Summer Movie Previews 2002
Many films that will actually be worth the price of admission
by Beth Rowen
May 3, 2002, didn't look like summer, and it certainly didn't feel like summer. But to Hollywood, that Friday was sizzling. Indeed, it was the day Spider-Man swung into theaters and redefined the summer blockbuster.
The film took in a mind-blowing $114 million in its first weekend of release, smashing the record previously held by Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, which tallied a mere $90 million its opening weekend. Praised for its literary adaptation of the classic comic book series, Spider-Man appealed to virtually all audiences. But teenage boys and women over 30 accounted for a big chunk of ticket sales. It's not often those two demographics rub elbows in the same theater at the megaplex.
The summer of 2002 is poised to become the most profitable for Hollywood in history. That's not all that unusual; box-office grosses tend to rise each year. What is remarkable is that many of the films will actually be worth the price of admission. Here's a look at the most anticipated films of the summer.
The hype—and the marketing tie-ins—for Spider-Man debuted at full throttle months before the film hit theaters in May. Few films ever live up to such high expectations. Sam Raimi's, however, defied the odds. Its success can likely be attributed to the scaled-down, personal touches rare in summer blockbusters.
The film updates the superhero's comic book beginnings. New York City teen Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) gets bitten by a genetically altered spider and slowly awakens to his newfound powers, initially using them to impress the girl next door, Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst). Spidey stumbles into crime fighting just in time to combat the Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), who wreaks civic havoc on a flying surfboard. Unlike most superheroes, Spider-Man harbors a socially awkward, plainly human side under the flashy costume. Soft-faced Tobey Maguire fills the role perfectly. Fans should be satisfied with director Raimi's adaptation, and newcomers will get a sense of character rare in superhero movies. That and truckloads of CGI special effects. But it's the terrestrial drama that gives this film kick.
Star Wars Episode II—Attack of the Clones
Episode I debuted in 1999 to perhaps the biggest media hype in film history. Fans and critics, however, were disappointed. (The film nevertheless was the top-grosser of 1999 and remains the third-highest-grossing of all time.) George Lucas has somewhat redeemed himself with Attack of the Clones, which is a marked improvement over its predecessor and will in all likelihood tangle with Spider-Man's web of box-office records. Attack is an action-paced, visual tour de force, anything but "flat," which is how star Ewan McGregor described the last installment. The film, much darker than previous entries, combines love, death, doom, Freud, and, of course, war, with Jedi knight Obi-Wan Kenobi (McGregor) battling to thwart Count Dooku's (Christopher Lee) separatist movement that threatens the Galactic Republic. Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman), now a senator, is reunited with Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), now her hunky bodyguard, and sparks fly. Lucas has certainly mastered digital effects but he has yet to develop a knack for writing snappy dialogue, and lines such as Anakin's gushing to Amidala: "I don't like the sand. It's coarse and rough and irritating—not like you. You're soft and smooth," are jaw-dropping clunkers.
Robin Williams is about as far out of character as an actor can get in the tension-filled Insomnia, Christopher Nolan's adaptation of the 1998 Norwegian thriller. But he's convincing and downright scary as a murderous novelist. Al Pacino plays a tormented LA cop, plagued by the title condition, dispatched to Alaska to investigate the murder of a teenager. He's aided by an astute local cop (Hilary Swank). A taut thriller from the director of the fabulous and equally tense Memento.
About a Boy
It was either counter programming or just plain old bad luck. About a Boy, based on Nick Hornby's sharp 1998 novel, opened opposite Attack of the Clones. But there are certainly plenty of moviegoers who don't get the whole Star Wars thing, and this acerbic comedy makes a worthy alternative. Hugh Grant stars as Will Freeman, a thirtysomething, technophile cad living off his trust fund in London. He's given up on young-single women, so he has set his sights on single mothers, opining that they're vulnerable, desperate, and used to rejection. He finds redemption in an unlikely place: a troubled 12 year old (Nicholas Hoult) who looks to Will to save him from vicious schoolyard bullies. American Pie directors Chris and Paul Weitz grow up with style in their move to adult comedy.
Talk about box-office gold: Tom Cruise and Steven Spielberg teaming up for a sci-fi summer blockbuster. Plot details have been shrouded in secrecy, but the movie, based on a story by Philip K. Dick, revolves around a futuristic police unit that busts criminals before they commit the offenses. Cruise's character finds himself on the wrong side of the firing squad when he's targeted by his own unit.
The Bourne Identity
Indie director Doug Liman (Go, Swingers) takes a big step into mainstream filmmaking with this adaptation of the first in Robert Ludlum's Bourne trilogy. Matt Damon also tackles new ground: the action-thriller genre. He plays an amnesiac fished out of the Mediterranean Sea, riddled with bullets. He discovers he's had extensive plastic surgery and a microchip implanted in his hip. As he tries to trace his past, he's targeted by a group of assassins. Franka Potente plays a woman from his past who reluctantly helps him unearth the mystery that is his life.
