Don't let anyone tell you differently -- the movie business is all about making money. It's great if they let you make art, too, but money is the name of the game. And summer is the name of the season that takes in the year's biggest chunk of it. So if you want to get rich with the right film in the right season, all you have to do is figure out the formula.
Here it is for the past three summers. These are the films that did best in the box office between the beginning of May to the end of August.
In 2000: Mission Impossible: 2, Chicken Run, The Patriot, The Perfect Storm, Scary Movie, X-Men.
In 2001: The Mummy Returns, Shrek, Moulin Rouge, Pearl Harbor, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Scary Movie 2.
In 2002: Spider-Man, Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones, The Sum of All Fears, The Bourne Identity, Scooby-Doo, Lilo & amp; Stitch.
Why were they hits? Some of them were great movies, while others managed to hit the right audience buttons. For the upcoming season, studios that are assuming they have the formula solved are going into (yawn) sequel and prequel mode. So summer 2003 kicks off with X2: X-Men United, and will follow with The Matrix Reloaded; 2 Fast 2 Furious; Dumb & amp; Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd; Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle; T3: Rise of the Machines; Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & amp; Blonde; Bad Boys 2; Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life; Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over; American Wedding (aka American Pie 3); Freddy vs. Jason; and Jeepers Creepers II. There will also be plenty of remakes -- including The In-Laws, The Italian Job and Freaky Friday -- among the "original" ideas.
With about 70 major and minor releases on the way in the three-month period, here are my picks for those that will click and make big -- maybe even spectacular -- bucks. Dates, as always, are tentative.
X2: X-Men United (May 2): Bigger, better, funnier, more violent than the first one. Nasty humans ramp up plans to destroy all mutants. Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) steals the show.
The Matrix Reloaded (May 15): Lots and lots of probes are on their way to destroy Zion. Neo (Keanu Reeves) might find a way to stop them. Don't even think about watching this without knowing the original.
Bruce Almighty (May 23): Goofy slapstick and some heart as Morgan Freeman, playing God, gives God-critic Jim Carrey all of his powers.
Finding Nemo (May 30): Disney and PIXAR re-team for a computer-generated fish-in-water father-and-son story. As always, spectacular visuals.
Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd (June 13): The title says it all. The question is, where did they find Erik Christian Olsen and Derek Richardson? They must have been cloned from Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels.
Alex and Emma (June 20): A desperate novelist (Luke Wilson) with a time constraint hires an opinionated stenographer (Kate Hudson), who goes off on trippy flights of imagination. The comic directorial return of Rob Reiner.
The Hulk (June 20): Director Ang Lee reveals his comix side with Marvel's big (really big) green machine. Effects aficionados will have a ball.
Legally Blonde 2 (July 2): Elle and her Chihuahua take on animal testing. But no matter how forced the story, Reese Witherspoon can command the screen with that big, wide smile.
Pirates of the Caribbean (July 2): Johnny Depp is the hero, Geoffrey Rush is the villain, all based on the Disneyland ride -- really. Hey, it's a Caribbean world after all.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (July 11): The Alan Moore comic series comes to life with Sean Connery resurrecting the legendary Allen Quatermain character, accompanied by all sorts of heroes and villains from classic literature.
Bad Boys 2 (July 18): More drug adventures from Miami narcotics cops Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, as well as some romance between one of them and his partner's sister. Car Chase City.
Seabiscuit (July 25): A shrimpy, bowlegged horse charms Depression-era America. His jockey (Tobey Maguire) goes through hell. From Gary Ross, who brought us Pleasantville.
Gigli (August 1): A kidnapper and his assistant fall for each other in the middle of a job. Sounds dull. But they're played by Ben Affleck and J.Lo. Rabid fans will need to know (if they can act).
S.W.A.T. (August 8): Ahh, the old '70s cop show. Sam Jackson gets the Hondo role, Colin Farrell plays Jim Street, members of the Special Weapons and Tactics unit. One of the coolest theme songs ever.
My Boss's Daughter (August 22): Ashton Kutcher gets to housesit for his boss, and has a crush on his daughter (Tara Reid). But there are other guests, including a brother chased by thugs. And Andy Richter is always a hoot.
Then there are the stiffs, the ones that might open big, but won't ave legs, or will at least end up with their tails tucked between them.
Daddy Day Care (May 9): Eddie Murphy and Jeff Garlin open a day care center, but know nothing about kids. Saccharine slapstick, peppered with good sight gags.
Down With Love (May 16): Journalist Ewan McGregor and advice columnist Rene Zellweger fall for each other, but he needs an edge in his movies, and she's looking really weird these days.
The In-Laws (May 23): It really wasn't very funny when Peter Falk and Alan Arkin played a spy and a dentist whose kids are marrying. Now it's Michael Douglas and Albert Brooks (a foot doctor instead). Too silly, too broad.
Wrong Turn (May 30): After her thankless role in the dreadful The New Guy, Eliza Dushku and her new pals try their luck against cannibals in the woods after a car accident. No chainsaws have been mentioned.
