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Recession busting summer begins in May

After enjoying outstanding ticket sales throughout the first four months of the year, Hollywood is ready for a rip-roaring May start to a recession-busting summer at the boxoffice.

By late April boxoffice revenues for the year were approximately $3.06 billion, up a hefty 17.4 percent from last year and ticket sales were about 419.8 million, up 15.7 percent, according to Media By Numbers president Paul Dergarabedian. That just hammers home the fact that recession or not, people still turn to movies as relatively inexpensive entertainment that can give them a badly needed opportunity to escape from grim reality for at least a few hours.

That sort of thinking translated into surprisingly strong openings for some films earlier this year, some of which weren’t necessarily titles that you’d think would do as well as they did. Among the biggest openings were: “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” ($39.2 million), “Taken” ($24.7 million), “He’s Just Not That Into You” ($27.8 million), “Friday the 13th” ($43.6 million), “Madea Goes to Jail” ($41 million), “Watchmen” ($55.2 million), “Race to Witch Mountain” ($24.4 million), “Knowing” ($24.6 million), “Monsters vs. Aliens” ($59.3 million), “The Haunting in Connecticut” ($23 million), “Fast and Furious” ($71 million), “Hannah Montana: The Movie” ($32.3 million), “17 Again” ($23.7 million) and “Obsessed” ($28.6 million).

Now as we roll into May and Hollywood starts launching higher profile summer movies, it’s a safe bet moviegoers will be turning out in force to see them. Driven by the need for some sort of relief from today’s global economic blues, movies should continue to be the easy answer. Looking at May’s wide releases, it’s clear that Hollywood is fielding a slate of films offering something for everyone. That’s proved to be a winning formula in the past and should do the trick once again.

The following synopses include details about May’s wide openings, but beware of occasional spoilers if you don’t want to know too much in advance. As always, be sure to check out our Zamm Cam movie previews. You’ll know in one minute which movies are the ones you most want to see.

The pre-summer should explode with some big grosses the weekend of May 1-3 thanks to two wide releases that are targeted to very different core audiences.

Younger male comic book movie fans will have a new episode in 20th Century Fox’s “X-Men” franchise to keep them busy. The PG-13 rated “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” is the fourth episode in the series, which has already grossed $606.6 million domestically. The last episode, “X-Men: The Last Stand”, opened May 26, 2006 to $102.8 million and wound up doing $234.4 million domestically. The latest film hit some bumps in the road when an unfinished early cut was digitally pirated and put on the Internet, generating some negative early comment. Nonetheless, a huge audience of “X-Men” fans has got to be out there counting the minutes until the new episode officially launches the summer movie season.

Directed by Gavin Hood (“Rendition”), “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” stars Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Danny Huston, Dominic Monaghan, Ryan Reynolds, Lynn Collins, Kevin Durand, Taylor Kitsch and Will I Am.

The Story: Without giving anything important away, the new film revolves around Wolverine’s epically violent and romantic past, his complex relationship with Victor Creed and the ominous Weapon X program.

Sharing May’s first weekend with “X-Men” will be Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema’s PG-13 rated romantic comedy “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past”. All the female moviegoers who just aren’t interested in seeing “X-Men” will have a great alternative choice in “Ghosts”.

Directed by Mark Waters (“Mean Girls”), it stars Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Breckin Meyer, Lacey Chabert, Robert Forster, Anne Archer, Emma Stone, Michael Douglas, Christa B. Allen, Rachel Bilson, Noureen DeWulf, Daniel Sunjata and Amanda Walsh.

The Story: Celebrity photographer Connor Mead loves freedom, fun and women — and in that order. A committed bachelor, he thinks nothing of breaking up with multiple women on a conference call. On the eve of his brother Paul’s wedding, Connor’s mockery of romance proves a real buzz-kill for Paul and a houseful of well wishers, including Connor’s former flame Jenny. Just when it looks like Connor may single-handedly ruin the wedding, he’s visited by the ghosts of his jilted girlfriends, who take him on a revealing and hilarious odyssey through a lifetime of failed relationships: past, present and future. Together they attempt to discover what turned Connor into such a player and whether he has a second chance to find-and this time keep-the love of his life.

