Hollywood is banking on the future this summer - and not just a future where Capt. Kirk orders warp speed or Tony Stark builds a better Iron Man outfit.
Though some film franchises seem to live on forever, most come with a shelf life, leaving studios always hunting for new ones.
The new stuff this summer could be a sign of what you'll be seeing for years to come if movies such as Brad Pitt's zombie fest "World War Z," Guillermo del Toro's robots-vs.-sea-monsters tale "Pacific Rim" and Johnny Depp's buddy Western "The Lone Ranger" connect with audiences. There's also that orphan from Krypton in the latest Superman revival, "Man of Steel," who seems ripe for a new franchise in this age of superhero blockbusters.
"Introducing a new audience to a new idea about Superman is great and fertile ground, because there is so much to be explored," said Amy Adams, who plays Lois Lane opposite Henry Cavill as Superman in director Zack Snyder's "Man of Steel." "There's such a rich comic-book history and so many ideas that have not been touched on over the years."
"Man of Steel" distributor Warner Bros. has had tremendous franchise success with "Harry Potter," "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit," "The Dark Knight" and "The Hangover," whose finale arrives this May.
The studio tried reviving the Krypton kid with "Superman Returns" in 2006. The movie's nearly $400 million worldwide box-office receipts were OK, but in an era of billion-dollar blockbusters, it didn't warrant more of the same with that cast and crew.
As Sony Pictures did with last summer's "The Amazing Spider-Man," a fresh beginning for that superhero after three smash films, Warner started over on Superman, with no guarantee "Man of Steel" will do franchise-worthy business.
Superman at least has an audience and track record. Hollywood's bigger risks this summer are costly action spectacles with little or no big-screen history.
Warner's "Pacific Rim" has a visionary creator in filmmaker del Toro ("Pan's Labyrinth," "Hellboy"), but he has yet to deliver a monster hit. "World War Z" has Pitt and is inspired by the best-seller about a global zombie outbreak. Clayton Moore's "The Lone Ranger" has lived on for half a century in TV reruns, and the new film reunites the crew behind "Pirates of the Caribbean": Depp, Disney, director Gore Verbinski and producer Jerry Bruckheimer.
But the Wild West generally has been on the outs for decades, while fans have to wonder if Depp's Tonto, opposite Armie Hammer's masked Lone Ranger, is just his latest exercise in costumed weirdness. Audiences bought Depp's Jack Sparrow, Willy Wonka and the Mad Hatter; they didn't buy his bizarre vampire in last summer's dud "Dark Shadows."
"This has been a big, expensive Western, and if it doesn't do well, it's probably going to be one of the nails in the coffin of big, expensive Westerns," said Hammer, best known for a dual role as the Winklevoss twins in "The Social Network." Yet Depp, Verbinski and Bruckheimer are "like a franchise factory. ... They know how to put asses in the seats."
The thing that's always lacking with new ideas, no matter how big the stars, is audience goodwill for what came before. Robert Downey Jr. was a huge question mark with 2008's "Iron Man." Now, next week's "Iron Man 3" is almost a guaranteed good time after what he's delivered before.
J.J. Abrams' take on "Star Trek" was a gamble in 2009. His sequel, "Star Trek Into Darkness," is hotly awaited after the first one took off.
"Starting something new, you're taking a huge risk," said "World War Z" director Marc Forster. "When you have a built-in audience, you can take bigger risks knowing it worked before. That's not a guarantee it's going to work again, but doing something more original I find more exciting and interesting."
This summer's newbies have promise - on paper, at least. Among them: Will Smith's sci-fi adventure "After Earth"; Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx's terrorist tale "White House Down"; Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds' back-from-the-dead cop story "R.I.P.D."; and Matt Damon's futuristic thriller "Elysium."
"Elysium" writer-director Neill Blomkamp, who scored a summer 2009 hit with "District 9," said he's not set against the franchise business but that he prefers developing original ideas.
"White House Down" director Roland Emmerich ("The Day After Tomorrow," "2012") has never been big on franchises, either, though he's developing ideas for follow-ups to his 1996 blockbuster "Independence Day."
"Working in this town for 22 years, I can see how the whole business is more and more determined by franchises. I know why. That kind of marketing and just making the films is so expensive, what you're buying yourself is already a known name that also already has fans," Emmerich said.
