Hollywood's powerhouse summer of 2007 launched some of the biggest worldwide hits in cinema history. The indications are the 2008 blockbuster season may write itself into the record books too.
If last year's summer was distinguished by lucrative third episodes of killer franchises such as Spider-Man, Pirates Of The Caribbean and Shrek, this year, on paper at least, promises to be a case study in franchise building.
There are the returning favourites and long-time absentees such as Paramount's Indiana Jones (19 years since the last episode) and Universal's The Mummy 3 (seven years), both of which will need to rekindle the enthusiasm of fans everywhere to generate numbers befitting a 21st-century global smash.
Can Disney's The Chronicles Of Narnia: Prince Caspian, Warner Bros' The Dark Knight, Universal's Hellboy II: The Golden Army and Fox's The X-Files 2 fulfil their destinies and join the likes of Shrek and Spider-Man in the pantheon of box-office titans' Will audiences be willing to put aside the memories of Ang Lee's Hulk and support Universal/Marvel's The Incredible Hulk and its talented cast'
And speaking of superheroes and larger-than-life characters, do Paramount/Marvel's Iron Man, Sony's Hancock and Warner Bros' Speed Racer and Get Smart have the chops to launch new franchises that will stick around for the next 10 years'
These, along with many other new titles, will have to weather the usual storms: a packed, highly competitive marketplace; the chronic threat of piracy; fickle audiences; and alternative entertainment, which in the case of European football fans does not get much bigger than the European Championships in Austria and Switzerland (June 7-29).
MAY: THE CONTENDERS
Iron Man (Paramount)
Made Of Honor (Sony)
Speed Racer (Warner Bros)
The Chronicles Of Narnia: Prince Caspian (Disney)
Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull (Paramount)
Sex And The City (Fox)
The season kicks off on and around May 2 with the day-and-date international release through Paramount Pictures International (PPI) of Marvel Studios' Iron Man starring Robert Downey Jr and Gwyneth Paltrow.
The same weekend will see Sony Pictures Releasing International (Spri) open the rom-com Made Of Honor featuring love-struck Patrick Dempsey and Michelle Monaghan day and date with North America in the UK, France, Australia and Russia. The film will roll out everywhere else into August.
The second weekend in May sees the start of day-and-date launches through Warner Bros Pictures International (Wbpi) of the much-hyped family-style anime adaptation Speed Racer starring Emile Hirsch, and Fox International's Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher rom-com What Happens In Vegas.
Fox International is betting on this becoming the sleeper hit of the summer and is keen to launch it several weeks before Sex And The City goes out through New Line International.
On May 16, Disney releases its fantasy sequel The Chronicles Of Narnia: Prince Caspian. The first Narnia film grossed $453m in international markets in 2005 and there are high expectations for the follow-up. It will launch in Asia and Latin America in May and early June, with Europe to follow at the start of the holiday season in late June and early July after the European Championships.
'Wherever we're opening, we are the movie that weekend without any major new competition,' says David Kornblum, Wdsmpi's vice-president of international sales and distribution.
Arguably the biggest film of the summer, if not the year, is Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull, which launches day and date through PPI on May 22. At press time it was rumoured to be Cannes-bound for an out-of-competition slot.
PPI chief Andrew Cripps declined to comment on that, but was happy to point out PPI's research shows an estimated 200 million people watched the trailer for the fourth instalment in the series, which went out at the beginning of March in theatres, television and online.
'We've done some early tracking and the awareness on this film is very high and unprecedented this far out,' Cripps says. 'It's been 19 years since the last one and we're not of the view you can take anything for granted and will be out there with a large multimedia campaign.
'The film has four-quadrant appeal and is the kind of title you go day and date on. It's two weeks before the European Championships and it's important we get that headstart in the European markets before the tournament begins.'
Paramount's home-entertainment divisions will release the three previous Indiana Jones films on DVD and the plan is to have global broadcasters show them in the coming months.
Promotional partners are handled by LucasFilm and range from Burger King to Kellogg's to mobile-phone operator O2 in the UK. For the record, Raiders Of The Lost Ark grossed approximately $156m overseas in today's dollars, while Temple Of Doom took $272m and The Last Crusade took $350m.
JUNE: THE CONTENDERS
The Incredible Hulk (Universal)
Kung Fu Panda (Paramount)
Get Smart (Warner Bros)
The Happening (Fox)
You Don't Mess With The Zohan (Sony)
June's big day-and-date release is Marvel's The Incredible Hulk, which Universal and Universal Pictures International (UPI) will take out in North America and many territories on or around the June 13 weekend. Marvel sold certain rights in Germany, France and Spain.
Worldwide marketing and distribution chief Adam Fogelson called the film a 'four-quadrant super-event Marvel comic-book movie' and believes the heavyweight cast of Ed Norton, Liv Tyler and William Hurt will dispel memories of the disappointing gross of Ang Lee's Hulk in 2003.
'You'll see more of the heroic character in this film and the villain is more of a worthy adversary,' Fogelson says, adding that there are more promotional partners on this film than any other Universal title in 2008. UPI chief David Kosse simply says: 'Watch the new trailer.' Nonetheless it will be fascinating to see how fans react to this bold attempt to reinvent the franchise.
