A dino-mite formula for summer movies

Know what makes the perfect summer movie?

Dinosaurs.

It doesn't matter if they're phony flesh and blood, nuclear mutated, animated or skeletons reanimated by Night at the Museum magic. What are Transformers but intergalactic dinosaurs in shining armor?

All we ask is that they're mean, not those namby-pamby Iguanodons of Disney's belly flop Dinosaur that set back dinoflicks an eon or two. Just not mean enough to earn an R rating, or else many of the kids driving movie grosses during summer vacation can't buy tickets.

Make it a sequel with dinosaurs and you'll have an even bigger hit. Have them chasing a big star like Will Smith — the undisputed king of summer cinema — and the box office is your ATM.

Add some bombastic action and a distinct lack of serious drama and you've got the makings of a summer blockbuster.

These 12 movies have at least some parts of the formula: dinosaurs + star power + action + youth appeal + sequel + escapism. That doesn't mean the movies will be good. But those factors put moviegoers in theater seats, with a consistency that can be depressing.

Check out our predictions of the season's smashes then leave your own picks at my Reeling in the Years blog (blogs.tampabay.com/movies).

And don't step in any dino poop.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine | opens Friday With the X-Men trilogy completed — and ticket sales increasing with each movie — Marvel Films tries a spin-off with its breakout mutant. An unfinished version recently leaked to the Internet drew mixed reactions, but fanboys will line up for tickets. One possible drawback: Hugh Jackman's box office appeal looks softer since Australia went Down Under.

Star Trek | May 8

An idea that seemed desperate at first now looks like a slam dunk. Director J.J. Abrams (TV's Lost) turns the franchise's 11th movie into a prequel about Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock's (Zachary Quinto) early days at Starfleet Academy. Pine and Quinto are sex symbols in the making, and preview trailers display some astonishing special effects.

Angels & Demons | May 15

Plans to film Dan Brown's earlier novel were set before The Da Vinci Code finished its $77 million opening weekend. Tom Hanks returns (with a better haircut) as symbologist Robert Langdon, investigating a plot against the Vatican by a secret organization known as the Illuminati. It didn't matter that the first movie was dull, and probably won't now, if this one stays the course.

Terminator Salvation | May 21

Not counting Christian Bale's meltdown on the set, this sequel looks as loud and bombastic as the first three Terminator flicks combined. The nefarious Skynet cyber-program is almost finished wiping out the human race. The anointed savior, John Connor (Bale), and an army of survivors try to pull the plug. There can't be another chapter, can there?

Night at the Museum: Battle for the Smithsonian | May 22

Remember when Ben Stiller was a cutting-edge comedian? Now he's challenging Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy as Hollywood's favorite dad. Bigger museum, more historical figures coming to life (Amy Adams as Amelia Earhart, for one) and smart counter-programming against the R-rated Terminator flick.

Up | May 29

Pixar Animation Studios turned a rodent chef (Ratatouille) and a beeping box of nuts and bolts (Wall-E) into hits for adults more than children. Up looks even more mature, with an elderly man (voice of Ed Asner) floating to South America with thousands of helium balloons tied to his house. Wedged between two family-friendly action comedies, this could be when Pixar's bubble bursts.

Land of the Lost | June 5

Saturday mornings haven't been the same since Sid and Marty Krofft's cheesy TV series was canceled in 1977 (and don't count the 1991 makeover; nobody else does). Will Ferrell stars as archaeologist Rick Marshall, leading an expedition back in time and facing a slew of creatures. Should be fun, even if you don't know Chaka from a Sleestack.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen | June 24

Those pesky Decepticons that nearly destroyed Earth in 2007 mount another assault, with Shia LaBeouf and Optimus Prime in their path. Director Michael Bay has the mecha-transformations down pat and traditionally makes the loudest movies of any year.

Public Enemies | July 1

Normally, a 1930s gangster movie wouldn't make this hit list. But most of them don't star Captain Jack Sparrow and Batman. Johnny Depp plays crime legend John Dillinger, and Christian Bale is FBI agent Melvin Purvis, hot on his trail. Director Michael Mann (Collateral, Heat, The Last of the Mohicans) is supremely adept at classy action flicks, so this material is squarely in his crosshairs.

Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs | July 1

The first two Ice Age movies both opened in March, when competition is slack, and posted huge box office totals. Moving to the Fourth of July weekend is a minor risk, if kids are tired of Manfred, Sid and Diego's prehistoric pratfalls by now or still captivated by Transformers. But the dinosaurs are right there in the title.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince | July 15

Harry's (Daniel Radcliffe) sixth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry plunges him deeper into the dark history of Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes). Postponing this film's release from last fall cost momentum, but it won't matter when Warner Bros.' marketing campaign cranks up. Anything below $200 million at the box office may make the studio reconsider dividing J.K. Rowling's final Potter novel into two movies.

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra | Aug. 7

The granddaddy of all action figures finally gets a live action movie. An elite special operations force battles a Scottish arms dealer, since every other nationality has an advocacy group to complain about tainting their images. Let's hope that director Stephen Sommers (The Mummy movies) has a kung fu grip on the red, white and blue material for wartime audiences.

Not all of this summer's releases are built to be blockbusters. Here are a few movies hoping to leave their mark with grownup themes or juvenile comedy strictly for adults:

The Taking of Pelham 123 | June 12

John Travolta and Denzel Washington star in a remake of a 1974 thriller aboard a hijacked subway train.

Year One | June 19

Trimmed to avoid an R rating, this caveman comedy starring Jack Black and Michael Cera has a plum release date for a big opening weekend before Transformers takes over.

My Sister's Keeper June 26

Cameron Diaz and Abigail Breslin co-star in my long shot pick for the summer. It's a weeper with strong female appeal (a la The Notebook), based on a bestseller (like The Devil Wears Prada).

Bruno | July 10

Something tells me that Sacha Baron Cohen's "gotcha" shtick from Borat won't work this time, and the flamboyant gayness of his character will turn off many moviegoers.

Funny People | July 31

Any movie starring Adam Sandler is a potential hit — unless he's being serious. This one straddles the line, with Sandler playing a dying standup comedian taking a newcomer (Seth Rogen . . . again?) under his wing.

Julie & Julia | Aug. 7

Julie (Amy Adams) pledges to cook all 524 recipes in the classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child (Meryl Streep), becoming a foodie guru on the Web.

Inglourious Basterds Aug. 21

Yes, that's how Quentin Tarantino wants his title spelled. Brad Pitt leads a ragtag band of soldiers on a killing rampage through the Third Reich.

Steve Persall can be reached at persall@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at blogs.tampabay.com/movies.

A dino-mite formula for summer movies 04/29/09 [Last modified: Thursday, May 7, 2009 12:30pm]

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