Midsummer box office report card

Times Staff Writer

According to the calendar most Americans live by, summer officially started a week ago. But as entertainment junkies well know, Hollywood operates by its own calendar, and according to that one, we're just about midway through the summer season.

July 4 is the second of the three major summer weekends in the Hollywood summer (Memorial Day kicks it off, Independence Day marks the middle, and Labor Day finishes the thing) and as we head into the holiday, we thought it was time to break from the frantic box office predicting and instead take a measured look back at how movies have done so far.

1. THE THREEQUELS.Hollywood decided to hit us with its big guns early this year: "Spider-Man 3," "Shrek the Third," and "Pirates 3" were all released in May. Sony's "Spider-Man" won the opening-weekend race with $151 million the weekend of May 4. It has since grossed $332.9 million domestically. "Shrek" had a $121-million opener May 18, making the $114.7-million "Pirates" opener May 25 look meager by comparison. But that's just the unfortunate law of relativity talking. Any way you slice it, these three films delivered big time at the box office. (Which is why we should expect a summer of fourquels in 2009.)

2. THE LAFFERSThe performance of this summer's two most anticipated comedies illustrates the natural law of funny movies: Giant budgets do not produce giant laughs. The PG-rated, family-friendly "Evan Almighty," which cost a reported $200 million-plus to make (at the very least $175 million) earned a paltry $31.2 million when it opened June 22. That's less than half what "Bruce Almighty" made back in 2003. In comparison, the Judd Apatow R-rated sex comedy "Knocked Up" made $30.69 million when it opened June 1, but that was the entire budget of the film. And Apatow's movie has legs. By June 23, it had made $109.3 million domestically. Lesson? Stick to the rules.

3. HORRORThe torture trend in horror films appears to be losing steam. FINALLY! (Although that's not such good news for the makers of the much-hyped, crazy violent "Captivity" coming out July 13.) Eli Roth's "Hostel: Part II," which turned the torture on a group of young traveling women, sparked an uproar but disappointed at the box office, earning a mere $8 million on its June 8 opening weekend. (The first "Hostel" made a brisk $20 million on its opener and cost half as much to make.) Meanwhile, the more traditional horror film "1408," starring John Cusack, made $20 million its first weekend (June 22).

4. ACTION!It's hard to say how this genre is doing. "Live Free or Die Hard" has already made $15 million as of this writing, but we're still waiting for a lot of the other big action pictures, such as "The Bourne Ultimatum" (Aug. 3) and "Rush Hour 3" (Aug. 10), to come out. "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer" did a very reasonable $58 million its opening weekend (June 15) and has since made more than $100 million.

5. OSCAR CONTENDERSSummer isn't really the time for Oscar contenders to shine. Nobody expected "A Mighty Heart" to do stellar business, but with Angelina Jolie as the star there was hope it might do OK. Nope! It made just $3.9 million its first weekend (June 22) and to date has made only $5.4 million. This weekend brings "Evening," the film based on Susan Minot's novel of the same name. Even with Meryl Streep, Claire Danes, Toni Collette and Vanessa Redgrave, the film is not tracking well.

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