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BOX OFFICE 'RELOADED' FOR '03 A FULL LINE OF SEQUELS IS COMING SOON TO THEATERS.

Byline: Greg Hernandez Staff Writer

The movie industry's major film studios have stacked their 2003 release schedules with so many sequels, remakes and films based on well-known characters that at least matching last year's record $9.4 billion box office take is a strong possibility.

Throw in star vehicles from the likes of Tom Cruise, Jim Carrey and Russell Crowe and sleeper hits from the independent world and the elements are in place for another banner year, according to John Shaw, president of the box office tracking company Movieline International.

``This coming year's release schedule is very much like 2002's,'' Shaw said. ``The sequels are obviously easier to market and looking at what we know is out there, we should at least pass the $9 billion mark again. How far beyond that though, no one knows.''

Studios have been jockeying for key release dates since last year to try to give their films the widest possible berth with competition fierce for prime slots. The big-budget blockbusters start rolling out in early May and continue to debut nearly every weekend for the next 12 weeks, then resume in November.

Among those vying for summer box office bucks will be a batch of sequels including 20th Century's Fox's ``X-Men 2''; Sony Pictures Entertainment's ``Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle'' and ``Bad Boys 2''; Universal Pictures' ``Fast and the Furious 2'' and ``American Wedding,'' the second sequel to ``American Pie''; Warner Bros.' second ``Terminator'' sequel, ``T3: Rise of the Machines,'' and ``The Matrix'' sequel ``Matrix Reloaded''; MGM's ``Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde'' and ``Jeeper Creepers 2''; Dimension Film's ``Spy Kids 3''; and Paramount's ``Lara Croft: Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life.''

The slate closely resembles summer 2002, which was filled with sequels such as ``Star Wars: Episode II,'' ``Men in Black II'' and ``Austin Powers in Goldmember.''

``Last summer it was easy to think it was because people wanted things they were comfortable with after 9-11,'' said David Tuckerman, president of domestic distribution at New Line Cinema. ``I think a lot of that was true for last year but this coming year, I'm not sure.''

Tuckerman, whose studio released current box office titan ``The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers,'' will have another ``Rings'' sequel bow in December 2003: ``The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King,'' the final part of a trilogy based on the classic works of J.R.R. Tolkien.

Sony Pictures Distribution President Jeff Blake said audiences have set the bar even higher for sequels than for original fare.

``I think you have to remember the lesson that you can't set out to do a portion of the original or just equal the original,'' Blake said. ``You have to set out to make it bigger and better than the original. They managed to do that with 'Lord of the Rings' this year and that's our intention with 'Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle' and 'Bad Boys 2.'''

The sequels will pop up again starting in the fall and through the holiday season. ``The Matrix Revolutions,'' a second `Matrix'' sequel will come out nearly six months after ``Matrix Reloaded,'' and Warner Bros. will also release ``The Whole Ten Yards,'' a sequel to the Bruce Willis comedy ``The Whole Nine Yards.''

In addition to the plethora of sequels, studios have taken a page from Sony's monster success with ``Spider-Man'' last year by bringing other comic book characters and superheroes to life. Fox will release ``Daredevil'' on Feb. 14 and it will be followed in June by Universal's ``The Hulk.''

Major box office stars Cruise, Harrison Ford, Carrey, Julia Roberts and Mike Myers will attempt to add to their list of box office hits in ``The Last Samurai,'' ``Hollywood Homicide,'' ``Bruce Almighty,'' ``Mona Lisa Smile'' and ``The Cat in the Hat,'' respectively.

``There are also some original pictures like 'Master Commander' with Russell Crowe, 'Seabiscuit' and 'Finding Nemo' that if they pan out well, will really add to the year,'' Shaw said. ``And the next sleepers like 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon' from two years ago and 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding' is going to come from the independent world. That's a growing part of the market.''

Tuckerman said since sequels are never sure things, the real key to steady box office business is high-quality films that capture the enthusiasm of audiences.

``I have always said movies beget themselves,'' he said. ``If you see a good one this weekend, the first thing you think about is going to the movies again.''

CAPTION(S):

3 photos

Photo:

(1 -- 2 -- color) Keanu Reeves and Carrie Anne Moss will reprise their roles for Warner Bros.' ``Matrix Reloaded,'' above, coming this summer, along with Arnold Schwarzenegger's ``T3: Rise of the Machines,'' left.

Warner Bros.

(3) Paramount's ``Lara Croft: Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life'' brings Angelina Jolie back to the box office for the film's sequel.

Paramount
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jan 4, 2003
Words:810
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