Summer 2007 has a dream line-up of franchise properties, with an average per-film domestic gross across the four biggest series of almost $350m.

Director Sam Raimi and stars Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst are back for Sony's Spider-Man 3. The film's May 4 domestic opening marks a return to the early summer slot in which 2002's original grossed $403.7m domestically and $418m internationally (the second instalment was released in late-June 2004 and grossed $38m less worldwide).

The film will see its world premiere in Tokyo, open in almost 4,000 domestic locations and launch day-and-date with the US in around 110 countries with more than 11,000 prints.

The early summer saturation opening follows the strategy Sony used last year for The Da Vinci Code, 'with obviously great results', says Mark Zucker, president of distribution for Sony Pictures Releasing International (SPRI).

School's out for Shrek
DreamWorks Animation/Paramount's Shrek The Third arrives on May 18 with voice stars Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy and Antonio Banderas returning with new directors Chris Miller and Raman Hui and some new writers joining regulars J David Stern and Joe Stillman.

The domestic date is almost the same as those for 2001's Shrek and 2004's Shrek 2 (which took $267.7m and $441.2m domestically and $216.7m and $479.4m internationally) and the third film will also follow its predecessors internationally, opening in a few territories in May but most in mid to late-June.

'In most markets, we're going in anywhere between one and two weeks before school holidays and playing right through school holidays,' says Paramount Pictures International president Andrew Cripps.

Capitalising on a cliffhanger
Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End, from Disney and Buena Vista International, will be treated differently from its franchise predecessors, which opened in early July. Last year's Dead Man's Chest grossed $423.3m domestically and $642.3m internationally, but this year Disney opts for a May 25 Memorial Day weekend domestic launch and the company's biggest ever day-and-date international opening in more than 100 territories.

The plan, explains Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group president Mark Zoradi, is to capitalise on anticipation caused by the second film's cliffhanger ending. At World's End should also benefit, he says, from having Geoffrey Rush re-join regulars Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley (and returning director Gore Verbinski), and from the addition to the cast of Asian star Chow Yun-fat.

'Our objective is to do as well as the second, and if we got above that it would just be a cherry on top,' says Zoradi.

Harry should benefit from book buzz
Warner's Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix will be only the second of the five Potter films so far to open in the summer. The first, June 2004 release Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban, was the franchise's lowest-grossing entry to date (with $249.5m domestic and $540.3m international).

Warner is giving the fifth film - which puts new director David Yates together with returning stars and at least one cast addition - a July 13 domestic launch away from the other three big franchise sequels and a day-and-date opening in most of the rest of the world. The date will also allow the film to benefit from the buzz surrounding the July 22 publication in English-speaking territories of the seventh and final Harry Potter book.

'We wanted to be close to or right on top of school holidays whenever they break around the world,' says Veronika Kwan-Rubinek, president, distribution at Warner Bros Pictures International.

The studio will be hoping, as a result, to get closer to the performance of November 2005's Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire, which took $290m domestically and $602m internationally.