The Majors: Universal

Top pix: 'Bruce Almighty,' 'The Cat in the Hat'

For most intents and purposes, 2003 didn’t really start for Universal until May 23.

But after “Bruce Almighty,” which went on to an omnipotent $242 million B.O. run, the releases came fast and furious.

During the summer alone, U unspooled six pics in 70 days, and the studio rounded out the rest of the year with such big holiday releases as “The Cat in the Hat” and “Peter Pan.”

After a modest 2002, which lacked any true tentpoles, U delivered a much more ambitious slate that delivered more than $1 billion at the box office, on par with its best mark, $1.086 billion in 2000.

The studio also had six films pass the $100 million line with “2 Fast 2 Furious,” “The Hulk,” “Seabiscuit” and “American Wedding” in addition to “Bruce” and the “Cat.”

All this went on while the drama of Vivendi Universal’s auction of its entertainment properties played out in public, eventually resulting in an acquisition by General Electric’s NBC.

“The performance this year will be our best year on fewer films with higher per-film gross — all of this accomplished amidst the distraction and stress involved with the sale process,” says vice chairman Marc Shmuger.

While most of the outside attention paid to U in 2004 will likely be on how the studio meshes with its new corporate owners after the Peacock deal closes (expected in the spring), the studio’s production team has not eased up.

Next year’s slate is led by “Mummy” maestro Stephen Sommers’ “Van Helsing,” along with major sequels “The Bourne Supremacy”; “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason”; and “The Chronicles of Riddick,” with Vin Diesel.

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