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Successful sequels headline summer season

Molly Griffin | Monday, August 30, 2004

SequelsSometimes it seems that Hollywood’s mantra is, “If something works once, keep doing it until it stops making money.” Staying true to this philosophy, the defining feature of this summer’s movie lineup was cinematic déjà vu, also known as the sequel. It wasn’t just the usual gang of big-budget blockbusters that had sequels but instead was a trend that spread across all film genres. We had the expected sequels like “Spider-Man 2,” “The Bourne Supremacy,” “Shrek 2” and “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” and less-expected second installments of smaller films like “Before Sunrise” and “The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement.” There were also some interesting films like “The Exorcist: The Beginning” which is a prequel to the hugely successful “Exorcist” series and “Alien Vs. Predator,” which was an interesting hybrid of characters from the “Alien” and “Predator” films. The fact that Hollywood recycled ideas and characters again isn’t surprising, but the fact that most of the sequels put out this summer were as good, if not better than the originals, was shocking.

Disappointing Box OfficesSome movies just seem like they can’t fail. Whether they have a big-name cast, a huge marketing budget or a character that already has been successful, these movies just seem destined to top the box office. Unfortunately, even these seemingly perfect films can be unsuccessful, and like all tragedies, it is usually due to one fatal flaw. Failure in movies is often measured monetarily, but for the movie-going public, real failure is when a movie just isn’t as good as you had anticipated. “The Stepford Wives” had an all-star cast, but it couldn’t overcome the curse of being a remake. “Troy” had beefcakes Brad Pitt and Eric Bana fighting in skirts, a formula that would seem to appeal to everyone, but when you try to make an ancient Greek classic into a popcorn movie, you usually don’t please anyone. “King Arthur” ran into the same history against Hollywood problems as “Troy,” even with a half-naked Kiera Knightly. The empire that is the Olsen Twins began to show signs of instability with “New York Minute,” proving that no one, not even the queens of teen, can keep adolescent girls happy. Tom Hanks plus Steven Spielberg plus Catherine Zeta-Jones should not equal failure, but “The Terminal” was just too schmaltzy and contrived to keep audiences happy. This summer, it seemed like the movies that appeared most likely to succeed were the most spectacular failures of all.

Big Indie MoviesThis was the summer of the underdog, and we’re not just talking about Spider-Man again. Independent films had a huge summer at the box office, both critically and commercially. One of the most controversial films of the year, “Fahrenheit 9/11” became the most successful documentary in history, and the current underground favorite “Napoleon Dynamite” has proven that independent films not only can make back their cost in box office receipts, but can also beat out bigger movies at the box office. Other films such as “Saved!”, “Garden State”, the director’s cut of “Donnie Darko” and the foreign film “Hero” have had major success this summer, and have changed the way the public looks at summer films. Hopefully, the success of these independent films will let us expect less “The Day after Tomorrow” and more “Super Size Me” in summers to come.The Demise of Teen MoviesThere was a stretch of time when teen movies could not fail. It produced the “American Pie” trilogy, launched Freddie Prinze Jr. into superstardom and made prom seem like the pinnacle of existence. The summer of 2004 revealed that the era of Jason Biggs and his kin was very much over. With the exception of “Mean Girls,” it was a slow season for the teen genre. “Sleepover” barely made a blip at the box office; Hillary Duff’s “A Cinderella Story” was forgettable, as was the Olsen Twins’ “New York Minute.” “White Chicks” aimed for the Adam Sandler audience and missed. The only effort at the bathroom-humor-driven teen comedy, “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle,” while not a failure, revealed an end of an era.

What Happened to August?Throughout June and July, it seemed like the good movies coming out would never stop. Major films were duking it out for the top of the box office, and the general public was winning. Once August came, all of the movie sources seem to have dried up. Where we once had “Spider-Man 2” fighting “The Bourne Supremacy” and “Harry Potter” for the No. 1 spot in the box office, we now have “AVP” and “The Exorcist: The Beginning” beating everyone hands down. Maybe the studios are afraid that school and work will suck off a lot of viewers, but when do we need new, good movies as an excuse not to do our work more than at the beginning of the school year?