Movie-industry heathens like you and me will always remember where we were when Mel Gibson made his drunken anti-Semitic tirade, when Tom Cruise got fired by old coot Sumner Redstone, and when the 2007 Summer Movie Season made $4.5 billion. That’s how much box-office gurus predict the mega-blockbusters about to flood U.S. multiplexes from May through August will gross, which will make this the highest summer on record when it’s all over. And many of the movies look to be not completely unwatchable. All of a sudden, we’re feeling the spirit of The Blockbusters Cometh. Starting this Friday, we’ll be living in a Promised Movieland: The popcorn will seem that much fresher, the seats that much plusher, the air conditioning that much chillier, the audience that much quieter.

Now bow your heads and pray that the moronic moguls, and the overindulged directors, and the megalomaniac actors don’t louse it up and lead us back into the desert, a.k.a. the Summer of 2005, when the movies stunk and the audiences stayed away. Some of the biggest movies are too long, and their plots uneven. A lot of spirituality is written into stories, which, if overdone, could be nauseating. Some small dramas seem inappropriate for summer releases, too many toons could mean animation overload, and a lot of horror pics and chick flicks won’t see daylight in the shadow of all the tent-pole releases. Just to be safe, I’ll perform a few exorcisms, since the devil is working overtime in Hollywood.

May 4: Not only did Warner Bros. wait to release the Curtis Hanson–directed Lucky You two years after it wrapped, but they dumped it opposite that man-boy in a spider suit. The execs obviously share my opinion that a Drew Barrymore–Eric Bana combo can’t open a movie. As for Spider-Man 3, its 140-minute running time is ass-numbing, even though director Sam Raimi ties up loose ends from SM1 and SM2. On the other hand, Sony Pictures has made 11,000 prints and rounded up 4,000 theaters to show the film as well as sneak it in major cities around the country with Thursday midnight showings. (At Pacific’s The Grove Stadium 14 in Los Angeles, screenings will start at 12:01 a.m., 12:05 a.m., 12:10 a.m., 12:15 a.m. and 12:20 a.m.) Obviously, the studio is doing everything it can to ensure that the threequel makes over $100-plus mil its opening weekend, before any bad word of mouth sets in. (SM1 took in $114 mil and SM2 $88 mil.) But privately, Sony wants a greedy $150 mil debut, given the pic’s hefty $300-plus-mil unofficial price tag.

May 11:Spider-Man 3 gets another clear shot because nothing big is opening. Universal is counterprogramming with the chick flick Georgia Rule and a terrific cast of Jane Fonda, Felicity Huffman and Lindsay Lohan. But Garry Marshall has gone a long time between hits. Fox Atomic scares up the horror sequel 28 Days Later.

May 18: The buzz on Shrek the Third has been that it’s nowhere near as good as the first or second installment. You know expectations are supersoft when a DreamWorks exec jokes that the movie should build its marketing campaign around the toon’s running time. “Parents, it’s only 81 minutes!” Talk is that Eddie Murphy snagged $25 mil to be a jackass again. Right now, tracking shows that the pic will be big, but not Spider-Man 3 or Pirates 3 big, even with, or in spite of, Justin Timberlake voicing.

May 25:Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End looks to be a wet print. It’s still not done: The ending is giving the CG geeks problems because the work has been so painstaking. Chow Yun-Fat adds to the froth, but I worry that this film is way too long at nearly three hours. Obviously, Bruckheimer and Disney execs didn’t rein in Gore Verbinski. (But they did Keith Richards… go figure.) This easily should be the biggest movie of the summer based on Depp's appeal alone – go, Johnny, go – but its running time could upend that coveted title.

June 1:Knocked Up, this summer’s soon-to-be biggest comedy, is savvy counterprogramming by Universal. If you loved the foulmouthed but heartfelt The 40-Year-Old Virgin (and, if not, what the hell is wrong with you?), you’ll like this other Judd Apatow laugher. Meanwhile, Mr. Brooks looks like another loser for Kevin Costner and Demi Moore. Why do these has-beens even bother?

