When a film finds a formula for success at the box office, Hollywood's reaction is 'keep making 'em until they stop coming,' which explains Tinseltown's never-ending fascination with sequels.  2003 might well go down in history as 'the year of the sequel' with no fewer than 23 sequels on the schedule -- and that's not counting out-and-out remakes such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  Why not revisit the hot properties again and again since six of the top 10 films of 2002 were sequels?  But while sequels may continue to do well at the box office, merchandise sales often fall off with the second film, a phenomenon that became painfully evident in the 1990s when the sophomore Batman film failed to recreate the merchandising frenzy surrounding Tim Burton's 'original' Batman in 1989.  So retailers have to be careful the second time around, and manufacturers have to be extremely inventive to come up with a different approach when dealing with sequels.


The list of films below represents our best judgment as to which of the many films slated for 2003 actually have merchandising potential.  There are a lot of blockbusters on our list, many of which have strong ties to pop culture properties in other media, including three strong entries based on Marvel comics that should be a continuing source of sales for retailers who sell superhero comics, graphic novels, RPGs (see 'Marvel To Publish RPG'), and toys.  While it is doubtful that any of the three Marvel entries in this year's box office derby will eclipse Spider-Man, Marvel demonstrated last year that it had learned some hard lessons about movie merchandising from its experiences with the X-Men film in 2001.  Marvel did a much better job with Spider-Man and all indications are that the publisher is poised to help retailers take full advantage of its trifecta of potential hits in 2003.  And in the game world, Lord of the Rings tops off its trifecta with the final episode in the trilogy.


Here's a quick look at the movies:


Daredevil (February 14)

Opening on Valentine's Day, Daredevil, which features Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner, Jon Favreau, Colin Farrell, and Michael Clarke Duncan, has so far received a mixed reaction from the fan press.  The film provides a more intimate look at the life of a 'superhero' than we got from the epic sweep of X-Men, and the success of Daredevil depends on the public's reaction to its main characters.  The Daredevil ad, which ran during the Super Bowl, played up the relationship between Daredevil and Electra.  The 'romantic angle' helped make Spider-Man the mega-hit it became, and Daredevil's success may well lie in the film's ability to bring in female viewers.  Opening on Valentine's Day should help the cause, and if women like the film all the fanboy grousing about the costume will become irrelevant.  Marvel has done a good job getting a number of Daredevil trade paperbacks in print, while Toy Biz has some very cool Daredevil toys and Topps has Daredevil trading cards.


Dreamcatcher (March 28)

Based on a novel by Stephen King, Dreamcatcher might do well with science fiction and horror fans thanks to a strong cast led by Morgan Freeman.  An Animatrix anime will be shown with the film (see 'It's All Part of the Matrix'), and Universal is putting a new trailer for Ang Lee's Hulk movie in front of the film, indicating that the studio feels there is affinity between the audience for Dreamcatcher and those who might attend Lee's film.  Merchandise beyond the source novel appears limited. 


Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (April 4)

Although the anime feature Cowboy Bebop will most likely receive just a limited art house release, this superbly designed film has a chance to gain new popularity and build on the recognition earned by the TV anime series now running on the Cartoon Network's Adult Swim block.  Certain retailers might be able to do extremely well with this property, which should gain additional exposure from TV reviews.  With DVDs available from Bandai, manga volumes from Tokyopop, toys from Diamond, and statues from Dark Horse, there's plenty of merchandise available.



Bulletproof Monk (April 16)

Based on the Image comic book series from 1993 and starring Chow Yun-Fat, the Bulletproof Monk has suffered from a case of 'bad buzz,' which is somewhat surprising given the film's star and the fact that John Woo wrote the introduction to the graphic novel, which was succinctly described as a 'Hong Kong action film on paper.'  Too bad John Woo didn't direct the movie.  Already available in the Far East on a bootleg DVD, the Bulletproof Monk could either turn out to be a sleeper hit or a real disaster.  Both the original graphic novel from Image and a mass-market novelization of the film are available.


X2 (May 2)

Things really start heating up in May with the release of the X-Men sequel, which coincides with Free Comic Book Day (see 'FCBD -- Bigger and Better Than Ever').  Backed by some major promotions (see 'Dr Pepper Plans X2 Promotion') and with a strong cast returning, X2 looks like a solid bet.  Marvel may have failed to provide retailers with the tools to make the most out of the first X-Men film, but they have a strong program for X2 (see 'Marvel Loads Up On X-Men').  Add in toys and statues from Toy Biz and Diamond Select as well as trading cards from Topps plus posters and apparel and it's clear that retailers have lots of merchandising opportunities with X2.


The Matrix Reloaded (May 15)

Right on the heels of X2 comes the long-awaited sequel to the 1999 hit, The Matrix.  Hollywood's success in pushing the start of the summer movie season back to the first of May has led to a frontloading of the season that could fragment sales.  Still the two Matrix films set for release in 2003 appear to be pretty close to 'locks' in terms of box office success.  As a totally integrated media program (see 'It's All In The Matrix'), the Matrix should provide retailers with plenty of sales opportunities ranging from books, to toys from McFarlane Toys, to DVDs including the anime-base Animatrix (see 'Animatrix DVD Is Loaded'), as well as posters and apparel items.  The release of a second Matrix film in November should keep the property percolating all year long.


