The Majors: Fox

Top pix: 'X2,' 'Daredevil'

Fox’s strategy of mixing pics of varying budgets, containing costs and sharing risks has become an effective organizing principle for the studio.

Fox saw 2003 as its “most profitable fiscal year ever,” says Hutch Parker, prexy of production at 20th Century Fox. “X2: X-Men United” proved its biggest hit, taking in just shy of $215 million, and “Daredevil” leaped to $102 million.

Results remain mixed, however, on the pricey U/Miramax/Fox co-production of “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World” and the Farrellys’ “Stuck on You.” Taking in barely $80 million domestically, the former raised questions about whether more of the 20-odd Patrick O’Brian books will make it to the screen.

There were a few disappointments, too: “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” underperformed, as did “Down With Love” and the Regency-backed “Runaway Jury.” And “From Justin to Kelly,” based on the wildly popular small-screen skein “American Idol” barely cracked $5 million.

Yet it was modestly priced movies that yielded the most interesting returns: “Just Married,” for example, made for $18 million, per Parker, enjoyed a $56 million honeymoon at the B.O. So, too, with “Phone Booth,” a barely $15 million pic that rang up $46 million at the box office. Says Parker: “We’ve gotten better at balancing production and development. When you have more opportunities for choice, you can make better decisions.”

For 2004, Fox will has high hopes for F/X-heavy Roland Emmerich pic “The Day After Tomorrow” and Will Smith-starrer “I, Robot.” Also on the menu: a CGI “Garfield” voiced by Bill Murray; a remake of French-lingo “Taxi” and the interbreeding of two Fox horror franchises in Paul W.S. Anderson’s “Alien vs. Predator,” aimed at summer release.

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