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‘X2’ Looks to Breathe Life Into Movie Box Office
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Last summer “Spider-Man” ruled the roost and the summer before it was “The Mummy Returns” that made cash registers ring. Now Hollywood is counting on “X2” mutants like Wolverine and Nightcrawler to breathe life back into moribund movie box offices.
It is all part of an established box office pattern as “X2” opens on Friday to kick off the summer movie season. In recent years, Hollywood has turned to explosive action, computerized special effects and stories with broad appeal to young men and women to boost May ticket sales and fuel the box office fire through June, July and early August.
“There’s always an audience for an action movie” said Lauren Shuler Donner, producer of “X2: X-Men United” and its blockbuster predecessor “X-Men.”
That’s an understatement.
“Spider-Man,” like the X-Men, was another Marvel comic book character turned movie superhero, and he spread his sticky web across the United States and Canada on the first weekend of May 2002 to capture a record $114.8 million in three days.
Again this summer, the studios have loaded up with loud, raucous, roller-coaster action movies.
Two weeks after “X2” comes “The Matrix: Reloaded” followed by “The Hulk,” “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle,” “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” and “Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life,” to name but a few.
Hollywood needs the help of muscle-bound action heroes. The 2003 movie box office has proved a bit anemic with total ticket sales off 4 to 5 percent depending on which box office tracking service is doing the number-crunching.
So far, ticket sales have reached $2.51 billion, off 5.6 percent from $2.66 billion at the same point last year, according to Exhibitor Relations Inc. Rival AC Nielsen/EDI puts the year-to-date box office tally nearer to $2.44 billion, off 4.1 percent from $2.54 billion last year.
But the bigger questions leading up to the “X2” debut, which distributor 20th Century Fox has loaded into a record 3,741 movie theaters for Friday, is whether “X2” can beat “Spider-Man” and whether it will kick-start a boffo summer.
Despite the huge debut, box office watchers said “X2” will be hard-pressed to untangle Spider-Man’s record web because of the pent-up demand going into last year’s movie. And they called “Spider-Man’s” three-figure, three-day debut an anomaly that will be hard to repeat two years in a row.
“I don’t envy any film that is compared to the opening weekend of ‘Spider-Man.’ It’s unfair,” said Exhibitor Relations President Paul Dergarabedian. “Statistically, to repeat that (record) two years in a row would be pretty tough.”
Still, the experts agree “X2” should top the original’s $54.5 million opening weekend debut in July 2000.
The experts said any comparison against 2002 — whether a weekend, a season, or a year — is difficult anyway because ticket sales were so strong last year that by the time the year was totaled, they had risen 12 percent to hit $9.37 billion.
“If we can stay even a few points off what was an incredible year in 2002, then 2003 can still be good,” said Dan Marks, executive vice president at AC Nielsen/EDI.
Moreover, the experts do not discount the fact that the slew of films packing movie theaters this summer just may nudge 2003 beyond last year.
“Stranger things have happened,” said Dergarabedian.
Strange things indeed.
In “X2,” the world’s fate is thrown into peril when mutant Nightcrawler makes an attempt on the life of a U.S. president.
The government calls in mutant hunter William Stryker to destroy the mutants, and it is up to outcasts like Wolverine, Storm, Cyclops and Mystique to band together and stop Stryker.
Will they get their man? Can they save the world? Can they squash Spidey’s record, and save Hollywood from half-filled summer champagne flutes? Only time — and box office grosses on Sunday — will tell.