“Over the Hedge” (DreamWorks Animation) The first DreamWorks pic to be released by Paramount, wildlife creatures — voiced by Bruce Willis, Garry Shandling, Steve Carell, Avril Lavigne, Eugene Levy and Nick Nolte — are forced to deal with encroaching suburbia.

“See No Evil” (Lionsgate) Gregory Dark, a helmer who’s worked in porn and musicvideos, tries his hand at horror in this tale about a group of teens menaced by a serial killer.

In a summer notable for several high-profile matchups, this weekend brings the bow of two big-budget, highly touted pics: “The Da Vinci Code” and “Over the Hedge.” Sony had the date first and, convinced it has a huge hit with “Code,” has been a bit mystified by Par and DreamWorks Animation’s willingness to take on its behemoth.

With Par spending $1.6 billion last December for, in part, the ight to distrib the toons (DreamWorks Animations, headed by Jeffrey Katzenberg, is a separate public company), the pressure will be on for Par’s reconfigured distribution unit (now headed by former DreamWorks distrib prexy Jim Tharp) to show it can have the kind of success with CGI pics that DreamWorks is accustomed to.

Par and DreamWorks are counting on two factors: First, with “Code” playing older and “Hedge” appealing to families, the two pics will have very separate auds. And second, the marketplace can expand this weekend like it did last Memorial Day, when toon “Madagascar” and “The Longest Yard” (somewhat ironically from DreamWorks and Par, respectively) managed huge openings on the same weekend.

“Madagascar” bowed to $61 million over that four-day frame, and “Yard” was close behind with $59 million. And those numbers were with “Revenge of the Sith” still playing huge, taking in $70 million over its second frame. Plus, with the third weekend in May launching both “Shrek” and “Shrek 2,” the studios have plenty of reason to have faith in the date.

“Code,” meanwhile, has always carried some risk. Brown’s book has been controversial since it was published, receiving strong denunciations from some Catholic groups for its account of the life of Jesus. Still, with the pedigree of Howard, Hanks and Grazer, and the additional support of more than 30 million books sold worldwide, the built-in audience and awareness should bolster the release.

LAST YEAR (MAY 20)
Title (weeks in release) B.O.
1. “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith” (1) $108.4 million
2. “Monster-in-Law” (2) $14.4 million
3. “Kicking & Screaming” (2) $10.7 million
2005 weekend total: $163 million
2004 weekend total: $171 million

MAY 26 (MEMORIAL DAY): “X-Men: The Last Stand” (Fox) Brett Ratner takes the helm of the third installment of this comicbook series. Past stars Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Patrick Stewart, Anna Paquin and Rebecca Romijn are joined by Kelsey Grammer.

Now that “Star Wars” is finished, “X-Men” has evolved to become, arguably, Fox’s most valuable franchise. The last sequel managed to significantly outgross the original — “X2: X-Men United” opened to $85.5 million in 2003, compared with the 2000 original’s $54.5 million, and amassed a final cume of $215 million, compared with the original’s $157 million — a sign that the series has momentum in the marketplace.

Both of those openings have helped to establish the Memorial Day frame, which was once thought to be a tough time for movies (barbecues and the beach used to trump other entertainment). Now it is the biggest weekend of the year; in the last four years in a row, the frame’s four-day ticket sales total have been more than $200 million each time.

A sign of “X-Men’s” potency: Sony and Revolution recently moved their Wayans brothers comedy out of this frame and onto July 5, where it will open against another high-powered sequel, Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.”

Though “Last Stand” now has the weekend to itself, it will still be playing in a crowded marketplace, if “Mission: Impossible,” “Poseidon,” “Da Vinci Code” and “Over the Hedge” all do business on the scale their respective studios are hoping for.

Fox had a big success on the holiday frame in 2004 when “Day After Tomorrow” managed to gross $86 million despite losing the frame to “Shrek 2′s” second-week $96 million gross. That kind of biz — the weekend total was an eye-popping $248 million — gives reason to believe that the sky is the limit over Memorial Day.

