If at first you succeed ...

Times Staff Writer

Question: What do Tarzan, Mr. Moto, Blondie and Dagwood Bumstead, Boston Blackie, Andy Hardy, Charlie Chan, Bomba the Jungle Boy, Dr. Kildare, the Bowery Boys, the Whistler, Nick and Nora Charles, and Francis the talking mule all have in common?

(A) They were house guests of the Osbournes.

(B) They secretly make up Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force.

(C) They are former presidents of the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn.

(D) Each is subject of a movie in development with Jim Carrey attached to star.

(E) All were characters in popular movie series of their day.

Answer: E, although until the names of Cheney's task force are revealed, no one can be sure.

Throughout its rich history, Hollywood has had a love affair with the sequel. This year is no different. But what makes 2003 unique is the sheer number of so-called franchise movies.

At least 23 sequels are in the wings, from a new "Charlie's Angels" and "Tomb Raider" to the return of Arnold Schwarzenegger as "The Terminator" and two sequels to "The Matrix."

Last year, six of the top 10 grossing films were sequels. They included "Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones," "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers," "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets," "Austin Powers in Goldmember," "Men in Black 2" and "Die Another Day." Through Jan. 5, these films had raked in a combined $1.4 billion in domestic box office.

Is it any wonder studio executives greenlight sequels as if they were dispensing cans of Pepsi?

"I don't recall another year that had over 20 sequels," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations Co.

Sequels, nothing new in Hollywood, remain popular because even though moviegoers may "complain about the lack of original films," Dergarabedian said, "a sequel takes a little bit out of the guesswork or fear factor of going to the movies. If they know Austin Powers is going to be in the movie, moviegoers seem more inclined to spend money on that -- a known quantity."

So in a way, we get what we deserve. Here are a dozen examples of what audiences have to look forward to.

*

Barbershop; Barbershop 2

Studio: MGM.

Box office history: "Barbershop," $75.1 million.

Plot: Another hilarious day with the crew at Calvin's shop on the South Side of Chicago.

What were they thinking? Maybe the Rev. Jesse Jackson can stir enough bad publicity to break the $100-million threshold?

What's in it for us? Watching to see if more leaks develop in the political correctness balloon.

Missing ingredient: No more Rodney King jokes. (You think?)

Skewed demographics: Everyone but skinheads.*

*

X-Men; X2

Studio: 20th Century Fox.

Box office history: "X-Men," $73.2 million.

Plot: Count on Hugh Jackman with claws and more high jinks with leather-bound heroes at school for mutants.

What were they thinking? Can you mutate money into more money?

What's in it for us? Heroics and villainy in sexy costumes.

Added ingredients: New characters Kitty Pryde, Colossus, Nightcrawler.

Skewed demographics: Comic book junkies, movie special-effects junkies, Halle and Rebecca junkies, Hugh junkies, Jean-Luc Picard and Gandalf junkies.

*

Final Destination; Final Destination 2

Jeepers Creepers; Like Hell: Jeepers Creepers 2

Studios: New Line Cinema, MGM.

Box office history: "Final Destination," $53.3 million; "Jeepers Creepers," $37.5 million.

Plot: In "Final Destination 2," Kimberly has a sudden premonition that saves her friends from a catastrophic freeway pileup, but soon the survivors begin dropping dead. In "Like Hell: Jeepers Creepers 2," an ancient creature known as the Creeper terrorizes basketball team entourage stranded on remote highway.

What were they thinking? Coincides with Academy Award season.

What's in it for us? Plenty of time to buy more Raisinettes.

Missing and/or added ingredients: Creeper's insistence on final cut.

Skewed demographics: Morticians, psychologists, disenfranchised "X-Files" fans.

*

Shanghai Noon; Shanghai Knights

Studio: Disney.

Box office history: $56.9 million.

Plot: High-kicking Chon Wang and cowboy pal Roy O'Bannon travel to London to track down the killer of Chon's estranged father.

What were they thinking? Disney profits could use a kick in the pants.

What's in it for us? More scenes of Owen Wilson's amazing schnoz.

Missing ingredient: No Lucy Liu to rescue this time.

Skewed demographic: Karate clubs, plastic surgeons, British royalty.

*

The Whole Nine Yards; The Whole Ten Yards

Studio: Warner Bros.

Box office history: "The Whole Nine Yards," $57.3 million.

Plot: Former neighbor Oz begs retired hit man Jimmy and wife Jill (a purported assassin) to help rescue his wife from a Hungarian mob.

