For Moviegoers, It's Summer

Actor Tobey Maguire stars as "Spider Man" in the title role along with co-star Kirsten Dunst (R) in the new action adventure film "Spider-Man" which opens in the United States May 3, 2002. The film is based on the famous Marvel comic book character. REUTERS/Columbia Pictures
REUTERS
It’s time for the boys of summer to hit the big screen.

Will Smith, Nicolas Cage, Hugh Grant, Mel Gibson and the A-list Toms – Hanks and Cruise- all have new movies opening in the coming weeks.

That’s because summer, when school is out and everyone has more leisure time, is the most lucrative time of the year for the film industry and studios vie with one another to produce the next blockbuster.

From sequels to spin-offs, “Star Wars” to “Men In Black,” Tom Cruise to digital dog Scooby-Doo, Hollywood is hoping for a big summer movie season - so big, in fact, they moved the summer up.

This year, “Spider-Man” launched the season when it debuted May 3, followed two weeks later on May 16 by “Star Wars: Episode II -- Attack of the Clones.”

“Enough” with Jennifer Lopez is a new thriller and comedian Robin Williams turns to murder in suspenseful “Insomnia,” while bachelor Hugh Grant mulls fatherhood in the comedy “About a Boy.” Families get animated adventure “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron.”

All of these movies have already opened, and Memorial Day is still a week away.

“There's so much that looks interesting and because there's something for everybody, it should be one of the biggest summers ever,” said Tom Sherak, a partner at Revolution Studios.

The last time the summer box office boiled up this much in May was 1999 when “Star Wars” Director George Lucas offered the fourth in the six-part series of space adventures. “Episode I - The Phantom Menace” set the tone for a record summer that also featured such smash hits “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me,” starring Mike Myers, and “Big Daddy” with Adam Sandler.

Those two - Myers and Sandler - are back as Hollywood studios debut one or two major motion pictures every week into August.

In late July, Myers returns as the movies' favorite international man of mystery, “Austin Powers in Goldmember,” to save the world from his long-time nemesis, Dr. Evil. The third adventure in the movies that spoof popular James Bond flicks has reunited Dr. Evil with Mini-Me and Fat Bastard (July 26).

“Many of the story lines and themes introduced in the first and second movies are resolved,” promises Toby Emmerich, who heads production at the film's backer, New Line Cinema.

Before “Goldmember,” comes Sandler in “Mr. Deeds” on June 28. It is based on 1936 classic “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town” about a small-town man who sets out for the big city.

In a match made in Hollywood heaven, Tom Cruise teams up for the first time with director Steven Speilberg. The result is the futuristic sci-fi thriller "Minority Report," in which the “Mission Impossible” star plays a futuristic cop who is fingered for a vicious murder - before it's even committed.

Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones reteam as alien -seeking agents fighting the scum of the universe in "Men In Black II."

“In the last, Tommy's memory was taken away,” said Director Barry Sonnenfeld. “Will has been top gun for five years, but they have to re-recruit Tommy to find out what's threatening the Earth -- because you always have to threaten Earth.”

Mel Gibson stars in "Signs," the latest supernatural thriller from "Sixth Sense" writer/director M. Night Shyamalan.

The most avid summer audiences are comprised chiefly of teens and college kids out of school. And the movies aimed at them - the ones people will hear the most about - are big-budget action adventures and comedies.

Of the action flicks, “Spider-Man” has the brains of Tobey Maguire behind the brawn of Spider-Man. He battles his nemesis, Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), and wins the heart of girl next door, Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst). To the action and special effects are added Spider-Man's complicated relationship with his friends and enemies. It's the latter element that has Hollywood filled with positive buzz over the movie.

For “Attack of the Clones,” Lucas has aged young Anakin Skywalker, and audiences meet him (this time, Skywalker is played by Hayden Christensen) as a young man grappling with the path his life will take. Fans know he eventually winds up as the evil Darth Vader, but how does it happen?

The biggest hurdle for Lucas will be overcoming lackluster “Phantom Menace” reviews from fans and critics that might have audiences wary of sitting through another space epic.

CIA Agent Jack Ryan returns, but Harrison Ford doesn’t. Ben Affleck takes over the role of Tom Clancy’s agent-hero in "The Sum of All Fears."

In dramas, Tom Hanks plays against type as a mob hitman in "Road to Perdition," costarring Paul Newman and Jude Law. Matt Damon plays his first action hero in the spy thriller "The Bourne Identity."

Nicholas Cage stars in the action drama "Windtalkers," the story of the Navajo Indians whose language was used as a spoken code that helped the U.S. win several World War II battles.

Summer wouldn't be summer without Jerry Bruckheimer (“Pearl Harbor”), and this year his “Bad Company” teams comedian Chris Rock with Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins as two federal agents looking for terrorists holding a nuclear bomb.

One of the summer's most anticipated films is “Scooby-Doo,” based on the classic cartoon about four ghost-hunting college kids and their super-sleuth dog, Scooby-Doo.

Director Raja Gosnell had to create a computer-animated dog for Scooby that looked like he belonged with the real-life characters. But that wasn't Gosnell's biggest dilemma.

“There is a very strong supernatural element that goes way beyond what people ever saw in the cartoon,” he said. “Probably our biggest challenge was being cool enough for teens and friendly enough for kids.”

Actress Julia Roberts and director Steven Soderbergh of “Erin Brockovich” reunited for “Full Frontal” in August.

Also in June, adventurer Steven Irwin of the hit TV show, “Animal Planet,” stars in “The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course. It tells of a search for a crocodile that swallowed a top-secret satellite beacon.

Dreamworks has "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron," following the adventures of a horse fighting for his freedom, with narration by Matt Damon and songs by Bryan Adams. And Disney goes the PG route with it’s annual animated feature, "Lilo and Stitch" is a comedy aimed at all age groups.

The directors call it a sort of un-Disney, Disney movie. Stitch is a mean and angry alien dog until he meets a Hawaiian girl who is troubled in her own, modern way.

"Stuart Little II" follows the further adventures of the little mouse with the big heart. Last year’s surprise hit "Spy Kids" returns in the sequel "Spy Kids 2: the Island of Lost Dreams."