Hollywood Headed for Record Year

This summer in Hollywood, directors are yelling, "Lights! Camera! Action! Action! And more action!"

Spider-Man 2's record-breaking $40.5 million open on Wednesday proved when it comes to success, you can't mess with a winning formula. A big-budget action movie with eye-popping effects set amid story lines for all ages translates into Hollywood gold.

Tobey Maguire's second turn in the Spidey suit will likely join Shrek 2 and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban as the most watched movies of the summer, while helping studios claim a banner year at the box office.

Ticket sales before Spider-Man opened, at the midpoint of the summer, were already topping $1.7 billion for the year, according to box office tracker Exhibitor Relations. The number is in pace with 2002, which set a record for attendance level. The numbers are already speaking well and it's likely the ticket sales will keep going, as many of the most anticipated movies are still to come.

"The release pattern for this summer was very orderly, spread out pretty well. [We] still have King Arthur, The Village, Manchurian Candidate, Anchorman, I Robot, The Bourne Supremacy, Catwoman — and that's just July," said Paul Dergarabedian, Exhibitor's president.

Lone Female

Lurking behind Spidey is another comic-based star hoping for glory. Halle Berry goes on the prowl as a different sort of Catwoman.

"This film has no connection to Batman or Gotham City, so the character that Michelle Pfeiffer played has nothing to do with this," said Susannah Gora, associate editor at Premiere.

Berry plays a graphic designer at a cosmetics company who gains super powers (and a skintight catsuit), and a love interest in the form of a police detective played by Benjamin Bratt. She just may need some special skills to fend off the guys at the box office when the movie opens July 23.

Berry is the lone female amid a host of male leads this month. There's Matt Damon reviving his role as CIA agent Jason Bourne in The Bourne Supremacy. This time he's wrongly accused of assassinating a Chinese politician. The actor will look to further prove himself as an action hero, as Damon whips through all of his own stunts.

If you're looking for laughs, you can always count on Saturday Night Live alums. Will Ferrell trades in his Elf attire later this month for polyester suits as a 1970s Anchorman and ladies' man.

Popcorn and Politics

This year, as in all election years, celebrities will speak out and try to boost their favorite candidate. And this time the politicians just might return the favor in terms of helping ticket sales. Politically themed movies are finding a welcome audience.

The documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 is among the success stories so far — opening to sold out crowds and generating enough interest that distributors are doubling the release to 1,700 screens for its second week.

"[Interest] is going to hold … while we're still in an election year and the election hasn't happened yet," said Dergarabedian.

He says part of what's driving that success is an interesting shift among moviegoers in 2004. He's been noticing more "older audiences coming out to the theaters." And he thinks that will help another politically themed drama this summer, the remake of The Manchurian Candidate.

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