This summer, more than any in memory, pairs up logical box-office foes in close proximity, movies aiming for that same appeal, that same corner of the audience or simple bragging rights that “my fanbase is bigger than your fanbase.”
So while moviegoers vote with our feet, you can bet your Fandango that studio folks will be sweating this season more than most.
Like past summers, this one has its share of sequels, from “Shrek” (opening this month) to “Step Up” 3D (Aug. 6), the return of “Nanny McPhee” (Aug. 20) to “Toy Story 3” (opening in June).
It’s about sing-along “Grease,” sex in cities, near-sex in Forks and squaring off — fanboys vs. fangirls, action vs. animation, kids vs. grownups, comic book shootouts and sci-fi showdowns.
The big mismatch? I hope the comic book Western fantasy “Jonah Hex” (June 18) with Josh Brolin and Megan Fox delivers. But if “Iron Man 2” (opening Friday) is still be going strong, it will just bury it.
But the other big box-office bouts of summer are much tougher to call. Here are 10 worth watching.
“Shrek Forever After” (May 21) vs.“Toy Story 3” (June 18) and “Despicable Me” (July 9): Dreamworks goes pretty much head-to-head with Pixar as it wrings one more movie out of the billion dollar ogre, Shrek. Pixar packs off the toys to a daycare center in reply. And waiting with hopes of being a sleeper and stealing their thunder is “Despicable Me,” with an animated Steve Carell as a villain whose hopes of stealing the moon run up against little orphan girls.
“Sex and the City 2” (May 27) vs. “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” (May 28): The sexy shopaholics take on a spectacular, video-game-fueled Arabian fantasy starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Gemma Arterton. No, these audiences won’t cross over. Much. But who will seize the cinemas this weekend, Carrie Bradshaw or Jerry Bruckheimer?
“Killers” (June 4) vs. “Knight and Day” (June 25): Judging from the trailers, casting and plot descriptions, “Killers” — with Katherine Heigl haplessly mixed up with a guy with an action-packed secret life (Ashton Kutcher) — is very lucky it’s opening before “Knight & Day,” with Cameron Diaz haplessly mixed up with a guy with an action-packed secret life (Tom Cruise).
“Get Him to the Greek” (June 4) vs. “Grown Ups” (June 25): The Adam Sandler “Grown Ups” is packed with his pals (Kevin James, Chris Rock), but “Greek,” a sequel to “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” has scene stealer Russell Brand center stage, with Jonah Hill trying to “get him to the Greek (Theater)” for a concert.
“Twilight: Eclipse” (June 28) vs. “The Last Airbender” (July 2): The unstoppable vampire romance franchise will chew up and swallow the M. Night Shyamalan fantasy epic based on an animated TV series. Then again, the Airbender trailer looks spectacular. Will fanboys make it a close contest?
“Marmaduke” (June 4) vs. “Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore” (July 30): The Chipmunk/ Chihuahua Rule: There must be at least one talking-animal comedy in theaters at all times.
“The A-Team” (June 11) vs. “The Expendables” (Aug. 13): One’s a Joe Carnahan remake of a truly awful TV series, a film about mercenaries using their skills to clear their names. And the other’s a Sly Stallone action-heroes-reunion picture (Jet Li, Jason Statham, Mickey Rourke) about mercenaries out to overthrow a dictator.
“Charlie St. Cloud” (July 30) vs. “Beastly” (July 30): It’s the “High School Musical” throwdown of the summer as Zac Efron, as Charlie St. Cloud, works in a cemetery just so he can talk to his dead brother, and Vanessa Hudgens is the Beauty whom the high school Beast (Alex Pettyfer) must get to love him so he can be transformed in “Beastly.”
“The Other Guys” (Aug. 6) vs. “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” (Aug. 13): At some point, Michael Cera’s voice will change and he won’t be fighting to keep his new girlfriend from her crazy ex (Chris Evans is a scream in the “Scott Pilgrim” trailers). Until then, Will Ferrell, paired up with Mark Wahlberg in a daffy mismatched cops comedy (“Other Guys”) had better worry.
“Winter’s Bone” vs. Every Other Indie Film Slipped Into Theaters this Summer: This film-festival favorite about a teenager (Jennifer Lawrence) trekking through the rural foothills to look for her meth-making, bail-jumping daddy is already earning “first great movie of 2010” buzz. Let’s see if that holds as it opens slowly through the summer.
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