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Reel Time
2007 set to be a Marvel-ous year at the box office
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Peter Parker faces new challenges in “Spider-Man 3.”
Hollywood’s stars shone less brightly than expected in 2006.

With a handful of exceptions, theater revenues languished, heavily hyped blockbusters disappointed and big screen stars seized more headlines with maniacal ravings than with extraordinary performances.

With celebrities such as Tom Cruise and Mel Gibson bent on destroying their credibility – not to mention their marketability – moviegoers and movie moguls alike may wonder if anything will draw the masses back to the theater.

If nothing else works, of course, there’s always the tried and true. In 2007, an unforgettable ogre, a familiar pirate, a well-known wizard and several recognizable superheroes promise to enchant, entice and ensnare audiences.

DreamWorks Animation will dredge the swamp once more to revisit the much-adored ogre in “Shrek the Third.” Donkey, Puss in Boots and Princess Fiona join Shrek in the animated adventure as they strive to fend off a coup d’état staged by bitter Prince Charming. It opens May 18.

Ready to plunder the box office one last time, Johnny Depp will return to wrap up the Disney trilogy in “Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End,” opening May 25. The second installment ended in a cliffhanger with Capt. Jack Sparrow being dragged toward a watery grave, a victim of the Kraken. His company hopes to rescue him, though it means embarking on a perilous journey under the command of treacherous Capt. Barbossa. Considering its predecessor’s profits, there’s little doubt this film will unlock a wealth of treasures.

Daniel Radcliffe will reprise his now famous role in “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” opening July 13. Lord Voldemort has returned, but few in the world of wizardry wish to admit the fact. When paranoia and politics conspire to leave students of Hogwarts unprepared for an impending battle with dark forces, Harry secretly forms Dumbledore’s Army to teach his colleagues how to defend themselves against the Dark Arts. No need to consult with fortune tellers to predict that the cinematic sorcery behind the Potter films will again result in box office success.

Should all else fail, there’ll be plenty of superheroes willing to save the day in 2007.

Marvel Comics holds a monopoly on the genre in the upcoming months with three big-screen adaptations. First up, “Ghost Rider” will speed into theaters on Feb. 16 with Nicolas Cage portraying motorcycle stuntman Johnny Blaze whose deal with Mephisto transforms him into a spirit of vengeance. On May 4, the box office record-breaking web-slinger returns in “Spider-Man 3” to face Harry Osborn, Venom and Sandman. Finally, on June 15, Mr. Fantastic, The Invisible Woman, The Human Torch and The Thing will reunite in “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer,” and rumor has it that nemesis Galactus may appear in the film.

In the same vein, “Transformers,” based on the Takara/Hasbro toy line popular in the 1980s, will open on July 4 and will center on the war between the heroic Autobots and the evil Decepticons.

Another big-screen adaptation with roots in the comic book world is “300,” opening March 9. Based on Frank Miller’s graphic novel of the same name, the movie is a historical fantasy set against the historical Battle of Thermopylae.

Darker offerings await just beyond the horizon, too. A remake of the C. Thomas Howell, Rutger Hauer classic, “The Hitcher” will remind moviegoers on Jan. 19 that it’s best to leave creepy strangers on the side of the road in the middle of the desert. On Feb. 9, “Hannibal Rising” will invite audiences to learn more about the childhood of fiction’s most notorious cannibal. Paramount Pictures will explore the mind of the infamous San Francisco serial killer in “Zodiac,” opening March 2. In “1408,” John Cusack will star in a tale based on a Stephen King short story.

Rest assured: There is lighter fare available for the faint-of-heart. In a sequel to the popular “Bruce Almighty,” God tells an egotistical congressman to build an ark to prepare for a flood in “Evan Almighty,” due out in summer 2007. Loosely based on the original film and Broadway musical, “Hairspray” will see actor John Travolta playing Edna Turnblad on July 20. Finally, Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and little Maggie will make their big screen debut in “The Simpsons Movie,” opening July 27.

On its surface, the lineup seems promising. Of course, Hollywood is clearly counting on familiar faces and flourishing franchises to stay afloat in 2007. Hopefully, filmmakers’ New Year’s resolutions will include making movies that live up to their prerelease hype.
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