Martin Grove’s Hollywood Report 01-03-12

Christian Bale in “The Dark Knight Rises”

Christian Bale in “The Dark Knight Rises”

“The Dark Knight Rises” – In Theaters July 20th

“The Dark Knight Rises” – In Theaters July 20th

“The Amazing Spider-Man” – In theaters July 3rd

“The Amazing Spider-Man” – In theaters July 3rd

Film friends: My crystal ball says we’re going to run into some old friends at the megaplexes in 2012.

Those “old friends” are new episodes of hit franchises or 3D reissues of past blockbusters. Although lots of new movies will also be heading our way, Hollywood’s really banking on big boxoffice returns from a pipeline filled with familiar product.

Here’s a quick look at a half-dozen of the New Year’s biggest brand name must-see movies:

1. July Fourth is always one of the year’s biggest moviegoing holidays and 2012 should boast great boxoffice fireworks thanks to Columbia and Marvel Enterprises’ “The Amazing Spider-Man,” opening Tue., July 3.

Directed by Marc Webb (“(500) Days of Summer”), this re-boot of the “Spider-Man” franchise stars Andrew Garfield (“The Social Network”) as Peter Parker and Spidey and Emma Stone (“Easy A”) as Peter’s original girlfriend Gwen Stacy, the role Bryce Dallas Howard played in “Spider-Man 3.” This is the franchise’s first episode in which Peter’s romance with Mary-Jane Watson (played by Kirsten Dunst) isn’t part of the storyline.

In a departure from the earlier CGI-driven Spidey episodes, this film’s signature acrobatic stunts are being done for real by Garfield and stuntmen.

As for villains, Spidey will come up against The Lizard, the character that Dr. Curt Connors (played by Rhys Ifans) turns into. In the earlier episodes, Connors (played by Dylan Baker) didn’t actually become The Lizard. Word is that Ifans (“Anonymous”) did all his own stunts.

It was just about two years ago in January 2010 that Sony scrapped plans to make what would have been “Spider-Man 4.” That film would have re-teamed franchise director Sam Raimi and Spidey star Tobey Maguire.

“Spider-Man 3” opened May 4, 2007 to $151.1 million domestically and wound up grossing $336.5 million plus $554.3 million in international theatres. The three title franchise has grossed $1.1 billion domestically. The new episode will be a must-see movie for millions of the series’ fans who are understandably curious about the reboot.

2. July will also sizzle at the boxoffice thanks to “The Dark Knight Rises,” opening July 20 from Warner Bros., DC Entertainment and Legendary Pictures. As the final episode in the blockbuster Batman franchise, “Rises” is clearly another of 2012's must-see movies.

Directed by Christopher Nolan (“Inception”), it stars Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne and Batman. Bale and Nolan previously teamed up for “Batman Begins” (2005) and “The Dark Knight” (2008). They also worked together on the 2009 thriller “The Prestige,” which also starred Hugh Jackman and Scarlett Johansson.

Also on hand in “Rises” are Anne Hathaway (“Alice in Wonderland”) as Selina Kyle and the villainess Catwoman, Michael Caine (“The Dark Knight”) as Bruce Wayne’s butler Alfred and Gary Oldman (“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”) as Gotham City Police Commissioner Jim Gordon.

Hathaway, by the way, was originally going to play the character Black Cat in “Spider-Man 4” when it was to be directed by Sam Raimi and star Tobey Maguire as Spidey.

In “Rises” Batman’s pitted against a new adversary — the terrorist Bane, played by Tom Hardy, who worked with Nolan on “Inception.”

Missing from all three of the Nolan/Bale “Batman” episodes is the character Robin. Bale reportedly wouldn’t sign on as Batman if Robin were part of the storyline so Nolan agreed to throw Robin under the bus. Also missing this time around is The Joker, last played memorably by the late Heath Ledger in “The Dark Knight.”

The “Batman” franchise’s seven titles, going back to 1989’s “Batman,” have grossed $1.4 billion domestically. The last episode, “The Dark Knight” opened July 18, 2008 to $158.4 million and ended up doing $533.3 million domestically and $468.6 million internationally.

3. As if “Spider-Man 3” and “The Dark Knight Rises” weren’t enough to make July a memorable boxoffice month, there’s another high profile franchise set to drift in July 13 — 20th Century Fox and Blue Sky Studios’ 3D animated adventure “Ice: Age 4: Continental Drift.”

Directed by Steve Martino (“Horton Hears a Who!”) and Mike Thurmeier (“Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs”), its voice talents include such stars as Ray Romano, Dennis Leary, Queen Latifah and Jennifer Lopez.

“Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs” opened in 3D July 1, 2009 to $41.7 million domestically and ended up with $196.6 million domestically and another $690.1 million in international theatres. The three episode franchise has grossed $568.3 million domestically.

Once again, what we’re seeing here is the winning combination of releasing an established brand name franchise in 3D during the best summer playing time. “Dinosaurs” looms as the perfect choice for family moviegoing in July, opening between the latest episodes in the PG-13 “Spider-Man” franchise and the darker PG-13 “Batman” franchise.

4. You don’t have to wait until July, however, to start catching up with old friends at the megaplexes. The first of 2012’s ultra-big brands to hit theatres will arrive Feb. 10 as the 3D conversion of 20th Century Fox and Lucasfilm’s “Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace.”