Star Trek — Out May 8

Star Trek — Out May 8

The weekend of May 8-10 should see one of the summer’s biggest openings as Paramount launches the newest episode in its reinvented “Star Trek” franchise. The new approach to the venerable series should put “Star Trek” back in the boxoffice stratosphere. The picture’s been generating a great advance buzz and some enthusiastic Hollywood handicappers are going boldly where no handicappers have gone before in predicting a $100 million “Star Trek” opening. That’s a far cry from the franchise’s last episode, “Star Trek: Nemesis”, which only grossed $43.3 million in 2002.

Directed by J.J. Abrams (“Mission: Impossible III”), it stars John Cho, Ben Cross, Bruce Greenwood, Simon Pegg, Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Winona Ryder, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Anton Yelchin, Eric Bana, Leonard Nimoy, Jimmy Bennett, Clifton Collins, Jr., Marlene Forte, Chris Hemsworth and Tyler Perry.

The Story: No spoilers here either — let’s just say the film’s about the early days of James T. Kirk and Mr. Spock, their first meeting at Starfleet Academy and their first outer space mission.

Summit Entertainment will offer some counter programming the same weekend for moviegoers who just aren’t into “Star Trek” but might be tempted by the R rated action adventure comedy “Next Day Air”.

Directed by Benny Boom (first feature), it stars Donald Faison, Mos Def, Mike Epps, Wood Harris, Omari Hardwick, Cisco Reyes and Darius McCrary.

The Story: When an overnight shipment of drugs winds up in the hands of the wrong recipient, all parties involved embark on a break-neck quest to retrieve the lost goods.

Angels & Demons

Angels & Demons — Out May 15

Sony’s “Angels & Demons”, the prequel to the blockbuster “The Da Vinci Code”, has the weekend of May 15-17 entirely to itself in terms of competition from other wide openings. “Da Vinci” didn’t get the critics’ support, but moviegoers loved it, which is all that mattered. “Da Vinci” opened May 19, 2006 to $77.1 million and ended up with $217.5 million at the domestic boxoffice. “Angels & Demons” should be critic-proof, too, and it should definitely help that the franchise is now a brand name. Clearly, with nobody else daring to go head to head with “Angels & Demons”, Hollywood is expecting “Da Vinci” size boxoffice fireworks this time around.

Directed by Ron Howard (“The Da Vinci Code”), it stars Tom Hanks, Ewan McGregor, Ayelet July Zurer, Stellan Skarsgard, Pierfrancesco Favino, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Armin Mueller-Stahl, August Fredrik and Kristof Konrad.

The Story: Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) tries to solve a murder and unravel a plot by an ancient group, the Illuminati, to blow up the Vatican during a papal conclave.

May 22-25 is the four-day Memorial Day weekend, the official start to the summer movie season, and it features movies that should satisfy a wide range of tastes.

The holiday weekend’s top grossing newcomer is likely to be Warner Bros.’ PG-13 rated “Terminator Salvation”, which will get a jump on the competition by opening Th., May 21. The “Terminator” franchise, which began in 1984, has grossed nearly $394 million to date. The latest episode may not star Arnold Schwarzenegger, but it’s still a safe bet to rack up enviable ticket sales.

Directed by McG (“Charlie’s Angels”), it stars Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Anton Yelchin, Moon Bloodgood, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rashid “Common” Lynn, Jane Alexander and Helena Bonham-Carter.

The Story: The latest episode of “The Terminator” film franchise is set in post-apocalyptic 2018. John Connor (Christian Bale) is the man fated to lead the human resistance against Skynet and its army of Terminators. But the future that Connor was raised to believe in is altered in part by the appearance of Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a stranger whose last memory is of being on death row.

Connor must decide whether Marcus has been sent from the future, or rescued from the past. As Skynet prepares its final onslaught, Connor and Marcus both embark on an odyssey that takes them into the heart of Skynet’s operations, where they uncover the terrible secret behind the possible annihilation of mankind.