LAST YEAR (MAY 27)
Title (weeks in release) B.O.*
1. “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith” (2) $70.0 million
2. “Madagascar” (1) $61.0 million
3. “The Longest Yard” (1) $58.6 million
2005 weekend total: $232 million
2004 weekend total: $248 million
*figures are for the four-day Memorial Day weekend

JUNE

JUNE 2: “The Break-Up” (Universal) Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Anniston star in this romantic comedy about a couple who continue living with each other after they break up because neither wants to give up the apartment. Peyton Reed (“Down With Love,” “Bring It On”) helms from a script by Jeremy Garelick and Jay Lavender, for which U paid $2.25 million in a bidding war in January 2005.

“Nacho Libre” (Paramount) Jack Black stars in Jared Hess’ follow-up to his Sundance sensation “Napoleon Dynamite” as a priest who turns to Mexican wrestling to raise money to save his endangered orphanage.

June starts off with the second major collision of the summer schedule. Even during last year’s disappointing summer, comedy appeared to be one genre that auds were seeking out. Adam Sandler completed his box office play with “The Longest Yard,” which ultimately cumed $158 million. Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson turned “Wedding Crashers” into the biggest surprise of the summer, turning the bad-boy comedy into a $209 million blockbuster. Likewise, “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” seemed to come out of nowhere to become a late-summer, $109 million hit. So hope is running high at both Universal and Paramount that their early June comedies “The Break-Up” and “Nacho Libre” could break out into major hits.

At first glance, the two laffers would seem to be squarely overlap, but both U and Par insist that their core auds are distinct. With its romantic theme, U expects “Break-Up” to play to young adults and older. Par is looking for “Nacho” to appeal to the kids and young teens who flocked to both Jack Black’s “School of Rock” (which grossed $81 million when it was released in the fall of 2003) and Jared Hess’ PG-rated “Napoleon Dynamite.”

Still, the success of last year’s comedies seems to suggest that pics need to be able to expand beyond their core auds if they are to break out beyond their niches. Early on last year, for example, New Line marketers were worried that the nuptials theme of “Wedding Crashers” would scare away male auds. Likewise, Par was worried that “Longest Yard’s” football-centric plot would make it tough to pull femmes. Both pics succeeded largely because they were able break through those barriers, but it is difficult to imagine that they could have pulled off the feats if they had opened up against each other.

Slicing and dicing the marketplace is necessary in the crowded summer, but it raises the question of whether studios can cut it too thin. “Break-Up” hasn’t been rated yet, but it could potentially be a young teen draw. Likewise, Black, who has won a following of young adults, could be able to pull some of the aud away to “Nacho.”

But the other argument studios make is that the market can expand when there are multiple pics that people want to see. “Longest Yard” and “Crashers” are also good examples. “Yard” opened on Memorial Day against “Madagascar,” which itself was a $193 million-grossing pic. “Crashers” actually opened in second place in its first frame against “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” $56 million to $34 million, but ended up outgrossing it in the end $209 million to $206 million.

One other notable feature of this weekend is it is a significant opportunity for 2006 to improve on last summer’s overall numbers. The first weekend of June last year was largely a bust, as the three new wide openers — “Cinderella Man,” “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” and “Lords of Dogtown” — combined for less than $34 million during the frame. If the two laffers do open well, it could be a big shot in the arm for overall business.

LAST YEAR (JUNE 3)
Title (weeks in release) B.O.
1. “Madagascar” (2) $28.1 million
2. “The Longest Yard” (2) $26.1 million
3. “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith” (3) $25.1 million
2005 weekend total: $132 million
2004 weekend total: $188 million

JUNE 9: “Cars” (Disney/ Pixar) John Lasseter, creative guru at Pixar, returns to the helm of one of the company’s pics for the first time since 1999′s “Toy Story 2.”

“The Omen 666″ (Fox) (opens Tuesday, June 6) Remake of the 1976 horror classic stars Liev Schreiber as a government official who fears that his young son is the devil incarnate. Fox is going with a rare Tuesday opening to take advantage of the mark-of-the-beastlike 6/6/06 date on this year’s calendar.

Pixar is arguably the most successful production entity in Hollywood, with its six films grossing a combined $3.2 billion worldwide. It’s that track record that drove Walt Disney, its longtime distrib partner, to pony up $7.4 billion to acquire the company.

Pixar will try to extend its perfect streak to lucky number seven with second-ever summer release. But it’s a changed world from 1995 when Pixar was the only CGI game in town and now more and more studios are getting into the CGI game. And whereas the last four summer seasons have featured no more than two major animated efforts, this year’s season features four: DreamWorks Animation’s “Over the Hedge” in May, “Cars,” then Sony and ImageMovers’ “Monster House” in July and Warner Bros.’ “The Ant Bully,” animated by DNA Prods. (the outfit behind “Jimmy Neutron”).