Finding Nemo (May 30)

May should end with a bang thanks to the latest release from Pixar, the computer animation house responsible for the Toy Story films and Monsters Inc.  Stephen Jobs, who runs Pixar, considers Finding Nemo the studio's best film yet and most of those who have seen any major part of the film agree (see 'Finding Nemo A Good Bet'); it's a film that should manage to please both animation fans and a massive family audience.  Disney licensing isn't what it used to be, but there should still be plenty of Nemo merchandise available.


Freddy vs. Jason (June 13)

Debuting appropriately on Friday the 13th, Freddy vs. Jason features the return of moviedom's two top 'slashers' in a long-delayed horror romp that might have some nostalgic appeal to those who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s. 



The Hulk (June 20)

Ang Lee's take on one of Marvel's most popular superheroes (in terms of mass media exposure via the TV series) could be the most interesting superhero film of the current bumper crop.  It's clear to see which Marvel superhero movie the nation's advertisers are betting on since the Hulk will benefit from a massive promotional campaign involving Pepsi, Hershey, Kraft Foods, Con-Agra, and Glad bags.  Marvel will undoubtedly be ready with a plethora of Hulk items, Toy Biz has some great Hulk toy designs, and don't forget the Marvel Minimates from Art Asylum and Diamond Select (see 'Marvel Minimates Out in June').  If Ang Lee can do for the superhero film what he did for the martial arts movie in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the Hulk could rule.


Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle (June 27)

The sequel to the very successful Charlie's Angel film doesn't necessarily represent the biggest opportunity for retailers (though there should be some figures around), but it does demonstrate that it will be difficult for films like the Hulk to top the box office week after week in the face of extremely strong competition (and our list here only covers 'genre' films of special interest to pop culture retailers, there will be comedies, crime movies, and action adventure films opening each and every week and taking their share of the box office pie).


Sinbad Legend of the Seven Seas (July 2)

Sinbad is the major animated release of the summer from Dreamworks, the studio that demonstrated its prowess in the making of animated films with the hugely successful Shrek.  Will Sinbad achieve Shrek-like success?  Probably not, but don't count it out; Dreamworks' Jeffrey Katzenberg has a solid record in producing animated hits and the film has great vocal talent including Brad Pitt, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Michelle Pfeiffer.


Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (July 2)

Here's yet another sequel with mega-potential.  Arnold's back (without James Cameron it's true), playing a character that has done as much as anything to define his screen image.  Look for lots of cool toys from a major toy company to make the most out of T3's futuristic designs.  Trading cards from Comic Images are a definite (see 'Comic Images Gets Terminator 3'), and Tyranny has the mechanics, although not the license yet, for the CCG (see 'Tyranny Games Acquires Terminator CCG Design Rights').  Debuting just two weeks after The Hulk, the release of Terminator 3 demonstrates how difficult it is to dominate the hectic mid-summer time movie season.



The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen  (July 11)

Just a week after T3 opens comes The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, based on the comic series written by Alan Moore.  A topflight cast headed by Sean Connery should give this late Victorian era adventure the potential for solid box office success.  For retailers who sell comics and graphic novels, League could be one of the best opportunities to introduce 'civilians' to some very cool graphic novels (from Wildstorm).


Lil' Pimp (July 11)

Not for every retailer, this animated feature is strictly for adults.  Based on the flash-animated Internet comic about a suburban kid who discovers another world in the inner city, Lil' Pimp abounds in stereotypes and raunchy humor.  With vocal talent that includes Lil' Kim and William Shatner, this outrageous feature might find some favor with the South Park crowd.


Tomb Raider and the Cradle of Life (July 25)

Yet another of this summer's many sequels, Tomb Raider 2 features Angelina Jolie as buxom heroine Lara Croft.  With a better story than the first film (it would be hard to do worse), Tomb Raider 2 could be a pleasant surprise, and there are two Top Cow Tomb Raider comics along with a handful of graphic novels.


Kill Bill (October 10)

Kill Bill is only on this list because of director Quentin Tarentino, whose Pulp Fiction was one of the most influential genre films of the late twentieth century.  Shot in China and incorporating elements of Hong Kong martial arts films, Kill Bill could be another sleeper; and if it has a great poster, who knows?  The Pulp Fiction poster with Uma Thurman (who also stars in Kill Bill) was one of the all-time movie poster bestsellers.


The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (October 17)

In plenty of time for Halloween comes the remake of the 1974 indie slasher flick.  Retailers who sell Halloween merchandise might want to stock up on 'Leatherface' masks.


The Matrix Revolutions (November 7)

After waiting four years for the second installment in the Matrix trilogy, fans won't have to wait that long for the final chapter.  The performance of the Matrix Reloaded in May should provide retailers with a great barometer for what will happen with this film -- and most all of the Matrix merchandise should be available by the time this final chapter of the trilogy opens.


The Cat In The Hat (November 21)

Mike Myers stars in this big-budget adaptation of the Dr. Seuss children's classic.  If successful this film is certain to have a deleterious effect on the headgear of devoted fans.



Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (December 17)

There is little doubt that the final chapter in Peter Jackson's LOTR trilogy will rule the holiday season at the box office.  The second film in the series did even better than the first, which certainly portends well for the final chapter.  A maturing property with a wide range of gaming, toy, and paper products available, Lord of the Rings is now established as the top fantasy saga of our era thanks to Jackson's masterful film trilogy.


Peter Pan (December 25)

J. M. Barrie's classic tale of lost boys who manage to evade the rigors of adolescence by escaping to Neverland is getting a big-budget, live action treatment.  While the animated version and the stage play have remained perennially popular, the most recent live action treatment (Hook) was a major misfire.