Among the summer sequels and prequels ("The Wolverine," "Fast & Furious 6," "Grown Ups 2," "Monsters University," "Despicable Me 2" and "The Smurfs 2") are newcomers that include the Vince Vaughn-Owen Wilson comedy "The Internship," the Seth Rogen-James Franco apocalypse spoof "This Is the End," and the cartoon tales "Epic," "Turbo" and "Planes."
Who knows which ones will connect with crowds and return with a "2" or a "3" after their titles years down the road?
"There are a lot of '3s' out there. That doesn't mean to say 'Iron Man 3' can't be great," says "The Great Gatsby" director Baz Luhrmann. "It can be fantastic, but it's the third one. Whereas, there are a few first-timers out there, and that makes for a nice smorgasbord. We all look forward to a good summer franchise picture, but there better be a few births out there, too."
On StarNet: View trailers of this summer's release at azstarnet.com/summermovies
With so many remakes, sequels and familiar subjects hitting theaters between now and Labor Day, this year's summer movie season should be dubbed as "deja viewed."Here are some highlights:
"Star Trek Into Darkness"
• Stars: Chris Pine, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg.
• Director: J.J. Abrams.
• Pitch: The Enterprise crew battles forces that threaten Starfleet.
• My take: It will boldly go to huge box office numbers.
"The Hangover III"
• Stars: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Ken Jeong.
• Director: Todd Phillips.
• Pitch: No bachelor party, but the same results.
• My take: The second film in the franchise showed some life, but it's time to end this party.
"Fast and Furious 6"
• Stars: Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson.
• Director: Justin Lin.
• Pitch: Fancy cars are driven very fast.
• My take: It's a franchise that keeps on driving.
• Stars: Beyonce Knowles, Colin Farrell, Josh Hutcherson, Amanda Seyfried.
• Director: Chris Wedge.
• Pitch: Animated tale of the battle between good and evil in the woods.
• My take: Won't be epic at the box office, but it will have a good showing.
"Now You See Me"
• Stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Melanie Laurent.
• Director: Louis Leterrier.
• Pitch: Bank robbing illusionist makes money disappear.
• My take: Needs real magic to draw a crowd.
• Stars: Jaden Smith, Will Smith.
• Director: M. Night Shyamalan.
• Pitch: Teen, his dad crash on devastated Earth.
• My take: No faith Shyamalan can make a good movie.
• Stars: Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson.
• Director: Shawn Levy.
• Pitch: Two men talk their way into an internship at Google.
• My take: Should be called "The Job Crashers."
• Stars: Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey.
• Director: James DeMonaco.
• Pitch: Family faces crisis in a world with no laws.
• My take: It will be the choice when other movies are sold out.
"This is the End"
• Stars: James Franco, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel.
• Director: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg.
• Pitch: Friends are trapped in a house after Los Angeles is wiped out.
• My take: Will cause case of comedy cabin fever.
"Man of Steel"
• Stars: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Russell Crowe, Michael Shannon, Kevin Costner.
• Director: Zack Snyder.
• Pitch: Superman becomes symbol of hope.
• My take: Latest relaunch won't go up, up and away.
• Stars: Billy Crystal, John Goodman.
• Director: Dan Scanlon.
• Pitch: How Mike and Sulley became friends.
• My take: Why did it take this long to make a sequel?
"World War Z"
• Stars: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Matthew Fox.
• Director: Marc Forster.
• Pitch: A look at the world after a zombie war.
• My take: Should be monster hit.
• Stars: Sandra Bullock, Melissa McCarthy.
• Director: Paul Feig.
• Pitch: Uptight FBI agent and unruly cop must work together.
• My take: Feig will keep movie from misfiring.
"White House Down"
• Stars: Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx.
• Director: Roland Emmerich.
• Pitch: Only one man can save the White House.
• My take: "Olympus Has Fallen" stole its thunder.
"The Lone Ranger"
• Stars: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer.
• Director: Gore Verbinski.
• Pitch: Tonto tells tale of the masked man.
• My take: Has to be better than the last big-screen "Lone Ranger."
"Despicable Me 2"
• Stars: Steve Carell, Al Pacino, Kristen Wiig.
• Director: Chris Renaud, Pierre Coffin.
• Pitch: Gru, girls are back.
• My take: You can't go wrong with these minions.
• Stars: Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi.
• Director: Guillermo del Toro.