But though the competition increases, the level of respect that Pixar still commands is demonstrated by the wide berth the other toons are giving “Cars.” “Over the Hedge” is opening three weeks prior, and “Monster House” is waiting six weeks until it debuts on July 21.

The glut of big-budgeted CGI pics is a new frontier with for the genre. For nearly a decade, CGI toons have been a rare enough occurrence at movie theaters that CGI has nearly been synonymous with “event pic.” But in recent years, more of the toons have come and gone without much notice. Last summer, British import “Valiant” failed to kick up much at the box office ($19.5 million) while Brit toon “Doogal” opened to a disappointing $3.6 million in February.

There’s some evidence that crowding the calendar with toons can hurt grosses. Back in November 2004, three high-profile toons — “The Incredibles,” “The Polar Express” and “The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie” — were skedded to be released in a three-week stretch.

First-mover “Incredibles” seemed to be unaffected, opening to $70.5 million and taking in $261 million. “Polar Express” ultimately grossed a respectable $174 million, but left the gate relatively slowly, opening to only $23 million. “SpongeBob,” meanwhile, dried out; after opening to $35 million, it reached $85 million.

LAST YEAR (JUNE 10)
Title (weeks in release) B.O.
1. “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” (1) $50.3 million
2. “Madagascar” (3) $17.2 million
3. “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith” (4) $14.9 million
2005 weekend total: $144 million2004 weekend total: $159 million

JUNE 16: “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift” (Universal) Third installment of the racing series intros a new cast led by Lucas Black (“Friday Night Lights”), a new locale and a new director, Justin Lin (“Better Luck Tomorrow”).

“The Lake House” (Warner Bros.) Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock, co-stars of “Speed,” reunite in this remake of a Korean romancer with a supernatural twist.

Universal has seen “The Fast and the Furious” grow into a curious franchise. With a shifting set of stars and directors, it’s the least talent-dependent tentpole currently up and running in Hollywood. The first “Fast,” starrng Vin Diesel and Paul Walker and helmed by Rob Cohen, managed to open to $40 million when it was released in 2001 and ultimately cumed $144 million. For “2 Fast 2 Furious,” Walker returned, but John Singleton replaced Cohen in the director’s chair and Tyrese Gibson swapped with Diesel, yet the sequel managed to out-open the original with a $50 million take, though cume dropped slightly to $127 million. Just like the previous sequel, “Tokyo Drift” will keep the formula of tricked-out rides combined with a blaring hip-hop soundtrack, which should keep the franchise running.

While “Drift” can be expected to skew male, “Lake House” will counterprogram. Unlike most of the recent Korean imports, pic won’t serve up scares but rather a tale of star-crossed lovers. Warner is likely hoping for the sort of long-legged play that 2004′s romance tearjerker “The Notebook” saw, taking in $81 million after only bowing to $13.5 million. Playing well with older females, “Notebook” stayed strong as tentpoles like “Spider-Man 2,” “I, Robot” and “The Bourne Supremacy” entered the market.

LAST YEAR (JUNE 17)
Title (weeks in release) B.O.
1. “Batman Begins” (1) $48.7 million
2. “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” (2) $26.0 million
3. “Madagascar” (4) $10.7 million
2005 weekend total: $136 million
2004 weekend total: $137 million

JUNE 23: “Click” (Sony/ Revolution) Adam Sandler stars as a guy who finds a remote control that he can use to control his life. Helmed by frequent Sandler collaborator Frank Coraci (“The Waterboy,” “The Wedding Singer”) from a script that was acquired as a spec by “Bruce Almighty” scribes Steve Koren and Mark O’Keefe in a bidding war that hit $1.75 million.

“Garfield’s A Tale of Two Kitties” (Fox) Bill Murray returns in this sequel to voice the comicstrip fat cat, along with the live-action cast of Jennifer Love Hewitt and Breckin Meyer.

hen Adam Sandler is in a familiar role, he’s about as reliable a box office star as Hollywood can produce. Consider this: In the last eight years, he’s appeared in seven films that can be called broad comedies. Of those, every one except the disappointing “Little Nicky” has grossed within a remarkably narrow and impressive range, from $163 million for 1998′s “Big Daddy” to $121 million for 2004′s “50 First Dates.” They’ve also all posted similar openings, ranging from $48 million for last summer’s “The Longest Yard” (which got the added boost of the Memorial Day holiday) to $37 million for 2002′s “Mr. Deeds.”

