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.
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.
The original 1962 Frank Sinatra drama tackled the Cold War and boosted the crooner to an Oscar win. For the new version of this political thriller, director Jonathan Demme stars Meryl Streep with Denzel Washington and Liev Schreiber as politicians and Gulf War vets. "I think it could get some reflected glory from Fahrenheit 9/11," said Dergarabedian.
Politics aside, it's popcorn, air conditioning and action heroes that filmgoers crave in the summer. And when the weather heats up there's one actor who can't be beat. "Will Smith is the go-to guy in the summer," said Dergarabedian.
With Smith's track record, it's no wonder the expectations are high for his July release, I, Robot. He previously battled aliens in the two Men in Blacks, and his flicks average $27 million per opening weekend.
His latest, out July 16, is based on the sci-fi stories of Isaac Asimov. It's 2035, and one in every 15 people has a robot domestic helper. Smith is investigating a potential murder by a robot and there should be "lots of cool visuals — the robots eventually become their own robot army," said Gora.
One good guy you won't see this summer is Tom Cruise. The handsome star trades in his pearly smile for a dark role in Collateral, his first villain since Interview With the Vampire.
Cruise plays a contract killer who hijacks a cab driven by Jamie Foxx. "What's going to be neat about this movie, not only is it action, [it's] also really a psychological thriller, in the sense that it's about these two men in a battle of wills," said Gora.
This tense street thriller arrives at the end of August, a time when the studios are typically winding down. As one of the last releases of the summer, Cruise could deliver Hollywood's final holiday breather by helping the industry end the season on a strong note.
ABC News Radio contributed to this report.