May 22 is Fox’s opening date for “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian”, the PG-rated comedy sequel to the blockbuster “Night at the Museum.” Fox opened the original “Night” Dec. 22, 2006 to $30.4 million and wound up grossing $250.9 million domestically. “Smithsonian” should open way bigger thanks to its Memorial Day launch.

Directed by Shawn Levy (“Night at the Museum”), it stars Ben Stiller, Amy Adams, Hank Azaria, Christopher Guest, Owen Wilson, Steve Coogan, Dick Van Dyke, Ricky Gervais and Robin Williams.

The Story: In the sequel to “Museum”, artifacts from the Museum of Natural History are boxed up and sent to the archives at the Smithsonian in Washington. Security guard Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) infiltrates the Smithsonian Institute in order to rescue Jedediah (Owen Wilson) and Octavius (Steve Coogan), who have been shipped to the museum by mistake.

The film’s centerpiece is bringing to life the Smithsonian Institution, which houses the world’s largest museum complex with more than 136 million items in its collections, ranging from the plane Amelia Earhart flew on her nonstop solo flight across the Atlantic and Al Capone’s rap sheet and mug shot to Dorothy’s ruby red slippers and Archie Bunker’s lounge chair.

Rounding out the wide releases set for Memorial Day weekend is Paramount’s PG-13 rated action comedy “Dance Flick”. For moviegoers who don’t want an action epic (“Terminator”) or a comedy (“Museum”), here’s an action adventure comedy to lure them into multiplexes.

Dance Flick

Dance Flick — Out May 22

Directed by Damien Dante Wayans (feature directing debut), it stars Marlon Wayans, Amy Sedaris, Shawn Wayans, Essence Atkins, Keenen Ivory Wayans, David Alan Grier, Chris Elliott, Ross Thomas and Kim Wayans.

The Story: A rich, white girl from the suburbs finds herself on a series of misadventures when she moves to the mean streets of the inner-city.

May should end on an up note thanks to Disney and Pixar’s PG rated animated family adventure “Up.” Last summer Disney and Pixar’s “Wall-E” opened June 27 to $63.1 million and went on to gross $223.8 million domestically. It was the year’s fifth biggest film. “Up” stands to do as well or even better as it’s coming into the marketplace a month earlier when there’s less competition than “Wall-E” faced in late June.

Directed by Pete Docter (“Monsters, Inc.”) and Bob Peterson (first feature), it stars the voice talents of Ed Asner, Paul Eiding, Christopher Plummer and John Ratzenberger.

The Story: Seventy-eight year old Carl Fredricksen ties thousands of balloons to his home so he can take off and fulfill his lifelong dream of seeing the wilds of South America. Soon after he departs he discovers he’s not alone since Russell, an 8 year old wilderness explorer scout, has inadvertently stowed away on the trip.

Moviegoers who aren’t up for some good laughs with “Up” can opt instead for some good scares from Universal’s PG-13 thriller “Drag Me to Hell”.

Directed by Sam Raimi (“Spider-Man” franchise), it stars Alison Lohman, Justin Long, Lorna Raver, Dileep Rao, David Paymer, Adriana Barraza, Reggie Lee, Jessica Lucas and Bojana Novakovic.

The Story: Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) is a Los Angeles bank loan officer with a charming boyfriend. Her good life starts changing when Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver) arrives at the bank to beg for an extension on her home loan. Christine makes the big mistake of deciding to deny that extension so as to impress her boss, thus shaming Mrs. Ganush and causing her to lose her home. In retaliation, the old woman places a curse on Christine. Haunted by an evil spirit, Christine seeks a seer’s help to save her soul from eternal damnation. To help Christine return her life to normal, the psychic sets her on a course to reverse the spell.

Once again Summit Entertainment will be doing some counter-programming. This time it’s the PG-13 rated romantic drama “The Brothers Bloom”, which will be going wider after having started out in limited release earlier in May.

Directed by Rian Johnson (“Brick”), it stars Rachel Weisz, Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo, Rinko Kikuchi, Maximilian Schell and Robbie Coltrane.