Expensive Lessons

Hollywood doesn't know what to do with you, frankly. Thousands of people sit around out here trying to figure out what you want, and just when they think they've nailed it, you up and surprise them. It totally bums them out--and they were bumming a lot this summer. The good news is (a) they're still employed, and (b) you taught them a few lessons that could (fingers crossed) mean better movies in the years ahead.

First, teen boys have been replaced as the primary target of summer fare. Sorry, dudes, but you're just too narrow a demo. Families are where it's at. "Finding Nemo" outgrossed "The Matrix: Reloaded" domestically by $48 million, and the PG-13-rated "Pirates of the Caribbean" swabbed the deck with "Bad Boys 2," costing less and making almost double at the box office. And guess what. It turns out that charming characters and a captivating narrative can trump even the most stellar star vehicles and most spectacular spectacles.

So can a good laugh. After months of somber Oscar movies and weird indie films, America was starved for comedy, and Jim Carrey served up manna from Hollywood heaven in "Bruce Almighty," which begat $68 million in three days. Johnny Depp's slurry swashbuckler was the real treasure in "Pirates" and Ellen Degeneres's forgetful fish kept "Nemo" afloat--just as the lack of humor sank "Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas." (Also, nobody ever paid to see a Brad Pitt movie because of how he sounds.) Which brings us to "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle," the head-scratcher of the season. Lots of laughs, and a media blitz that lit up the June skies. Director McG even butched up the fight sequences and sexed up the babes in an attempt to attract more guys than the femme-friendly original. But the boys still balked, and the film opened to a disappointing $38 million. Apparently, a chick flick is still a chick flick, even with pole-dancing.

Several other sequels also turned up DOA. The few that scored did so because studios took note of what people hadn't liked about the originals. The first "X-Men" was a hit, but fans complained that it didn't have enough action. So Twentieth Century Fox gave director Bryan Singer a bigger budget, and he not only pumped up the battles, but deepened the character relationships. The result, "X2: X-Men United," earned $404 million worldwide.

But what went wrong with the summer's other mutagenic motion picture, "The Hulk"? For one thing, the melancholy green giant didn't look as real as fans had hoped. And director Ang Lee's heavy-headed Freudianizing didn't help. So what has Hollywood learned about you? Maybe just this: when you go to a summer movie, air conditioning alone doesn't provide enough escape. But you could've told them that.