That box office clout may not have carried to other genres (witness “Punch Drunk Love” or “Spanglish”), but “Click” seems to be made in the mold of Sandler’s other big hits: the high-concept gag of a magic remote figures into a plot about an overworked, undersensitive architect who ultimately learns the value of life and slowing down to spend time with his family. Pic could very well end up at the high end of that tight Sandler band.

While Sandler pics typically gross about double domestically compared with their overseas takes, the opposite was true for 2004′s “Garfield.” After opening to $21.7 million, pic went on to a $75 million Stateside gross. But overseas, boosted by big B.O. in the U.K., France, Germany and Spain as well as strong Latin American biz, the pic cumed $123 million. While Fox will be looking for plenty of domestic family biz for its second “Garfield” pic, its eyes are primarily on offshore receipts.

LAST YEAR (JUNE 24)
Title (weeks in release) B.O.
1. “Batman Begins” (2) $27.6 million
2. “Bewitched” (1) $20.1 million
3. “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” (3) $16.8 million
2005 weekend total: $127 million
2004 weekend total: $149 million

JUNE 30: “Superman Returns” (Warner Bros.) Bryan Singer tackles the “Superman” film franchise, with newcomer Brandon Routh filling the Man of Steel’s tights, along with Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor and Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane.

“The Devil Wears Prada” (Fox) Meryl Streep stars as a powerful fashion magazine editor and an odious boss, based on the roman a clef by Lauren Weisberger, a former assistant to Vogue editor in chief Anna Wintour. David Frankel, who helmed the “Entourage” pilot, directs.

More than any other studio, Warner Bros. has embraced the summer tentpole strategy. Spending huge sums to produce and market big titles, the studio regularly produces $200 million gambles that would make Vegas high-rollers blush. But so far the strategy has worked. Last summer it reinvigorated the “Batman” franchise, which had been once one of Warners’ most valuable film properties. This year it takes a crack at “Superman.”

Singer has already shown he knows how to bring comicbooks to the bigscreen, successfully helming the first two “X-Men” films for 20th Century Fox.

One factor in “Superman’s” favor at the box office this time around is that Independence Day falls on a Tuesday, giving “Superman” a five-day opening frame. Warners may move the pic up to June 28, a Wednesday, as the Wednesday strategy workled well for Paramount’s “War of the Worlds” last year, creating a seven-day “weekend.”

The July Fourth holiday has evolved into another big biz span on the calendar, but the power to lift grosses depends on which day of the week it falls on: If the holiday falls on a weekend day, the holiday effect is negated a bit, but by falling on a Tuesday, basically, Warners gets an extra weekend day.

To see how powerful this can be, look at “War of the Worlds”: In its first six days of release (Wednesday through Monday, which was July 4), it grossed $113 million, which was nearly half of its entire $234 million cume. The year before that, the Fourth was home to “Spider-Man 2,” which took in $180 million in its first six days of release (also Wednesday through Monday), which was nearly also nearly a half of its eventual l$374 million cume.

LAST YEAR (JULY 1)
Title (weeks in release) B.O.*
1. “War of the Worlds” (1) $77.1 million
2. “Batman Begins” (3) $19.3 million
3. “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” (4) $12.7 million
2005 weekend total: $172 million
2004 weekend total: $223 million
* figures are for the four-day Independence Day weekend

JULY

JULY 7: “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” (Disney) Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley, as well as helmer Gore Verbinski, return for another episode.

“Little Man” (Revolution/ Sony) Keenen Ivory Wayans directs a laffer he penned with his brothers Marlon and Shawn, who also star. Shawn plays an expectant adoptive father who mistakes a very short escaped convict, played by Marlon, as his new son.

A curious reversal of a trend has happened over the last few years. In both 2002 and 2003, of the three prime summer months — May, June and July — the season has gotten off to a giant start in May and then slowed down through the rest of the summer. In both those years, May grosses were more than $1 billion, with June and July closer to $900 million.

