In an age when international-ticket receipts, DVD sales, video games, merchandising and other ancillary markets can transform a box-office dud into a worldwide behemoth, Hollywood has had to rewrite the rules on blockbusters. For one, they had to change their name.
The term for such films is “tent poles” now, and just as well — it describes them better. With their sequels, prequels, spin-offs and adaptations, these films hold up a studio’s schedule and protect the rest of its library from disaster.
Whatever you call them (we prefer “popcorn flick”), you’ll have a hard time avoiding these 10 movies, the ones we’re most excited to see in 2007:
Their tagline promises they’re “More than meets the eye,” but with Michael Bay directing, we’re not so sure (see ” ’Transformers’ Set Has Flashy Cars, Robot Models, Exploding Furbys” ). The king of quick cuts and explosions — oh yeah, and $100 million movies — Bay may not be known for plumbing emotional depths, but who cares? “Transformers” is based on a toy line and centers on an intergalactic war between two groups of shape-shifting “Robots in Disguise.” It’s not “Anna Karenina.” Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Megatron … the only thing we care about is whether they look cool (see “Did Your Favorite Make The Cut? ’Transformers’ Writers Reveal Robot Roster” ). Based on the trailer, the answer is a resounding “Yes.”
9. “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer”
What do you get for a near-omnipotent galactic herald who’s able to change matter into pure energy and feeds on planets (he already has a kick-ass surfboard)? How about a sense of compassion? That’s what die-hard “Fantastic Four” fans all want to give Norrin Radd, a.k.a. the Silver Surfer (see “Alba Breaks Car, But There’s A Silver Lining On ’Fantastic’ Sequel Set” ). The original Stan Lee/ Jack Kirby story line saw the Surfer battle Mr. Fantastic, Sue Storm, the Thing and the Human Torch, but refuse to destroy Earth after learning kindness from Alicia Masters, Thing’s girlfriend. Speaking of girlfriends, none come hotter than Frankie Raye (Beau Garrett), both metaphorically and literally. The blond bombshell figures to play a prominent role in the film, setting up an even bigger appearance in “Fantastic Four 3” when she becomes Nova, a creature of fire, the Surfer’s replacement and the devourer of worlds.
8. “National Treasure: The Book of Secrets”
Sic semper Bruckheimer! Having billions of dollars means never having to say you’re sorry — even if, like Benjamin Franklin Gates (Nicolas Cage), you’ve stolen the Declaration of Independence, kidnapped the head of the National Archive and led the FBI on a manhunt through the bowels of New York. All’s fair, after all, in love and treasure hunting. After unwrapping the riddles of the Founding Fathers in 2004’s “National Treasure,” Ben and his motley crew are back, this time searching for Confederate gold and the meaning behind 18 missing pages from Abraham Lincoln’s diary.
7. “Evan Almighty”
It might be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the men who made this movie to enter the kingdom of heaven. That’s because at a budgeted cost of more than $140 million (and climbing), “Evan Almighty” is the most expensive comedy ever made. We doubt the filmmakers are worried, though. Starring Steve Carell as Evan Baxter, the erstwhile news anchor from “Bruce Almighty” who has since been elected to Congress, “Evan Almighty” is that rare beast, the comedy blockbuster — and we promise you they don’t come two by two. It’ll be more than 40 days and 40 nights till we see Carell build an ark and escape the Flood: “Evan Almighty” opens June 22.
6. “His Dark Materials: The Golden Compass”
Not many popular children’s stories claim inspiration from “Paradise Lost,” but not many children’s stories are as oppressively dark and despairing as “The Golden Compass,” Philip Pullman’s first book in the “His Dark Materials” trilogy. A condemnation of religion, “His Golden Compass” follows Lyra Belacqua, a young girl who ventures to rescue her uncle, the Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig), from the clutches of a band of war-mongering, anthropomorphic bears and the evil Mrs. Coulter (Nicole Kidman) — a state representative who not only kidnaps children, but kills them by removing their souls, which are called daemons in “Compass” and exist outside the body. Here’s hoping director Chris Weitz (“About a Boy”) has the guts to end the movie as the book ended: with a death, a decision and a major cliffhanger.