June 8:Hostel II will be the summer’s most twisted horror pic, and therefore wildly successful. Its competition is that latent Brad-George pairing, so played out and pathetic that it’ll be amazing if anyone in the U.S. shows up for Ocean’s Thirteen. Certainly, the filmmakers didn’t: The pic was largely shot on soundstages instead of in a real casino. But foreign audiences aren’t so fussy, which is why Warner is promo-ing it at the Cannes Film Festival. As for Sony’s Surf’s Up toon, it’s got penguins and surfing and penguins surfing. In terms of cuteness quotient, that’s either irresistible or overkill.

June 15: Fox has been papering every city with images of Rise of the Silver Surfer for weeks now. Unlike other tent poles, this Fantastic Four sequel didn’t cost nearly as much (no back-end deals), so it should turn a nice profit, since the buzz is good. “I can tell you honestly the budget only has a 1 in front of two numbers,” says an exec there.

June 22: The biggest question mark of the summer is whether Evan Almighty’s box office outpaces its $200-plus-mil cost. Well, it is a PG comedy, and heartwarming as well as funny, so even rival studios think that’s a winning combo here and abroad. Strange that Paramount will release A Mighty Heart, the story of journalist Daniel Pearl’s kidnapping and murder, with Angelina Jolie playing his wife and then widow, during this tent pole–packed summer. This important drama should have been held until fall.

June 29: I’m squishy about Disney/Pixar’s Ratatouille. Can normal folk even pronounce that title? Can they relate to a Parisian rat in a gourmet restaurant? I think this toon will develop gout. I already reported that the exclusive-to-Yahoo trailer for Live Free or Die Hard (a.k.a. Die Hard 4) tested higher than the trailers for any action movie in Fox history. This testosterone franchise now has slicker CG-wiz packaging, since it’s directed by Len Wiseman (Underworld I and II). But the humor quotient will ultimately decide its box office. I say a little of Justin Long, Bruce Willis’ baby-faced sidekick and the geek on those annoying PC vs. Apple ads, goes a long way.

July 6: How hard it is for any movie to survive a year’s worth of great buzz. Especially if its director is Michael Bay, one of the most maligned hacks in Hollywood, and deservedly so. But Spielberg has been personally overseeing DreamWorks’ Bay-directed Transformers. Now the talk has turned bad: how there are too many live humans and not enough cool robots in the pic. On the other hand, I’m told the machines are pretty phenomenal, which is why Spielberg is keeping them under wraps. We’ll have to wait for it to open to learn the truth.

July 13: The three principal actors are older and sexed-up, and the plot is darker and creepier. Then again, Harry Potter movies are already a license to print money. Thank God for Order of the Phoenix, or Warner Bros. would be sitting this summer out.

July 20: It says something about a comedy when even the title is funny. So it is with I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, starring reliable Adam Sandler and way funnier Kevin James. Universal has worked with GLAAD to ensure that this movie is gay-friendly in an In and Out kind of way, not a homophobic kind of way. It may not matter, because being bookended by blockbusters is not the place to be this summer. That’s also Hairspray’s problem. New Line should have held it until fall.

July 27: Kudos to Jim Brooks and Fox for keeping much of The Simpsons Movie’s plot a secret, which I predict will help it become the biggest non-sequel movie of the summer. (Test-screening attendees were forced to sign a multipage nondisclosure agreement.) C’mon, who’s not gonna see this pic here and overseas? Natch, this summer blockbuster has a big, sickening summer promotion: 7-Eleven will transform its stores to resemble Kwik-E-Marts and sell some of Homer Simpson’s favorite snacks. That’s enough crass commercialism to gross out even Bart.

August 3: Matt Damon has become the epitome of non-talk cool, and The Bourne Ultimatum should co-rule the second half of the summer.

August 10: I don’t know why people love New Line’s Rush Hour franchise; its appeal escapes me. But this one cost a bundle because Chris Tucker set a new salary high for Hollywood. So Rush Hour 3 needs to be millions of dollars funnier.

August 17: Savvy box-office gurus are calling the small Superbad, produced by the aforementioned Judd Apatow, the late-summer sleeper; I’m told it lives up to the hype. This is a slam dunk with the 18-to-25 demo: It’s like a raunchier, funnier American Pie. And, after months of bloated blockbusters, it’ll be what people are in the mood for.


For more Nikki Finke check out Deadline Hollywood Daily at www.deadlinehollywooddaily.com/

Email at deadlinehollywood@gmail.com

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