Summer of superheroes
It's looking to be another summer of superheroes and sequels as Hollywood unleashes a barrage of pictures aimed at their core audience of young men.
Studios generate about 40 per cent of their annual sales during the lucrative four-month summer season. But although ticket sales brought in a record $4.35 billion (Dh15.97 billion) in 2010, that was due to higher prices.
The grim reality is that attendance has fallen for the past three summers, reaching its lowest level last summer since 1997.
So what gives? Paul Dergarabedian, box office analyst for Hollywood.com, said alternative ways of watching movies from the likes of Netflix, Hulu and video on demand are giving movie theatres a run for their money.
"The immediacy of online delivery has created a competitive landscape for theatrical moviegoing," Dergarabedian said.
Not that going to the multiplex is in danger of becoming extinct — so long as the product is good.
A year after Iron Man, Twilight and Shrek sequels pulled in summer crowds, the studios are front loading many of their potential blockbusters early.
Summer cannot come soon enough for Hollywood with 2011 sales to date of $2.7 billion, down nearly 18 per cent from last year.
"The cavalry is on its way to get the momentum going, so it's all about big names and big franchises," Dergarabedian said.
Guns might not be blazing, but hammers are certainly pounding after the Marvel comic adaptation Thor — with a reported production budget of $150 million — kicked things off last week. Australian newcomer Chris Hemsworth stars in the title role as the god of Thunder.
Following in quick succession will be a fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie (May 19), Hangover (May 26) and Kung Fu Panda (June 2) sequels and X-Men: First Class (June 2), a prequel to the franchise.
Before the season ends in September, two more superhero comic books will come to life including Green Lantern (June 16) and Captain America: The First Avenger (UAE release date has not been announced yet).
Summer inevitably pits earthlings against intergalactic aggressors. Aliens will have two shots: in Star Trek director J.J. Abrams' 1979-set Super 8 (June 16); and in the sci-fi western Cowboys & Aliens, starring Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford.
In July, those shape-shifting robots return for a third attempt at taking over civilisation in Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Primates stake their claim on August in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a prequel starring James Franco.
But no doubt the biggest battle will occur on July between wizards and witches, Muggles and Squibs, half-bloods and humans as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2 (July 14) closes the chapter on the biggest movie franchise of all time.
With kids out of school, plenty of family films are on offer. But familiarity abounds. Offerings include a wishfully titled book adaptation, Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer, Cars 2 (June 23), The Smurfs and Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World 3D.
Prefer some raunch with your popcorn? Edgy comedies are coming out full force this summer. A sequel to 2009's surprise hit The Hangover, opens this month, and the ladies get to live it up in Bridesmaids (July 21).
Justin Timberlake stars in a pair of adult comedies, reuniting with real-life ex-girlfriend Cameron Diaz in Bad Teacher and teaming with Mila Kunis for Friends With Benefits.
"It's at the point now where there are as many raunchy comedies as there are comic book movies," said Dave Karger of Entertainment Weekly. "Every studio is chasing The Hangover."
Some big stars are involved in more down to earth, serious fare to counter programme all the special effects and animation.
On July, Tom Hanks directs and stars as a recently axed worker in Larry Crowne (July 7) opposite Julia Roberts; Brad Pitt and Sean Penn delve into family relationships in Terrence Malick's Tree of Life (June 30); and 1960s racism is explored in the big screen adaptation of Kathryn Stockett's best-selling novel The Help.
"It's important that the older audience not be neglected in the summer," said Dave White, film critic for Movies.com.
"They may not rush out opening weekend to see a film, but they want to see movies about adult human beings in adult situations."