5. “Live Free or Die Hard”
Long before there was a Jack Bauer, John McClane (Bruce Willis) had a series of very bad days. The first postmodern action star, the indefatigable and often bare-chested McClane winked, prodded and joked his way to saving a skyscraper, an airport and all of Manhattan (not to mention his wife, twice). Now McClane is joined by Justin Long as hacker Matt Foster and Mary Elizabeth Winstead as John’s daughter, Lucy, as he battles cyber-terrorist Timothy Olyphant in the series’ fourth installment (see “Never Say ’Die’: Bruce Willis Fights Terrorists In ’Die Hard’ Sequel” ). It’s a high-tech, high-voltage return to ’80s action that has us screaming “Yippee-ki-yay, mother—-er.”
4. “The Bourne Ultimatum”
Shaky, violent, jumpy — this film’s visual style mirrors its title character’s behavior and is at last the perfect fit for hand-held action sequences (see “Matt Damon To Be Bourne Again — And Perhaps Again And Again” ). We’d love to tell you more about the plot, but even reading the book won’t help us here — director Paul Greengrass and writers Tony Gilroy and Tom Stoppard have made a habit out of deviating from the source material. Bank on Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) trying to figure out more about his past as he battles bad guys across the globe. Julia Stiles and Joan Allen return for the final installment in a series that has influenced everything from “Batman Begins” to “Casino Royale.”
3. “Spider-Man 3”
Even a spider can be pulled in too many directions. Just ask Peter Parker — in next summer’s “Spider-Man 3,” the man they call “Amazing” battles three super-villains (Sandman, Venom and the new Goblin), two friends-turned-enemies (Eddie Brock and Harry Osborn), two love interests (Mary Jane and the new Gwen Stacy) an intergalactic space symbiote that attaches itself to his suit and a partridge in a pear tree (see ” ’Spider-Man 3’ Cast Confirms Love Triangle, Death, Soul-Sucking Costume” ). Topher Grace, Byrce Dallas Howard and Thomas Haden Church join the action in a follow-up to what was perhaps the best comic book movie ever made. Tobey Maguire spins his web May 4, a date that was chosen before “Spider-Man 2” was even released.
2. “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End”
The roller coaster first two “Pirates” movies reached such great heights it’s a wonder no one got seasick. In “At World’s End,” the future of piracy is at stake — not to mention the future of Captain Jack (Johnny Depp), perhaps the most original character in recent memory. Last seen in the mouth of a giant Krakken, Jack is rescued from Davy Jones’ locker by Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) — a bigger wreck than maybe even his Pearl. Once freed, Jack Sparrow will face Davy Jones and “Bootstrap” Bill Turner, Lord Beckett and Admiral Norrington, Singapore pirate Sao Feng (Chow Yun-Fat), and, surprise, Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush). Yo, ho, ho and a bottle of Tums — “Pirates 3” opens on Memorial Day.
1. “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”
“It is time for me to tell you what I should have told you five years ago,” Dumbledore tells Harry Potter in “Order of the Phoenix” (see ” ’Phoenix’ Trailer Reveals A Harry Potter Who’s Ready To Fight — And Kiss” ). “I am going to tell you everything.” And so he does. The real question is whether or not he’ll tell us — the explanatory resolutions at the end of Rowling’s books have been among the most glaring and obvious omissions from the series’ films. And with big characters and plot points that fans reference with capital letters — the Prophesy, the Giant, the Senior Undersecretary, the Death, the Loon, the Order — there’s enough here for two movies. After the series’ climax in “Goblet of Fire,” Harry tries to warn the world of the return of Lord Voldemort to no avail. Fans with a keen eye will be attempting to divine possible plot points for the seventh and final book: “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.” No time-turners allowed — the film opens July 13.
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