But in the most recent summer seasons, the big May has been shrinking — to $832 million in 2004 and $799 million last year — while July has been the biggest-grossing month, with last year’s ticket sales coming to $1.1 billion and 2004 posting $1.2 billion for that month.

How the pendulum swings seems to be determined by how studios schedule their pics. For instance, the big May in 2003 was driven by the four $200-million-plus pics that launched there that year: “Finding Nemo,” “The Matrix Reloaded,” “Bruce Almighty” and “X2: X-Men United.”

By comparison, last year the trend reversed with four of the five summer films that got past $200 million (“Batman Begins,” “War of the Worlds,” “Wedding Crashers” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”) opening on June 15 or later. Just one such pic launched in May, “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith.”

This year’s calendar looks awfully front-loaded, with studios unloading their biggest guns mostly in the early parts of the season, meaning the pendulum could swing back again.

If it does, just like in 2003, the July pic that could match those big May and early June titles is “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

Of course, the original — based, as it was, on a Disney theme park ride — didn’t look like a sure thing to anyone. But with it grossing $305 million, shooting a sequel became a top priority for Disney, which went ahead and lensed the second and third installments back-to-back. Disney has already dated the third one for the Memorial Day 2007 frame.

In 2004, the last Wayans brothers film, “White Chicks,” opened just a week before “Spider-Man 2″ hit theaters. This year, they’re once again showing no fear from the season’s pre-sold tentpoles, opening a week after “Superman Returns” and against “Pirates.”

It’s tough to argue that the big competish hurt “Chicks” much last go around. After opening to $19.6 million, that pic went on to collect $70 million in receipts.

LAST YEAR (JULY 8)
Title (weeks in release) B.O.
1. “Fantastic Four” (1) $56.1 million
2. “War of the Worlds” (2) $30.5 million
3. “Batman Begins” (4) $10 million
2005 weekend total: $149 million
2004 weekend total: $148 million

JULY 14: “You, Me and Dupree” (Universal) Owen Wilson stars as a wedding guest who turns into an unwanted houseguest for the newlywed couple, played by Kate Hudson and Matt Dillon. Anthony and Joe Russo, helmers on “Arrested Development,” direct.

“Pathfinder” (Fox) A historical-epic remake of 1987 Norwegian film about the Vikings’ colonization of North America and their clash with the indigenous population they find.

“Pulse” (Weinstein Co.) Another remake of a foreign film, based on a Japanese horror title about a series of suicides linkedto an Internet Webcam.

Universal delivers its second comedy of the summer, starring half of the duo that starred in last year’s hit “Wedding Crashers.” This time it’s Owen Wilson, and on the same frame that launched “Crashers.” “You, Me and Dupree” is largely the thesp’s first outing as the leading draw — Owen’s successful laffers have usually had him paired with another comic actor.

Second July weekend has been friendly to laffers in recent years. In 2004, Will Ferrell’s “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” did well, opening to $28 million in the frame.

If past is prologue, the historical epic “Pathfinder” may have an uphill battle to fight to find traction in the summer. Fox was burned by “Kingdom of Heaven” last year. In 2004, “King Arthur,” which also opened in this frame, also had trouble connecting with auds. “Pathfinder” is a negative pick-up for Fox from Phoenix Pictures, which footed the $30 million budget.

Horror may be hot at the box office in the winter and fall, but it’s been tough going for frighteners in the summer. The biggest July opening for a horror pic was $33 million for “The Haunting” in 1999. But you have to go way, way back to find the next biggest bow: In 1983, “Jaws 3-D” opened to $13.4 million.

LAST YEAR (JULY 15)
Title (weeks in release) B.O.
1. “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” (1) $56.2 million
2. “Wedding Crashers” (1) $33.9 million
3. “Fantastic Four” (2) $22.8 million
2005 weekend total: $165 million
2004 weekend total: $153 million

JULY 21: “Lady in the Water” (Warner Bros.) Paul Giamatti stars in M. Night Shyamalan’s fantasy tale about an apartment superintendent who finds a sea nymph, played by Bryce Dallas Howard (who also appeared in Shyamalan’s “The Village”) in his building’s swimming pool.

“Monster House” (Sony) The second CGI toon from Robert Zemeckis’ ImageMovers production company, story follows three kids who discover that a house in their neighborhood is actually a monster. Both Zemeckis and Steven Spielberg executive produce, while Steve Buscemi, Kathleen Turner, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Jon Heder provide voices.