3D is the big selling point here. The 1999 blockbuster’s inter-galactic setting was always a world that would be enhanced by 3D and now the latest technology is able to make that presentation possible.

Directed and written by George Lucas (“Star Wars”), it stars Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobe, Liam Neesom as Qui-Gon Jinn and Natalie Portman as Queen Amidala and Padme.

“Menace” opened May 19, 1999 to $64.8 million and went on to gross $431.1 million domestically and $493.2 million internationally. The “Star Wars” franchise — 14 titles, including re-issues — has grossed $2.2 billion domestically. Moviegoers’ interest in seeing what “Menace” looks like in 3D should add nicely to the franchise’s success.

5. 3D is also the key marketing factor behind Paramount’s Apr. 6 reissue of “Titanic.” The 1997 historical drama, directed by James Cameron and starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, was the biggest grossing movie ever until Cameron’s 2009 3D fantasy adventure “Avatar.”

“Titanic” opened Dec. 19, 1997 to $28.6 million and ultimately grossed $600.8 million domestically plus $1.2 billion in international theatres. It’s $1.8 billion global theatrical gross topped the industry until “Avatar” wound up grossing $760.5 million domestically and $2 billion internationally for a worldwide theatrical cume of $2.8 billion!

Given Cameron’s identification with quality 3D presentation thanks to “Avatar,” it’s a no-brainer that audiences are going to want to see how he’s married the latest and best 3D technology with “Titanic.” It’s entirely possible that this 3D re-issue could put “Titanic” back on top at the global boxoffice vs. “Avatar.”

6. About a month after “Avatar’s” 3D reissue, the boxoffice should see another big surge in ticket sales when Disney and Marvel Studios’ “Iron Man 3” opens May 3 to kick off the 2012 pre-summer season.

Directed by Shane Black (“Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”), the franchise’s third episode again stars Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark and Iron Man and Gwyneth Paltrow (“Iron Man 2”) returns as Tony’s personal assistant Pepper Potts.

“Iron Man 2” opened May 7, 2010 to $128.1 million and went on to gross $312.4 million domestically and another $311.5 million in international theatres.

The first two “Iron Man” episodes had a combined domestic theatrical cume of $630.8 million. Both films were released domestically by Paramount.

After Disney bought Marvel Entertainment in August 2009 for approximately $4 billion, it purchased distribution rights in October 2010 to “Iron Man 3” and “The Avengers” from Paramount for a minimum guarantee of $115 million against a percentage of revenues Paramount would have received had it released the movie.

The deal with Disney reportedly will bring Paramount more money than it would have been likely to make through the original deal. Paramount is also totally protected in case “Iron Man 3” sinks at the boxoffice. That, however, isn’t something that anyone should stay up all night worrying about since the “Iron Man” franchise appears to be a great boxoffice magnet for moviegoers’ money.

Bottom line: It’s going to be a great year for anyone who enjoys brand name movies and 3D.

Moreover, there’s also a lot of original product in the pipeline that seems likely to generate boxoffice heat of its own. A few brand name originals that stand out as ones to watch for include:

1. The sci-fi horror thriller “Prometheus,” opening June 8 from 20th Century Fox and Scott Free Productions. Directed by Ridley Scott (“Alien”), it stars Noomi Rapace, Charlize Theron and Patrick Wilson.

Once again Scott’s taking us to the far corners of the universe — this time with a story about mankind’s origins on earth and a fight to preserve the human race. This is brand name material for Scott, who tackled outer space horror so memorably in the 1979 classic “Alien,” which did $80.9 million domestically, a huge gross at the time.

2. The sci-fi action adventure “Battleship,” opening May 18 from Universal Pictures and Hasbro. Directed by Peter Berg (“The Kingdom”), it stars Alexander Skarsgård, Brooklyn Decker and Liam Neeson.

“Battleship” is a big budget epic — reportedly costing around $200 million — inspired by Hasbro’s classic naval combat game. Its storyline revolves around a fleet of U.S. ships battling an unknown armada. The film’s marketing tagline sets it all up perfectly for summer moviegoing — “The battle for earth begins at sea.”

The film’s May 18 launch will put it in position in the marketplace a week ahead of Memorial Day weekend, one of the year’s biggest moviegoing periods and traditionally the launch of the summer season. If all goes well, “Battleship” will be able to sail on into summer boxoffice waters for several months.

What Universal will be hoping for is the same kind of success Paramount enjoyed in August of 2009 with its launch of another film inspired by a Hasbro product — “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.” “Cobra” wound up grossing $150.2 million domestically and another $152.3 million in international theatres. It spawned a sequel, “G.I. Joe: Retaliation,” which Paramount is opening this June 29.

3. The fantasy adventure “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” is another brand name original that should heat up the boxoffice when it opens in 3D Dec. 14 from MGM and New Line Cinema. Directed by Peter Jackson (“The Lord of the Rings” franchise), it stars Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins and Ian McKellen as Gandalf and is based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel “The Hobbit.”

We’re definitely back in brand name territory with “The Hobbit.” Yes, it’s an original film for sure, but it’s also one that immediately recalls Jackson’s blockbuster success bringing Tolkien’s “Rings” trilogy to the screen. The combination of 3D with a holiday season opening should resonate with moviegoers and, possibly, with Academy voters who honored 2003’s concluding “Rings” episode “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” with 11 Oscars, including best picture and best directing.