PPI releases its big animation title of the summer, Kung Fu Panda, day and date with the June 6 domestic release in Asia and Russia and will roll out in Europe in July after the European Championships.
Wbpi releases its spy-caper television adaptation Get Smart with Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway day and date in North America and Asia on June 20, and will open in Latin America within two weeks of this date. The film will appear in Europe in July and August after the football, while Australia is set for July 3.
Fox International is taking on the might of Euro 2008 and will launch M Night Shyamalan's latest sci-fi tale The Happening, starring Mark Wahlberg, day and date on or around June 13, with Japan to follow on July 26. Spri's comedy You Don't Mess With The Zohan, starring Adam Sandler, goes out in June in the high piracy markets of Russia, Mexico and Australia and rolls out in Europe in July after the European Championships.
UPI launches the graphic-novel adaptation Wanted, a franchise in the making if ever there was one, day and date everywhere on June 27, except Europe where it will roll out in July and the rest of the summer.
Wdsmpi's latest potential blockbuster from Pixar, Wall-E, opens in the UK in July after the June 27 domestic release, and will follow the pattern of Ratatouille last year: Europe in July and August, German-speaking Europe and Italy in October, and Japan in December.
'It's visually spectacular and extremely endearing,' Kornblum said. 'It's a date movie - there's so much heart in the story.'
Amid the hype over last summer's huge day-and-date releases, the prospect of Ratatouille's staggered roll-out initially raised eyebrows, but went on to gross $414m overseas.
JULY: THE CONTENDERS
The Love Guru (Paramount)
Hellboy II: The Golden Army (Universal)
Mamma Mia (Universal)
The X-Files 2 (Fox)
The Dark Knight (Warner Bros)
Spri's tentpole release is the original action tale Hancock, starring Will Smith as a superhero who has lost his mojo. It opens day-and-date with North America on the July 4 weekend in approximately 85% of the world, followed by Japan in late August and Italy in September.
'We have one of the top three stars in the world and it's original,' Spri distribution president Mark Zucker says. 'I would say this is going to be one of the most exciting films this summer and will work for us around the world.'
PPI launches the Mike Myers comedy The Love Guru in most overseas markets on or around June 17, almost one month after the June 20 domestic release.
UPI will open Hellboy II: The Golden Army day and date with North America on July 11 in director Guillermo Del Toro's native territory Mexico and also Italy. Kosse notes this is the same weekend Wbpi released Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix to great success in Italy last year. The rest of the world follows later in the summer.
Mamma Mia, another Universal title, will launch before the US in most territories, starting in the UK on July 4 and Australia a week later, with the remainder going in July through to September.
Mulder and Scully return as Fox International prepares to launch The X-Files 2 with stalwarts David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson day and date in most markets on or around July 25. Australia and Germany will open on July 24, Mexico, Spain, Italy, Russia and Brazil on July 25, France on July 30, the UK on August 1 and Japan on November 29.
Meet Dave, the Eddie Murphy comedy recently switched to July 11 in North America, will go out day and date in all other markets in August except Japan, which has been set for December 13.
Wbpi's eagerly awaited Batman Begins follow-up The Dark Knight opens day and date with the domestic release on or around July 18 in Asia, Latin America and Australia, with Europe going within a few weeks of North America.
The UK opens on July 25 and Italy opens on July 23, just as Wbpi's Get Smart launches in Italy at the height of summer. Wbpi distribution chief Veronika Kwan-Rubinek and her team will be watching closely to see if they can replicate the successful July 2007 launch of Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix in Italy. The Italians, traditionally, do not like to be dragged away from their summer holidays, but as Harry Potter proved, the right film will make audiences take note.
'As long as we continue as an industry to put the product out there in the summer, we will build an appetite for product in the summer every time, so we are releasing Dark Knight in Italy in July,' Kwan-Rubinek says. 'We really do believe it's important to continue with as much product as possible.'
AUGUST: THE CONTENDERS
The Mummy: Tomb Of The Dragon Emperor (Universal)*
Meet Dave (Fox)**
Step Brothers (Sony)
Star Wars: The Clone Wars (Warner Bros)
* July in Asia
** July In US
UPI will launch The Mummy: Tomb Of The Dragon Emperor in China and Asia in the last week of July - one week ahead of the North American release on August 1. This is to get a two-week headstart in the region before the Beijing Olympics begins on August 8, and, of course, to thwart the pirates. Western Europe will go out day and date with North America, and Australia will open in September.
Wbpi's animated feature Star Wars: The Clone Wars opens in North America on August 15 domestic and the plan is to open around the world as close as possible to domestic. PPI's Ben Stiller and Jack Black comedy Tropic Thunder opens in North America on August 15 and goes out in August in Asia, Latin America and Australia and in September in Europe.
Apart from You Don't Mess With The Zohan, Spri has two more comedies this summer. Step Brothers starring Will Ferrell and John C Reilly, rolls out from August to October, and Pineapple Express with Seth Rogen goes out from September to November. Tom Tykwer's thriller The International with Clive Owen and Naomi Watts is set to avoid the mid-summer crush by rolling out from late August to October.
'The whole year is crowded,' Zucker says. 'Every weekend brings five or six new pictures in every country and we have also got to keep an eye on local films, which are getting better and better. It's a lot of product and things haven't slowed down at all. It's a great time to be in the international business.'