2003: Attack Of The Hollywood Sequels

Sequels succeeded so well in 2002 that film studios have decided to do an encore.

So 2003 shapes up as Year of the Sequel, Part 2. About two dozen followup movies, along with a few prequels, are on the lineup, some craved by audiences for a decade or more, others hitting theaters less than a year after their predecessors.

The four-year wait for a followup to the sci-fi smash "The Matrix" ends in a big way. In mid-May, Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne and Carrie-Anne Moss continue their battle against Earth's machine conquerers in "The Matrix Reloaded," to be followed just six months later by "The Matrix Revolutions," the trilogy's end.

The "Matrix" sequels were shot simultaneously, like the three installments of Peter Jackson's "The Lord of the Rings," whose current chapter, "The Two Towers," is on track to surpass the box-office results of 2001's "The Fellowship of the Ring."

There's only about 330 days of impatient pacing left till the final chapter of Jackson's treatment of J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy epic arrives. "The Return of the King" opens just before Christmas, concluding the whirlwind release of all three films in a two-year span.

In contrast, it's been 12 years since Arnold Schwarzenegger's cyborg-from-the-future promised he'd be back. He finally returns over the Fourth of July in "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines," battling a female cyborg babe sent back by evil machines to snuff the now-adult savior of humanity, John Connor.

Other big sequels: Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen and the rest of the superhuman mutants in the new "X-Men" chapter, "X2"; "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle," reuniting chic heroes Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu; "American Wedding," in which some of the "American Pie" gang attend the nuptials of gross-gag victim Jason Biggs and band geek Alyson Hannigan; "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider — The Cradle of Life," with Angelina Jolie back in action as the roaming hero of the video game; and Will Smith and Martin Lawrence as narcotics cops in "Bad Boys II."

Also, "The Fast and the Furious 2," minus Vin Diesel but with Paul Walker and loads more souped-up cars; Antonio Banderas back with his espionage family for "Spy Kids 3," and reprising his gunslinging "Desperado" role in "Once Upon a Time in Mexico"; Reese Witherspoon's new day in court with "Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde"; and Ice Cube with another bad hair day in "Barbershop 2."

Then there's "The Jungle Book 2," Disney's followup to its animated classic; "Scary Movie 3," the latest in the horror-spoof franchise; "Shanghai Knights," Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson's followup to "Shanghai Noon"; and "The Whole Ten Yards," a new hitman comedy with Bruce Willis and Matthew Perry of "The Whole Nine Yards."

Given the success of 2002 franchises such as "The Lord of the Rings," "Star Wars," "Harry Potter," "Austin Powers" and "Men in Black," it's hard to knock the business sense in giving audiences more of the same.

"Studios want to make movies people want to see. It's all about getting butts in the seats," said John Singleton, director of "The Fast and the Furious 2." "People respond to characters they admire and love. If you've had a successful film with characters like that, why not make a followup?"

This year also brings some cross-breeding among movie series: There's the animated "The Rugrats Meet the Wild Thornberrys," and the slasher duel "Freddy Vs. Jason," matching the killers of "A Nightmare on Elm Street" and "Friday the 13th."

On the prequel front are "Gods and Generals," with Robert Duvall in a forerunner to "Gettysburg"; "Exorcist: The Beginning," with Stellan Skarsgard as the priest of the horror smash in his first satanic encounter, in Africa; and "When Harold Met Lloyd: Dumb & Dumberer," set in the teen years of the idiot brothers of "Dumb and Dumber."

Highlights for winter and spring, generally Hollywood's slowest period, include:

Ben Affleck as the superhero of the comic-book adaptation "Daredevil"; "National Security," pairing Martin Lawrence and Steve Zahn as ex-cops relegated to guard jobs; and "The Hunted," with Tommy Lee Jones as a tracker chasing an assassin (Benicio Del Toro).

Also, "Veronica Guerin," starring Cate Blanchett as the slain Irish reporter who crusaded against crime; Al Pacino in the CIA thriller "The Recruit"; "The Life of David Gale," featuring Kevin Spacey as an opponent of capital punishment who lands on Death Row; and "Tears of the Sun," with Bruce Willis as a Navy SEAL on a rescue mission.

Adam Sandler offers a spring prelude to the busy summer season with "Anger Management," playing a peaceable man whose outburst on an airplane puts him under the care of a rage adviser (Jack Nicholson).

For Nicholson, "Anger Management" offered a slapstick respite from the dark humor of his current film, "About Schmidt," which is expected to earn him his latest Academy Awards nomination.

"I just went in the opposite direction, and I often do that. I just like to blow it out the other side," Nicholson said of the transition. "This one is antic comedy. That's everything I always get bad reviews for, but hopefully it's also what the public loves."

Along with the rush of sequels, which generally start arriving just before Memorial Day, summer flicks include:

The animated under-the-sea tale "Finding Nemo," from the creators of "Toy Story" and "Monsters, Inc.", and the animated above-the-water adventure "Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas"; Jim Carrey's comedy "Bruce Almighty," about a man given God's omnipotent powers; the comic-book adaptation "The Hulk"; and Russell Crowe in the high-seas adventure "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World."

Also, Ridley Scott's con-man caper "Matchstick Men," starring Nicolas Cage; Eddie Murphy's comedy among the kiddies, "Daddy Day Care"; Kevin Costner's return to directing with "Open Range," co-starring Robert Duvall; and the unusual hybrid "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen," starring Sean Connery in a meeting of Victorian literary figures from the works of Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Bram Stoker and others.

Among big fall and holiday releases:

Mike Myers in "Dr. Seuss' the Cat in the Hat"; Tom Cruise in "The Last Samurai," about a U.S. soldier teaching modern warfare in 1870s Japan; "Cold Mountain," starring Nicole Kidman in an adaptation of the best-seller set during the Civil War; the Coen brothers' battle-of-the-sexes story "Intolerable Cruelty," with George Clooney; Julia Roberts as a freethinking art professor in "Mona Lisa Smile"; "Out of Time," starring Denzel Washington as a cop troubled by a double homicide; Uma Thurman as a vengeful former assassin in Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill"; and "The Alamo," with Billy Bob Thornton and Dennis Quaid in a new dramatization of the infamous last stand.