“My Super Ex-Girlfriend” (Fox) In Ivan Reitman’s first comedy in five years, Uma Thurman plays a superhero who gets even after her regular-guy boyfriend, played by Luke Wilson, dumps her. Pic is the first produced feature for Don Payne, whose credits include “The Simpsons.”

Since turning “The Sixth Sense” into a $293 million blockbuster in 1999, M. Night Shyamalan’s three follow-up films have produced reliably big openings: $30 million for “Unbreakable,” $60 million for “Signs” and $50 million for 2004′s “The Village.” And he’s done it despite crowded competition. In 2004, three other wide releases took on “The Village,” mostly at their peril: “The Manchurian Candidate,” “Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle” and “Thunderbirds.”

This year, “Lady in the Water” faces only two challengers. But, along with changing distributors — after making all four of his previous pics with Disney, “Lady” is Shyamalan’s first pic with Warner Bros. — he’s also switching genres. Though he’s known as the master of the plot twist, “Lady in the Water” is billed as “a bedroom story” and appears to be more fantasy than frightener.

Pic will be a big test for whether Shyamalan’s reliable audience follows him to his new genre.

The other big question that will become clearer as more materials for the pics are made available is how much “Lady” will overlap with “Monster House,” the third high-profile CGI toon of the season. Though given a spooky veneer, pic is aimed at kids, and Sony and ImageMovers are going for gentle jolts rather than trying to terrorize tots. No matter the genre, though, both pics may find themselves vying for the same family aud.

Closest competition for “Ex-Girlfriend” will be Luke Wilson’s brother Owen, whose “Dupree” will be in its second week this frame. For a while, though, “Ex-Girlfriend” was slated to open against “Dupree,” which would have created a rare sibling rivalry at the box office.

Business was especially slow this frame last summer. The top three spots all went to holdovers as new wide entrants “The Island,” “Bad News Bears,” “Hustle & Flow” and “The Devil’s Rejects” all failed to open past the $15 million mark.

LAST YEAR (JULY 22)
Title (weeks in release) B.O.
1. “Charlie …” (2) $28.3 million
2. “Wedding Crashers” (2) $25.7 million
3. “Fantastic Four” (3) $12.6 million
2005 weekend total: $140 million
2004 weekend total: $153 million

JULY 28: “Miami Vice” (Universal) Michael Mann updates his landmark 1980s television series for the bigscreen with Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx playing Crockett & Tubbs, who go undercover to try to bust a South Florida drug operation.

“Flicka” (Fox) A story of a girl and her horse, Alison Lohman plays a girl who adopts a wild horse as a way to convince her father, played by Tim McGraw, that she can take over the family ranch.

Michael Mann is looking to build on the biggest opening of his career, which came in 2004 when “Collateral,” also starring Foxx along with Tom Cruise, bowed to $25 million, which also came late in the summer. Actioners have found a good home in late July and early August. In 2003, “Bad Boys II” opened to $46 million on the third weekend of July. Also that year, “S.W.A.T.” made a $37 million opening when it went out on Aug. 8.

As with both those pictures, “Miami Vice” comes with huge built-in awareness from the original TV show. That awareness means that Mann won’t have to worry about confronting the same problem as “Stealth” when it bombed on this frame last summer: explaining to audiences what the movie is actually about.

LAST YEAR (JULY 29)
Title (weeks in release) B.O.
1. “Wedding Crashers” (3) $20.0 million
2. “Charlie …” (3) $16.4 million
3. “Sky High” (1) $14.6 million
2005 weekend total: $124 million
2004 weekend total: $157 million

AUGUST

AUG. 4: “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” (Sony) Will Ferrell stars in this NASCAR comedy from “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” helmer Adam McKay.

“The Ant Bully” (Warner Bros.) After a boy floods an anthill with his watergun, the ants get their revenge by shrinking him down to their size and forcing him to work in the colony. Pic is based on the children’s book by John Nickle and adapted and helmed by “Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius” writer and director John A. Davis.

“Apocalypto” (Disney) Mel Gibson follows up his crucifixion blockbuster “The Passion of the Christ” with an epic set during the fall of the Mayan empire of Central and South America before the arrival of European colonists. Like “The Passion,” pic’s dialogue is completely in the authentic histrorical language, as demonstrated by Gibson during the recent Oscar ceremony.

