Summer Of The Sequel

The summer movie season is here again, and it looks a lot like last year's. Or maybe the year before.

Of the 13 potential blockbusters previewed here, only one isn't based on pre-existing material. Ten of the 13 are either sequels or the latest installments in long-running franchises, which ought to give some sense of just how nervous Hollywood is these days.

With the costs of making and marketing movies, coupled with competition for consumers' attention and the ever-present threat of illegal downloading, studios are playing it safer than ever. Few in the industry have forgotten how the box office languished last summer, until "Pirates" sailed in to its rescue.

Will audiences be more eager than ever to see their old favorites this summer, or will franchise fatigue finally set in? Take a look and decide:

SPIDER-MAN 3 (May 4)

The webslinger is back for the third and biggest installment in what many fans call the best comic book franchise ever. But with extra running time (140 minutes), three villains (Sandman, Venom and the Green Goblin's son) plus two romantic interests (Kirsten Dunst and Bryce Dallas Howard), this could be too much of a good thing. And will star Tobey Maguire and director Sam Raimi return for Spidey No. 4? That may be the stickiest question of all.


The trilogy concludes … yeah, sure. If "Shrek the Third" makes the kind of money that the first two made, you can expect to see a lot more Shrek movies ahead. This one introduces the voice of Justin Timberlake as the big guy's cousin-in-law, Artie, who is assigned to be king after Shrek himself (Mike Myers) turns the gig down. Hilarity and mayhem ensue, and Dreamworks Pictures looks set for a very green summer.


The cliffhanger ending to the last "Pirate" movie guaranteed a third — as if the mega box office (more than $400 million) didn't do that already. But the questions facing Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) and friends are whether the conclusion of their saga can meet expectations and whether it will actually have a script that makes some semblance of sense this time. But most importantly — if new character Captain Teague (Keith Richards) is Sparrow's father, will Sparrow snort him?


Word-of-mouth is so good on this romantic comedy from writer-director Judd Apatow ("The 40-Year-Old Virgin") that even we feel like expectant parents. Apatow and returning "Virgin" stars like Seth Rogen and the marvelous Paul Rudd once again mix sincerity with sexual hijinks as Rogen and Katherine Heigl have a one-night stand and end up making a baby. To be sure, we can't quite envision Heigl getting it on with Rogen (and they do, a couple of times, hence the R rating), but hey, it's the movies.


"Ocean's Twelve" was borderline unwatchable, the good-time vibe generated by director Steven Soderbergh and his merry acting troupe on "Ocean's Eleven" devolving into lots of mugging and too-hip-for-the-room in-jokes. But hiring Al Pacino for caper number three was definitely a step in the right direction. If George Clooney, Brad Pitt and the rest make us feel that they're really working this time, all will be forgiven.


Fanboys are holding their breath in anticipation of seeing one of comicdom's most iconic figures onscreen. The Surfer (Doug Jones) is an extraterrestrial being sent to herald the arrival of the planet-eating entity Galactus, and it's up to the Fantastic Four to stop both in their tracks. The first "Four" was a box-office smash, but a bomb with both critics and geeks. We'll see if the latter turn all that silver into box-office gold.


Steve Carell arguably stole the otherwise woeful "Bruce Almighty" out from under Jim Carrey as TV anchor Evan Baxter. Now that Carell is hotter than ever, the character takes front and center in this semi-sequel. But God himself might not be able to make the numbers work for what's been tagged as the most expensive comedy ever made (cost: $175 million). If it's as funny and sweet as early reports indicate, Carell may well be Universal Pictures' savior.


Twelve long years have gone by since Bruce Willis saved New York in "Die Hard with a Vengeance," and Willis hasn't exactly been setting the box office on fire lately. Plus how many times can his John McClane find himself in the thick of a crisis? This time, he goes up against cyber-terrorists in an attempt to bring the creaky franchise into the digital age. One thing's for sure: This series refuses to die.


We didn't play with Hasbro's Transformer toys when we were kids, but a lot of people did, and director Michael Bay ("Pearl Harbor") thinks that they'll come out for this live-action special-effects extravaganza about giant alien robots invading Earth. Sure, rising "Disturbia" star Shia LeBeouf is along for the ride, but it's not clear whether he and a galaxy of automatons can transform nostalgia alone into ticket sales.


The kids are getting older, the fifth book is one of the longest and darkest, and there's a relatively unproven director (David Yates) taking the reins. But you don't need a crystal ball to predict that the newest "Harry" will be a smash, especially since it arrives just before the massively anticipated publication of the seventh and final book.


The notion of a big-screen "Simpsons" adventure has been around almost as long as the show itself (18 years). At long last, Homer, Bart and dozens of other beloved characters get their chance. The trick for its creators is making the movie fun for the series legions of fans as well as for the two or three of us who have never watched a single episode. Otherwise this will be one big "D'oh!" for Fox.


Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) tries to reclaim his identity once and for all, completing the trilogy that started with 2002's surprise hit, "The Bourne Identity." Moviegoers have embraced these thinking-man spy pictures — and even last year's grittier James Bond outing, "Casino Royale," acknowledged their combination of character with action, so the intelligence on this one is solid.

RUSH HOUR 3 (August 10)

Comedian Chris Tucker reportedly held out for more than the $20 million he earned on "Rush Hour 2" to commit to a third installment. Once again, Tucker is partnered with Asian (and aging) action star Jackie Chan as two unlikely cop buddies. Out of all the sequels coming out this summer, this one somehow feels the most unnecessary. Don't be shocked if audiences don't rush out to see it.

By Don Kaye