By DAVID GERMAIN
.c The Associated Press
LOS ANGELES (AP) - Sequels succeeded so well in 2002 that film studios have decided to do an encore.
2003 will see about two dozen followup movies, along with a few prequels - some craved by audiences for a decade or more, others hitting theaters less than a year after their predecessors.
The four-year wait for a followup to the sci-fi smash ``The Matrix'' ends in a big way: In May, Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne and Carrie-Anne Moss continue to battle Earth's machine conquerers in ``The Matrix Reloaded,'' followed just six months later by ``The Matrix Revolutions,'' the trilogy's end.
Those sequels were shot simultaneously, like the three installments of Peter Jackson's ``The Lord of the Rings,'' whose current chapter, ``The Two Towers,'' is on track to surpass the box-office results of 2001's ``The Fellowship of the Ring.''
There's only about 330 days of impatient pacing left till the final chapter of the fantasy epic, based on J.R.R. Tolkien's novels, arrives. ``The Return of the King'' opens just before Christmas.
By contrast, it's been 12 years since Arnold Schwarzenegger's cyborg-from-the-future promised he'd be back. He returns over the Fourth of July in ``Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines,'' battling a female cyborg sent back by evil machines to snuff the now-adult savior of humanity, John Connor.
Given the success of 2002 franchises such as ``The Lord of the Rings,'' ``Star Wars,'' ``Harry Potter,'' ``Austin Powers'' and ``Men in Black,'' it's hard to knock the business sense in giving audiences more of the same.
``Studios want to make movies people want to see. It's all about getting butts in the seats,'' said John Singleton, director of the upcoming ``The Fast and the Furious 2.'' ``People respond to characters they admire and love. If you've had a successful film with characters like that, why not make a followup?''
Other 2003 sequels include: Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen and the rest of the superhuman mutants in the new ``X-Men'' chapter, ``X2''; ``Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle,'' reuniting Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu; ``American Wedding,'' in which some of the ``American Pie'' gang attend the nuptials of gross-gag victim Jason Biggs and band geek Alyson Hannigan; and ``Lara Croft: Tomb Raider - The Cradle of Life,'' with Angelina Jolie back in action as the roaming hero of the video game.
Antonio Banderas reprises his gunslinging ``Desperado'' role in ``Once Upon a Time in Mexico''; Reese Witherspoon has a new day in court with ``Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde''; Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson follow up ``Shanghai Noon'' with ``Shanghai Knights''; and Bruce Willis and Matthew Perry of ``The Whole Nine Yards'' make a new hitman comedy, ``The Whole Ten Yards.''
There's also ``Barbershop 2,'' ``Bad Boys II,'' ``Jungle Book 2,'' ``Spy Kids 3'' and ``Scary Movie 3.''
This year brings some cross-breeding among series: There's the animated ``The Rugrats Meet the Wild Thornberrys,'' and the slasher duel ``Freddy Vs. Jason,'' matching the killers of ``A Nightmare on Elm Street'' and ``Friday the 13th.''
On the prequel front are ``Gods and Generals,'' with Robert Duvall in a forerunner to ``Gettysburg''; ``Exorcist: The Beginning,'' with Stellan Skarsgard as the priest of the horror smash in his first satanic encounter, in Africa; and ``When Harold Met Lloyd: Dumb & Dumberer,'' set in the teen years of the idiot brothers of ``Dumb and Dumber.''
Other movie highlights for winter and spring, generally Hollywood's slowest period, include:
Ben Affleck as the superhero of the comic-book adaptation ``Daredevil''; ``National Security,'' pairing Martin Lawrence and Steve Zahn as ex-cops relegated to guard jobs; and ``The Hunted,'' with Tommy Lee Jones as a tracker chasing an assassin (Benicio Del Toro).
Also, ``Veronica Guerin,'' starring Cate Blanchett as the slain Irish reporter who crusaded against crime; Al Pacino in the CIA thriller ``The Recruit''; ``The Life of David Gale,'' featuring Kevin Spacey as a death-penalty opponent who lands on Death Row; and ``Tears of the Sun,'' with Bruce Willis as a Navy SEAL on a rescue mission.
Adam Sandler offers a spring prelude to the busy summer season with ``Anger Management,'' playing a peaceable man whose outburst on an airplane puts him under the care of a rage adviser (Jack Nicholson).
For Nicholson, ``Anger Management'' offered a slapstick respite from the dark humor of his current film, ``About Schmidt.''
``I just went in the opposite direction, and I often do that. I just like to blow it out the other side,'' Nicholson said. ``This one is antic comedy. That's everything I always get bad reviews for, but hopefully it's also what the public loves.''
Along with the rush of sequels, which generally start arriving just before Memorial Day, summer flicks include:
The animated under-the-sea tale ``Finding Nemo,'' from the creators of ``Toy Story'' and ``Monsters, Inc.'', and the animated above-the-water adventure ``Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas''; Jim Carrey's comedy ``Bruce Almighty,'' about a man given God's omnipotent powers; the comic-book adaptation ``The Hulk''; and Russell Crowe in the high-seas adventure ``Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.''
Also, Ridley Scott's con-man caper ``Matchstick Men,'' starring Nicolas Cage; Eddie Murphy's comedy among the kiddies, ``Daddy Day Care''; Kevin Costner's return to directing with ``Open Range,'' co-starring Robert Duvall; and the unusual hybrid ``The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,'' starring Sean Connery in a meeting of Victorian literary characters from the works of Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Bram Stoker and others.
Among big fall and holiday releases:
Mike Myers in ``Dr. Seuss' the Cat in the Hat''; Tom Cruise in ``The Last Samurai,'' about a U.S. soldier teaching modern warfare in 1870s Japan; ``Cold Mountain,'' starring Nicole Kidman in an adaptation of the best-seller set during the Civil War; the Coen brothers' battle-of-the-sexes story ``Intolerable Cruelty,'' with George Clooney; Julia Roberts as a freethinking art professor in ``Mona Lisa Smile''; ``Out of Time,'' starring Denzel Washington as a cop troubled by a double homicide; Uma Thurman as a vengeful former assassin in Quentin Tarantino's ``Kill Bill''; and ``The Alamo,'' with Billy Bob Thornton and Dennis Quaid in a new dramatization of the infamous last stand.
01/15/03 17:00 EST
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