Even though there’s very little tangible difference between late July and early August — it’s still hot and even the schools are still out — box office tends to drop dramatically once the month begins. Last summer, total box office fell 7% from the last weekend of July to the first frame of August. In 2004, the July-to-August plunge was 22%.

Although there are those who believe that good movies can post big grosses any time of the year, those same pundits have always suspected that the month’s drop-off is due more to studios releasing weaker product after Aug. 1 than any fundamental change in the market.

This year may test that theory as three promising titles are all booked for the first August frame.

“Talladega Nights” is following last year’s Southern car culture pic “Dukes of Hazzard,” which left the gate quickly on this frame with $31 million debut. Later in the month, “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” also managed to do nifty biz, proving that comedy could work late in the season.

Although Ferrell’s and Adam McKay’s last collaboration, 2004′s “Anchorman,” was released a month earlier than “Talladega Nights” is skedded to hit theaters, the duo is expected to connect with August auds, as “Anchorman” opened to $28 million and finished with an $85 million cume.

Never bet against a CGI picture starring ants. Both DreamWorks and Pixar each produced insect-oriented pics back in the fall of 1998.

Released first in early October, DreamWorks’ “Antz” bowed to a healthy $17 million on its way to a $90 million cume. Pixar managed to top that with “A Bug’s Life,” which opened to $33 million in its first week of wide release, on its way to $163 million take. Still, with three CGI toons on the schedule before “Ant Bully,” Warner will have to worry about audience digital-toon fatigue.

And never, ever bet against Mel Gibson. Remember when no one thought a violent retelling of Christ’s death in Aramaic would ever work and every studio passed? Well, $371 million later, Disney jumped at the opportunity to distribute Gibson’s next picture. On paper, at least, “Apocalypto” — which will be subtitled, has no stars and perhaps most important, doesn’t seem to have any obvious Christian themes — does seem like a longer shot. Still, if “The Passion” brought people to movie theaters who haven’t been for year, Gibson’s name may be enough to bring some of them back.

LAST YEAR (AUG. 5)
Title (weeks in release) B.O.
1. “The Dukes of Hazzard” (1) $30.7 million
2. “Wedding Crashers” (4) $16.0 million
3. “Charlie …” (4) $11.0 million
2005 weekend total: $115 million
2004 weekend total: $113 million

AUG. 11: “Zoom” (Revolution/Sony) Tim Allen stars as the leader of a private school that teaches kids how to be superheroes. Peter Hewitt (“Garfield,” “Thunderpants”) directs from an adaptation of Jason Lethcoe’s kidlit.

“World Trade Center” (Paramount) Oliver Stone directs this film about the true story of the last two people rescued from the Sept. 11 disaster, two Port Authority cops, played by Nicolas Cage and Michael Pena (“Crash”).

“Accepted” (Universal) After he’s rejected by every college he applies to, a high school senior, played by Justin Long, and his similarly situated pals decide to open their own university.

“The Reaping” (Warner Bros.) Hilary Swank stars in this frigtener as an expert debunker of religious phenomena who encounters horrors out of the Bible she can’t explain while investigating strange events in a small town. Stephen Hopkins (“The Life and Death of Peter Sellers”) helms.

So many pictures, so little time left in summer. While some of these pictures could still move, launching four pics in a single week proved treacherous last year: “Four Brothers,” “The Skeleton Key,” “Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo” and “The Great Raid” all tried to cram into the third-to-last frame of the season in 2005. “Four Brothers” posted a $20 million opening, and “The Skeleton Key” wasn’t too far back with $16 million, but “Deuce” didn’t do much with only $9.6 million, and “Great Raid” utterly surrendered to only $3.3 million.

“Zoom” found itself here only after Revolution and Sony settled a dispute with 20th Century Fox, which thought its professor and kids with superpowers plot was a little too similar to its “X-Men” franchise.

U paid a lot for the “Accepted” spec script, and part of the reason may be because of its “American Pie” franchise, which has had good luck in August, including a $45 million launch in 2001 for “American Pie 2.”

Warner may have been inspired to go out with “The Reaping” on this weekend by the perf of U’s “Skeleton Key” last year, which, like “Reaping,” is set in a gothic Louisiana town.

