| LOS ANGELES
LOS ANGELES Four billion dollars over four months, four years in a row. Those are figures that might make the ego of "Iron Man" Tony Stark swell even bigger.
But the $4 billion is what Hollywood's studios will be aiming to collect at box offices during their lucrative summer film season that kicks off on Friday, starting four straight months of some of the year's biggest movies and biggest stars.
The show begins with "Iron Man 2," about defense industry billionaire Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) who builds an ultra high-tech suit that serves as a weapon. It will be followed by nearly 100 more films including a pair of remakes of 1980s titles "The Karate Kid" and "The A-Team."
Before the season ends in September, Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz will battle evil in "Knight and Day," Russell Crowe rob from the rich to give to the poor in "Robin Hood," the ladies of "Sex and the City 2" will go shopping in Abu Dhabi, and Jake Gyllenhaal will wield a mighty sword in action-packed Jerry Bruckheimer flick "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time."
"When you really sit down and think of how Bruckheimer works, he knows a really successful movie like this has to focus on a really successful story," Gyllenhaal told Reuters, talking about the producer of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies.
Yet in the past it has been action and adventure that have boosted summer ticket sales. Last year's No. 1 summer flick, "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen," helped push the 2009 season's ticket sales to just under $4.2 billion.
Paul Dergarabedian of Hollywood.com believes this year's box office takings will top that figure, nudged along by nine sequels and seven 3D films, including "Shrek Forever After" and "Toy Story 3."
"With the 3D component, we could have another record-breaking summer in revenue," he said.
BRING ON THE POPCORN
But for fans, the season is less about the money -- unless they're talking popcorn and sodas -- and more about movies.
Through the first half of the summer, Hollywood's studios usher at least one major release into theaters each week, culminating on June 30 with "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse," starring heartthrob Robert Pattinson as vampire Edward Cullen and Kristen Stewart as the love of his immortal life, Bella Swan.
The first two movies in the "Twilight" series took in a combined $1.1 billion but the second, last November's "New Moon," took its knocks from fans for being a bit too slow and moody. "Eclipse," directed by horror moviemaker David Slade, promises to be dark and action-packed.
"The biggest (challenge) is keeping the series fresh and exciting -- for actors, for the crew but most importantly for the audience," said producer Wyck Godfrey. "A new filmmaker brings a new vision."
On the romance front on May 14 comes comedy "Just Wright" starring Queen Latifah as a physical therapist training a suave basketball player and "Letters to Juliet," in which Amanda Seyfried portrays an American tourist who finds love in Italy.
They are followed one week later by the first 3D movie of the summer, "Shrek Forever After," the "final chapter" in the series about the gentle, big green ogre and his princess Fiona.
3D films have had a major impact on box offices this past year (see "Avatar"), and Dergarabedian, for one, thinks they will be a big factor in the summer box office when children pack theaters while school is out.
"Clearly they are going for that kid audience," he said. "3D really matters to kids."
Comedies abound too, with titles such as the "Saturday Night Live" spin-off "MacGruber" and madcap rock 'n' roll film "Get Him to the Greek" starring Russell Brand and Jonah Hill.
June 11 has been dubbed "80's week" by fans because action adventure "The A-Team" and action drama "The Karate Kid" go head-to-head, seeing which film can out-action the other.
Finally, in those first two months before the U.S. Independence Day holiday on July 4, plenty of low-budget and independently-made movies will screen in theaters.
Among the more buzzed-about titles are documentaries "Babies," "Restreppo" and "Casino Jack and the United States of Money," as well as Sundance drama "Winter's Bone" and comedy "Cyrus."
(Editing by Belinda Goldsmith)