August schedule unusually crowded this year

August used to be the dog days of the box office, a month where genre pics or orphan titles used to slink off to avoid causing a stir.

Hollywood generally avoided end-of-summer weeks because students begin returning to school, and Labor Day — traditionally the slowest holiday of the year for Hollywood B.O. — is just around the corner.

But with the May-July beachfront packed with fanboy tentpoles, studios have scheduled such a blanket of high-profile, mid-range pics that there are worries the August marketplace may be overcrowded.

There are a plethora of films debuting throughout the month, beginning over the July 31-Aug. 2 weekend when Universal takes Judd Apatow’s “Funny People” into theaters. Laffer stars Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen.

The next weekend, four wide entries enter the market — Paramount’s “G.I. Joe” (the only August title that could be considered a tentpole), the Meryl Streep-Amy Adams starrer “Julie and Julia,” and the Robert Rodriguez family pic “Shorts” and teen comedy “When in Rome.”

Over the Aug. 14 weekend, there are seven wide releases, including Ang Lee’s “Taking Woodstock,” the Eric Bana-Rachel McAdams pic “Time Traveler’s Wife,” Disney’s “Ponyo,” Jeremy Piven-starrer “The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard” and sci-fi pic “District 9.”

On Aug. 21, Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds” is set to unspool.

The following Friday — Aug. 28 — Warner Bros.’ “The Final Destination,” Dimension’s “Halloween 2″ and U’s Philip Seymour Hoffman dramedy “The Boat That Rocked” all open.

With Labor Day unusually late this year, Hollywood gets another weekend (Sept. 4-7) before fall officially starts at the B.O. This one, too, is loaded with wide releases, including Fox’s Sandra Bullock-Bradley Cooper romantic comedy “All About Steve,” an atypical holiday entry.

One-off successes like “The Sixth Sense” in 1999 or “Signs” in 2002 — both from Disney — gave studios confidence to slot films in August. Those two remain the highest grossing August pics of all time domestically at $293.5 million and $228 million, respectively.

“People soured on August because it was a dumping ground for so long, but I don’t believe August deserves it,” Disney prexy of domestic distribution Chuck Viane says.

“July releases get a lot of credit, but the credit really goes to August, because they make most of their money then. ‘Sixth Sense’ played and played,” Viane adds. “What I’ve always liked about August is if you have a movie that plays to teens and college kids, they’re not quite in the swing of things when they first return to school.”

Still, it’s a rough road. And if studios have begun to use August more and more, it had mostly been the first two weekends — until now.

Of all the films that opened in the second half of August, the highest grossing film is Apatow’s “Superbad,” which cumed $121.5 million domestically for Sony after opening Aug. 17, 2007.

Last year, Paramount and DreamWorks’ comedy “Tropic Thunder,” directed by Ben Stiller, opened Aug. 17 and cumed $110.5 million domestically.

In terms of using August to open franchise pics, Universal has broken the most ground, having debuted both “The Bourne Ultimatum” and “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” in early August.

“Ultimatum” is the third-highest August grosser ever after “Sixth Sense” and “Signs,” cuming $227.5 million in North America.

At $102.5 million, results for “Mummy” were far less impressive domestically, although it made up ground overseas, where it cumed $298.6 million.

May, June or July releases can exceed $1 billion in revenues. That number decreases in August.

In 2000, the films released in August grossed a combined $595 million domestically, yet no film jumped the $100 million mark. The crop was led by “Space Cowboys” ($90.5 million” and “Hollow Man” ($73.2 million.)

By August 2007, that figure jumped to $871.5 million, a 47% increase from 2000. Thatwas fueled in large part by “Bourne.” Last year’s August haul dipped back down to $660.3 million because of the way the calendar fell.

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