What were they thinking? Slovakian mobs are taboo this year in Hollywood.

What's in it for us? Another new hairstyle for Bruce Willis?

Added ingredients: Matthew Perry as we've never seen him.

Skewed demographics: Hungarian mobsters, creepy suburbanites.

*

Legally Blonde; Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde

Studio: MGM.

Box office history: "Legally Blonde," $95 million.

Plot: Rising young lawyer with super-healthy hair heads to Washington, D.C.

What were they thinking? Talking heads on C-SPAN could use a make-over.

What's in it for us? Reese Witherspoon more pleasing to the eyes and ears of White House press corps.

Skewed demographics: Cosmeticians, Zogby Poll undecideds, the Beltway Boys, Chihuahua lovers.

*

Charlie's Angels: Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle

Studio: Sony.

Box office history: "Charlie's Angels," $125.3 million.

Plot: Angels go undercover to retrieve missing wedding rings that contain encrypted identities from the federal witness protection program.

What were they thinking? The original was rewritten at least 30 times. Guinness record, anyone?

What's in it for us? All those gorgeous gams. And then there's Crispin Glover as a villain.

Missing and added ingredients: Bernie Mac in for Bill Murray as Bosley's brother.

Skewed demographics: Snitches living on the lam, U.S. attorneys, Demi Moore fans.

*

Dirty Dancing; Dirty Dancing 2: Havana Nights

Studio: Artisan.

Box office history: "Dirty Dancing," $63.5 million.

Plot: American girl with overbearing father finds a dance partner for big contest in decadent, pre-revolution Cuba. He teaches her all the slinky, sensuous moves.

What were they thinking? Nobody goes to the Catskills anymore.

What's in it for us? Diego Luna from "Y Tu Mama Tambien."

Missing and/or added ingredients: Fidel is still hiding out in Sierra Maestra mountains.

Skewed demographics: Miami's Cuban American community, Desi Arnaz Fan Club.

*

El Mariachi; Desperado: Once Upon a Time in Mexico

Studio: Sony.

Box office history: "El Mariachi," $2 million; "Desperado," $25.6 million.

Plot: Mythic guitar-slinging hero El Mariachi pursues cartel kingpin who is planning a coup d'etat against the president of Mexico.

What were they thinking? Hollywood must extend a hand of friendship to Mexican President Vicente Fox.

What's in it for us? Antonio Banderas again with sexy long hair. If that's not enough, there's always Salma Hayek.

Skewed demographics: Zorro aficionados, ex-DEA and CIA agents, PRI operatives, Steven Seagal's entourages.

*

The Terminator; Terminator 2: Judgment Day; Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines

Studio: Warner Bros.

Box office history: "The Terminator," $36.9 million; "Terminator 2: Judgment Day," $112.5 million.

Plot: John Connor, now 25, joins forces with the Terminator against T-X, a state-of-the-art cyborg killing machine in beautiful human guise, and forestalls the looming threat of Judgment Day.

What were they think-

ing? Do it now, before Arnold's pecs begin to

sag.

What's in it for us? Let's hear it one more time -- hasta la vista, baby.

Missing and/or added ingredients: James Cameron opts out of directing; Jonathan Mostow ("U-571") steps in.

Skewed demographics: Tokyo youth, the Raelians, California's GOP leadership.

*

American Pie; American Pie 2; American Wedding

Studio: Universal.

Box office history: "American Pie," $101.7 million; "American Pie 2," $145.1 million.

Plot: Wedding of Jim and Michelle.

What were they thinking? If all it takes to make America's teens laugh is creative uses for apple pie, why not serve up a multitiered cake with plenty of icing?

What's in it for us? Keeps Jason Biggs off Broadway.

Missing ingredient: No more flashing of Shannon Elizabeth's breasts.

Skewed demographics: Members of the Eugene Levy Fan Club anticipate "American Honeymoon," "American Parenthood" and "American Divorce."

*

Bad Boys; Bad Boys II

Studio: Sony.

Box office history: "Bad Boys," $65.8 million.

Plot: Narcotics detectives Will Smith and Martin Lawrence reunite to investigate the flow of Ecstasy into Miami.

What were they thinking? It's never too late to try to capitalize on the increased popularity of the stars since the original came out in 1995.

What's in it for us? Michael Bay returns to small art-house films.

Skewed demographics: Undercover cops, shut-ins, Trent Lott.

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