• Pitch: Giant robots battle sea creatures.
• My take: Bet on the robots.
"Grown Ups 2"
• Stars: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade, Salma Hayek.
• Director: Dennis Dugan.
• Pitch: Friends get together for more fun.
• My take: Adam Sandler's track record stinks.
• Stars: Ryan Reynolds, Paul Giamatti.
• Director: David Soren.
• Pitch: A snail gets the power of super speed.
• My take: On the fast track to be a hit.
• Stars: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson.
• Director: James Wan.
• Pitch: Paranormal investigators face real terror.
• My take: "Amityville" for the 21st century.
• Stars: Ryan Reynolds, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Bacon.
• Director: Robert Schwentke.
• Pitch: Two undead cops go on patrol.
• My take: Just odd enough to be a surprise hit.
• Stars: Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren.
• Director: Dean Parisot.
• Pitch: The old gang is back to fight more evil.
• My take: Should be just as surprising as first film.
• Stars: Hugh Jackman, Will Yun Lee.
• Director: James Mangold.
• Pitch: The comic book hero ends up in Japan.
• My take: Will claw its way to good box office numbers.
• Stars: Neil Patrick Harris, Sofia Vergara.
• Director: Raja Gosnell.
• Pitch: Gargamel creates evil Smurf-like creatures.
• My take: Kids will keep studio from feeling blue.
"300: Rise of an Empire"
• Stars: Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Lena Headey, Hans Matheson.
• Director: Noam Murro.
• Pitch: Greek general tries to rally the troops.
• My take: Anything based on Frank Miller's work will be powerful.
• Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Denzel Washington, James Marsden.
• Director: Baltasar Korm 1/3kur.
• Pitch: Competing operatives go on the run.
• My take: Not enough firepower for the summer.
"Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters"
• Stars: Logan Lerman, Alexandra Daddario, Jake Abel.
• Director: Thor Freudenthal.
• Pitch: Percy looks for the Golden Fleece.
• My take: Does anyone remember the first movie?
"We're the Millers"
• Stars: Jennifer Aniston, Jason Sudeikis, Emma Roberts, Nick Offerman.
• Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber.
• Pitch: Small-time crook goes big time.
• My take: Big-screen version of "Weeds."
• Stars: Stacy Keach, Brad Garrett, Carlos Alazraqui.
• Director: Klay Hall.
• Pitch: One plane longs to be in an air race.
• My take: It's "Cars" with wings.
• Stars: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster.
• Director: Neill Blomkamp.
• Pitch: Conflict brews between classes in 2154.
• My take: Damon's a safe bet when it comes to action heroes.
• Stars: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloe Grace Moretz.
• Director: Jeff Wadlow.
• Pitch: A new wave of costumed heroes emerges.
• My take: New "Kick-Ass" won't.
"The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones"
• Stars: Lily Collins, Jamie Campbell Bower.
• Director: Harald Zwart.
• Pitch: Teen learns she's descendant of secret group of half-angel warriors.
• My take: Has built-in audience of fans of Cassandra Clare's novels.
• Stars: Sharni Vinson, Joe Swanberg, A.J. Bowen.
• Director: Adam Wingard
• Pitch: Family attacked by mysterious killers.
• My take: Will have trouble battling big summer releases.
• Stars: Eric Bana, Rebecca Hall, Riz Ahmed.
• Director: John Crowley
• Pitch: Ex-lovers find their loyalties tested during a trial.
• My take: One of the more cerebral movies of the summer.
• Stars: Ethan Hawke, Selena Gomez, Jon Voight.
• Directors: Courtney Solomon, Yaron Levy.
• Pitch: Burned-out race car driver must save kidnapped wife.
• My take: Summer movies coast to an end.
By the numbers
"Smurfs 2," "Red 2," "Kick-Ass 2," "Despicable Me 2," "The Hangover III" and "Fast and Furious 6."
"Iron Man 3," "Man of Steel" and "The Wolverine" and "300: Rise of an Empire," (inspired by the Frank Miller graphic novel).
Based on best-selling books
"World War Z," "The Great Gatsby" and "The Mortal Instruments."
Lena Headey: a category of her own
The actress who plays Queen Cersei on the HBO smash "Game of Thrones" stars in three movies: "300: Rise of an Empire," "The Purge" and "The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones."
Release dates subject to change Rick Bentley - The Fresno Bee