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Summer 2002: Return of the Plot

Ten billion dollars. Believe it or not, that1s the figure box office gurus are eyeing for the year 2002 in movies, and it1s this summer1s unusually strong batch that has execs seeing 11 figures. Unusually strong not just because tickets are selling faster than WorldCom stock, but because Hollywood has finally put together a set of flicks that won1t completely lower your IQ.

But why this year are we getting so many summer movies that are already gathering Oscar buzz? Already, we1ve seen Road to Perdition, a gangster movie starring Academy Award favorites Tom Hanks and Paul Newman; the Al Pacino-Robin Williams Alaskan thriller Insomnia; and Minority Report, Steven Spielberg1s annual foray into the summer cinema that he spawned in 1977 with Jaws. In the next month, the eagerly anticipated Signs and Full Frontal are also set to premier.

Perhaps studio big wigs have realized that if they move their winter Oscar-bait to the summer, they can use positive reviews to grab the popcorn-munching audiences and then re-release any legitimate hopefuls in the big cities come Christmas time.

Another reason could be that critical darling directors have also proven to be big box office draws. Of the five films mentioned above, three of their directors<Sam Mendes (Perdition), Spielberg and Steven Soderbergh (Frontal) have all taken home Best Director Oscars, while M. Night Shyamalan (Signs) was nominated for his Sixth Sense and Christopher Nolan got a nom1 for his screenplay for Memento.

Yet another possibility is that Hollywood1s crack squad of screenwriters are finally coming up with intelligent dialogue for their summer blockbusters. Spiderman flipped the comic book movie genre on its head with a (gasp!) quick-witted set of characters, and The Bourne Identity breathed new life into the tired world of espionage thrillers. Even some summer sequels, so notoriously wretched, have had legs with the enjoying, if completely vacuous, Attack of the Clones leading the charge in May and the third Austin Powers guaranteed to offer the same, but still damn funny, gags later this week.

Of course, there1s been the occasional dud<Scooby Doo, Mr. Deeds and Men In Black II to name a few. But the delightfully unexpected heavy cream of the crop has changed the usually bleak and sweltering months into a cool trip to the theater.