Prozac Nation (June 6): Unless it gets postponed yet again, the world will finally see Christina Ricci's brief nude scene in a story of depression at Harvard. Look for an emphasis on over-emoting.
From Justin to Kelly (June 13): Almost 23 million people watched the finale of the first American Idol. And now we've a beach party movie with winner Kelly Clarkson and runner up Justin Guarini. Oh, the humanity!
Hollywood Homicide (June 13): Harrison Ford and Josh Hartnett are two homicide cops going after a rap- label mogul. It looks to be filled with solid action but strained buddy-comedy. Ford just isn't funny.
Charlie's Angels 2 (June 20): Sorry, Bernie Mac simply cannot replace Bill Murray, even if they're calling him Bosley's brother. Formulaic action and set pieces that will tire early on.
Johnny English (July 18): Rowan Atkinson is the bumbling low-level British agent who must match wits with bad French-accented jewel thief John Malkovich. Can you say "Pink Panther?"
How to Deal (July 18): Alas, singer Mandy Moore tries acting again, this time as a poor soul who feels romantic relationships among friends and family aren't going right, just as she's falling for a "bad boy."
Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (July 25): Angelina Jolie may be slinky to some people, but I know of no one who calls her a convincing actress. Lots of posing and pouting amid the big effects.
Freaky Friday (August 6): When will they learn to leave well enough alone? A remake of the Disney mom-daughter switcheroo. Lindsay Lohan is the kid, Jamie Lee Curtis is Mom (sigh).
Freddy vs. Jason (August 15): Or the villain from A Nightmare on Elm Street takes on the creature from Halloween. Please let this be the end, for both.
Uptown Girls (August 15): Cute and sassy Brittany Murphy gets her first starring role as a rich kid who must get a job. Her mom is played by Heather Locklear. Heather Locklear? A mom?
The Fighting Temptations (August 8): Rodney Dangerfield will collect a fortune if he stops gambling. No, wait. That's Easy Money. Cuba Gooding, Jr. will inherit a fortune if he starts up a gospel choir. Whatever, same thing.
Marci X (August 22): The extremely annoying and virtually talentless Lisa Kudrow is a Jewish American Princess who takes over a hip-hop label. This is already on many Worst-10 lists, without even being screened yet.
Grind (August 22): After the long ago short Skater Dater and the great documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys, is the world really ready for a freewheeling feature-length skateboard drama?
Highwaymen (August 27): Vin Diesel's latest flopped. But now Jim Caviezel, in virtually the same plot, plays a guy who goes after his wife's killer. The difference? This killer does it often, and for fun, with his '72 Cadillac.
Jeepers Creepers 2 (August 29): The flesh-eating icky thing returns, this time with a hunger for a school bus full of a high school basketball team and its entourage. An exercise in bad taste.
But all of the aforementioned is only about half of what's to come in the warm months. No gut feeling makes itself known on the rest of them, though. These are really 50-50 as to whether they'll hit or miss.
The Lizzie McGuire Movie (May 2): Hillary Duff moves to the big screen as the Disney-created teen klutz and pals head to a European class trip, where she's mistaken for a pop star.
The Italian Job (May 30): The central location for this unnecessary remake of the 1969 comic caper film has been changed from Turin to L.A., where a planned traffic jam is the set-up. But the "stars" of both films remain those cute little Cooper Minis.
2 Fast, 2 Furious (June 6): Vin Diesel took a powder, leaving Paul Walker to carry this sequel. Still a cop among speedsters, he and a partner go to work for an "import-export" sleaze, all the while setting him up for a fall.
Rugrats Go Wild (June 13): The little brats and their parents are stranded on an island. Most viewers over 7 would probably skip this drivel. But since the cast of The Wild Thornberrys shows up, there's some hope.
T3: Rise of the Machines (July 2): Why didn't they just call it The Terminatrix? TV action star Kristanna Loken is the villainess from the future who comes after John Connor (Nick Stahl) and his protector (Arnold). But why do we need this now?
Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas (July 9): It's a whole new set of animated adventures for the sailor of old. But it's voiced by Brad Pitt and Catherine Zeta-Jones, two actors known for something other than line delivery.
Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over (July 25): Everyone returns, including Floop (Alan Cumming) in a cameo, as one of the young agents gets caught in a virtual reality game, presided over by evil Sylvester Stallone. Get out your 3-D glasses.
American Wedding (August 1): The last slice of American Pie. Jim and Michelle plan to get hitched, and Stifler throws a bachelor party. But Stifler's divorced folks have a remarriage in mind. Lots more sexual antics ensue.
Matchstick Men (August 8): Ridley Scott goes for both comedy and drama when con men Nicolas Cage and Sam Rockwell (both in recent Charlie Kaufman films) set up a big job, only to be put in disarray by one of their daughters.
The Medallion (August 15): Last time Jackie Chan had super powers it was from a tuxedo. Now it's from this thing around his neck. He's a cop who becomes an immortal "Highbinder," whatever that is. Still, Chan can be fun to watch.