Angela Bassett and The Sopranos' Edie Falco star as two women, with no ties to one another, who return to their small Florida town to mend fences with their families after giving up on acting careers. A development spree has transformed their town into a resort destination, and they try to start fresh in an unfamiliar landscape. Count on director John Sayles to thoughtfully explore family relationships, failure, and redemption.
Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood
In her directorial debut, Thelma and Louise scripter Callie Khouri brings Rebecca Wells's best-selling 1996 novel to the big screen and with it the assumption that the movie falls under the unfortunate "chick flick" category. When playwright Sidda Lee (Sandra Bullock) and her Southern mother, Vivi (Ellen Burstyn), become estranged just before Sidda's wedding, Vivi's friends (Shirley Knight, Maggie Smith, and Fionnula Flanagan), step in to try to reunite the women, who have long had a rocky relationship. The film is partially told in flashback, looking back on Vivi's life. Ashley Judd plays Vivi in her 20s and 30s.
Austin Powers in Goldmember
The third film in the now cult series almost had to settle for the blandly succinct title Austin Powers 3, until MGM, which releases the James Bond films and thought Goldmember was an all too obvious spoof of Goldfinger, lightened up and gave New Line the greenlight to use Goldmember. What was the problem? There's certainly no confusing the two superspies. Mike Myers once again takes on multiple roles, playing the titular lecherous international spy, Dr. Evil, Fat Bastard, and the new character, Goldmember. Powers time travels back to the 1970s to save his father (Michael Caine) from the forces of Dr. Evil. Destiny's Child Beyoncé Knowles, sporting a killer afro, costars as Foxy Cleopatra, his shagging and spying partner.
Men in Black II
Five years ago, Agent Kay (Tommy Lee Jones) lost all memory of ever decimating aliens and has since been at the mercy of the U.S. Post Office. Agent Jay (Will Smith) turns on the charm to recruit the reluctant agent back to the ranks of MIB to save the world from shape-shifting baddie Serleena (Lara Flynn Boyle), who poses as a sensual lingerie model. Director Barry Sonnenfeld needs a hit after recent bombs Wild Wild West and Big Trouble.
Road to Perdition
This will be worth the price of admission just to see Tom Hanks as a badly mustachioed 1930s hit man. With Oscar-winning American Beauty director Sam Mendes at the helm, the film's an absolute must-see. Hanks works for a father-figure don (Paul Newman) in Chicago and loses his cool when his wife (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is murdered. Bent on revenge, he entangles himself with much more dangerous mobsters.
K-19: The Widowmaker
Harrison Ford returns to the genre he does best: intrigue-action. This time around he plays the captain of a Russian sub that nearly malfunctions, threatening a core meltdown and explosion that could trigger an all-out nuclear war. Told from the view of the Russians during the height of the cold war, the film re-creates a real-life event that forced Captain Vostrikov to choose between following orders or saving his men. Liam Neeson plays the captain's executive officer.
Gravel-voiced Vin Diesel achieved superstar status with The Fast and the Furious, and he has reteamed with director Rob Cohen for XXX, starring as an extreme athlete turned NSA superagent who infiltrates the Russian mob. He redefines action hero as he surfs on a Corvette, navigates a steep staircase on a snowboard, and outruns a helicopter on a motorcross bike. A franchise in the making?
Supernatural wizard M. Night Shyamalan, who scored box office gold in 1999 with The Sixth Sense, returns after his inferior sophomore effort Unbreakable with another paranormal thriller. Mel Gibson's father and former minister seeks out an explanation when he discovers towering crop circles on his Pennsylvania farm. Joaquin Phoenix plays his brother, and Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin his children.
Director Steven Soderbergh has called the experimental Full Frontal the "spiritual sequel" to his career-defining sex, lies and videotape, although none of the characters from sex have returned. Shot in just three weeks for just $2 million with plenty of improvisation, the movie-within-a-movie follows an actor (Blair Underwood) and a journalist (Julia Roberts) for 24 hours as they cultivate a relationship, despite the Hollywood backdrop and its rampant vanity.
One would expect a scathing, cynical look at relationships from director Neil LaBute (In the Company of Men, Your Friends and Neighbors), but he insists he has taken a romantic turn with Possession, an adaptation of A.S. Byatt's Booker Prize-winning 1990 novel. Two literary scholars (Gwyneth Paltrow and LaBute mainstay Aaron Eckhart) cross paths when they both uncover a forbidden romance between two 19th-century poets (Jeremy Northam and Jennifer Ehle). Director Jane Campion also considered adapting the novel for the big screen, but reportedly found it too daunting.
The Good Girl
Jennifer Aniston sheds her Friends upbeat, cute-as-a-button persona in this dark comedy about a frumpy grocery-store cashier fed up with her pothead husband. She tries to spice up her life by sleeping with a brooding teen (Jake Gyllenhaal). Fox Searchlight paid Miguel Arteta and Mike White, the directing-writing team responsible for the black comedy Chuck & Buck, $4 million for the film at Sundance, one of the few to make a splash at the fest.
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