Oliver Stone has had to fend off controversy ever since he announced he would be taking on “World Trade Center.” But the director has insisted that, while dealing with such a sensitive subject as the Sept. 11 attacks, he’ll lay off the conspiracy theories. And though the heroism of the officers played by Cage and Pena will be up front and center, pic will be a test of whether auds are willing to relive that tragic day at movie theaters.

LAST YEAR (AUG. 12)
Title (weeks in release) B.O.
1. “Four Brothers” (1) $21.2 million
2. “The Skeleton Key” (1) $16.1 million
3. “The Dukes of Hazzard” (2) $13 million
2005 weekend total: $120 million
2004 weekend total: $137 million

AUG. 18: “Snakes on a Plane” (New Line) Samuel L. Jackson stars in this thriller about an assassin whose weapon of choice is a crate of poisonous snakes unleashed during a flight over the Pacific.

“Clerks II” (Weinstein Co.) Kevin Smith’s disaffected wage slaves Dante (Brian O’Halloran) and Randal (Jeff Anderson) have been canned from their convenience store but find work at a fast-food franchise.

“The Night Listener” (Miramax) Based on an Armistead Maupin’s novel, this mystery stars Robin Williams as an NPR-style radio host, who, after a breakup with his longtime partner (Bobby Cannavale), strikes up a relationship with a 14-year-old fan (played by Rory Culkin) who tells him of his brutal sexual abuse at the hands of his parents. He soon suspects that he doesn’t know the boy’s true identity.

“Snakes on a Plane” is the title that screenwriters love because it can pitch a studio exec all by itself. New Line will test whether it pitches auds as well. On this date last summer, DreamWorks saw its aviation-themed thriller “Red Eye” bow to $16 million, eventually cuming $58 million

When Kevin Smith’s “Clerks,” a $27,000 indie film, was released by Miramax in 1994, it grossed just $3.1 million and never played in more than 96 theaters. But the pic’s following has grown in the more than a decade since its release, even inspiring Smith to helm a spinoff, “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back,” which got a wide release and opened to $11 million and cumed $30 million.

Now being handled by the new Weinstein Co., “Clerks II” has a significantly bigger budget — it’s also scheduled for a wide release.

But ambitions on the third weekend in August have to be kept in check. The biggest grosser ever on this frame was New Line’s “Mortal Kombat,” which took in $23 million. Last year’s “40-Year-Old Virgin” now has the silver in that category with its own $21 million bow.

LAST YEAR (AUG. 19)
Title (weeks in release) B.O.
1. “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” (1) $21.4 million
2. “Red Eye” (1) $16.2 million
3. “Four Brothers” (2) $12.5 million
2005 weekend total: $114 million
2004 weekend total: $118 million

AUG. 25: “How to Eat Fried Worms” (New Line) The kids book, by Thomas Rockwell, about a boy facing down his school bully is adapted for the bigscreen by Bob Dolman, the helmer and scribe.

“Crossover” (Sony) Sports drama about two basketball-playing friends, one who’s on scholarship to UCLA and trying to go to med school, another content with his GED and playing streetball.

“Idlewild” (Universal) Outkast duo Big Boi and Andre 3000 star in this musical centered around a Southern speakeasy during Prohibition. Pic is the feature debut of Bryan Barber, who has directed several Outkast musicvideos.

“Beerfest” (Warner Bros.) Jay Chandrasekhar (“The Dukes of Hazzard”) directs this story of two brothers who go to Germany for Oktoberfest but discover a secret society where people challenge each other by drinking beer.

“DOA: Dead or Alive” (Weinstein Co.) Vidgame adaptation helmed by veteran Hong Kong action director and star Corey Yuen.

With available box office shrinking, more movies are currently skedded to cram into theaters for summer’s final week. Some of the titles are certain to move. Though theaters are even slower over the Labor Day frame, the number of moviegoers venturing to cinemas in this frame can’t support five successful openings. The top opening ever for this weekend came in 2004, when martial arts pic “Hero” grossed $18 million in its debut.

LAST YEAR (AUG. 26)
Title (weeks in release) B.O.
1. “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” (2) $16.3 million
2. “The Brothers Grimm” (1) $15.1 million
3. “Red Eye” (2) $10.3 million
2005 weekend total: $97 million
2004 weekend total: $104 million
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