I don't think we're ever going to see a summer like last year that was so reliant on sequels and remakes," suggests Fox distribution executive Chris Aronson. "And that's a good thing."
It's not that the US film industry or those of France, Japan or India have slammed the door on commercial franchises. The summer is set to serve up the second chapter of the Narnia saga, a much delayed fourth instalment of Indiana Jones, new editions of Batman and The Mummy and a whole new take on The Hulk. In Japan there will be new chapters in such popular animated fare as Doraemon and Detective Conan, and Korea will see sequels to both Tazza and Public Enemy.
What prompts Aronson's postscript and the dominant perspective of members of the distribution and exhibition community is the fact it's the exception for a retread to outperform its inspiration at the box office.
"Remakes are an arithmetic more often than anything artistic," notes producer and former Universal chief Tom Pollock. "The trend is generally that it's going to cost 20% more and you'll gross one-third less. That's assuming you can get most of the original creative team to come back in a timely manner to some past success."
Though Pollock's percentages aren't rigidly reflected, last summer's statistics for major US releases involved higher production costs and general erosion for both theatrical and ancillary revenue. However, it doesn't simply boil down to a 2% box-office decline for the third Pirates Of The Caribbean or a 4% gain for Shrek The Third. Those details are anecdotal and fail to incorporate bumps in production and marketing budgets, greater profit participation that key talent demands or financial partnerships that tamp down studios' up-front risk and back-end profit.
Nonetheless, there was genuine surprise and fiscal benefit when Transformers - based on a popular toy and previously adapted to screen unsuccessfully in animated form two decades earlier - generated in excess of $700m theatrically. The most modest assessments indicate at least $200m in pure profit to the studio and that's sufficient incentive for a sequel that might provide only a $100m profit. Summer 2008 has, at least on paper, several potential M-like surprises, beginning with Speed Racer, the live-action adaptation of yet another Japanese anime favourite. There's also the appeal of a new comic-book superhero in Iron Man and one senses genuine excitement in Journey To The Centre Of The Earth 3D. Large format and digital 3D have very quickly shown a disproportional pull at the box office and a more concerted effort by film-makers to ensure the attraction evolves into an incorporated viewing option rather than a passing fad.
Another title with strong global appeal is Mamma Mia!, the musical drama propelled by the songs of 1970s chart toppers Abba. US musicals tend to struggle internationally but Mamma Mia! has an international feel to it, as it is shot in the UK and Greece and stars a string of international actors such as Colin Firth and Pierce Brosnan. Considering its global stage success, it could go on to generate international numbers close to Moulin Rouge's tally of $120m, a more dynamic performer than Hairspray, which grossed $80m outside the US.
More difficult to gauge in the coming season is the role indigenous movies will play in their own spheres of influence. A year ago the advertising cacophony for incoming US blockbusters sent most local releases scurrying for the shelter of autumn, which tended to depress major markets. India and South Korea were exceptions that released competitive slates and, especially the former, relied on past genre successes and marquee stars, which audiences found less compelling and a bit too commercially calculated.
If one looks for predictive clues in the viewing trends of the past decade, summer 2008 has several encouraging signs for audience expansion. The balance between originals and sequels favours the former and most major territories appear to be releasing competitive alternatives to Hollywood blockbusters. Now, the films simply have to be good to complete a fairy-tale ending.