2005 was something of an ‘annus horribilis’ for Hollywood. Despite the global success of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith (a not too shabby $848,797,674 in the bank, thank you very much), the year was something of a disappointment with American audiences down on previous years; and 6% less revenue than in 2004. (While the rest of the world is an ever-growing eager market for popcorn flicks, the US remains by far the largest single market for Hollywood films.)

Chastened by claims that this much-hyped “debacle” may have come about because movie offerings were rather lacklustre, studio execs are determined to get the world excited all over again about gung-ho-superheroes, mutants, aliens and all manner of over the top film shenanigans.

Cruising blockbuster status

The season officially kicks off this week with the global release of Mission Impossible 3, which sees Tom Cruise back in full hero mode (with a perfectly timed newly born baby in the headlines to boot). Word is that the film is the best of the three and may even allow us to forgive Cruise’s couch jumping, scientology rantings and alleged rumoured brainwashing of Katie Holmes.

It’s directed by J.J. Abrams (the creator of Lost and Alias) and takes the franchise back to focusing less on a single hero and more on a well-oiled team embarking on uh… impossible missions. Capote’s Oscar winning Philip Seymour Hoffman is the villain and it all promises to deliver terrific thrills and spills with some decent character moments. Whatever may be said about Cruise, he only works with the best. And he’s still pretty easy on the eye.

Two weeks later, another keenly anticipated film is released: the Hollywood version of the most popular novel of the century – the much discussed Da Vinci Code. Dan Brown’s book – now legally labelled as “original” – may be a fun, gripping read, but leaves a lot to be desired as a literary work. That’s not a great portent for the success of a movie adaptation, but the production does boast a few key names that could make all the difference.

Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13) is at the helm, while leading man Tom Hanks – wearing a rather frightening toupee – plays “symbologist” Robert Langdon. He may not be quite who you had in mind in the role, but at least the man can act. Openly gay actor Ian McKellen portrays the dubious Sir Leigh Teabing. I’m still not convinced that there’s a really good film here, but the book’s mind-boggling readership (over 17 million copies sold) should ensure that it does well.

Mutant is the new gay

We’ll become reacquainted with a certain heroic troupe of mutant superheroes on the 26th of May as X-Men: The Last Stand hits cinemas. It’s the third outing for these outcasts gifted with remarkable skills; but some naysayers express concern that original director Bryan Singer isn’t in the hot seat (he got sidetracked by a certain other blue and red spandex clad super-person). The less reliable Brett Ratner (Rush Hour, Red Dragon) takes on the role of overseeing this traditionally smart and gay friendly franchise (the mutant storyline is widely read as a metaphor for the relationship between society and gays and lesbians). Ian McKellen is again cast as the chief villain Magneto, plus, there’s much eye candy in the form of Hugh Jackman (Wolverine), James Marsden (Cyclops) and newcomer Ben Foster (Six Feet Under’s bisexual Russell Corwin) as Angel. Look out for Frasier’s Kelsey Grammer as the furry blue Beast.

The 1972 camp classic disaster flick The Poseidon Adventure has been remade for a new century in the form of the CGI heavy Poseidon. Tapping into our terrorism / disaster obsessed culture it’s about a diverse group of passengers who struggle to survive after a huge luxury cruise ship goes belly up. Director Wolfgang Petersen (Das Boot, The Perfect Storm) is no stranger to water based films, while the gorgeous Josh Lucas (Stealth) joins a cast which includes Kurt Russell and Richard Dreyfuss. Dreyfuss plays a gay man who’s just been dumped by his boyfriend and is contemplating suicide. It’ll be interesting to see if he escapes the death curse hanging over the heads of almost all Hollywood gay characters. The film opens in mid June in South Africa.

Is it a bird? Is it a plane?

Possibly the most eagerly awaited blockbuster of the year opens three weeks later on the 7th of July. It’s Superman Returns, starring the much-lusted-after Brandon Routh. He’s become infamous for apparently boasting such a large “package” that the studio demanded that his crotch be digitally reduced in scenes in which he wears his Superman costume. The story is most likely simply marketing hype, but interesting to contemplate nonetheless.

Early footage reveals that openly gay director Bryan Singer has gone for a classy and sophisticated interpretation of the Superman legend; heavily influenced by Richard Donner’s classic 1979 Superman movie. Routh is also said to almost channel the spirit of Christopher Reeve in his performance. It’s taken ten years and three directors to get the project made; with many actors – including Josh Hartnett, Paul Walker, Brendan Fraser, Ashton Kutcher and Ian Somerhalder – vying for the role of the man of steel.

A sequel of sorts to the Donner film, Superman returns to earth – after a long sojourn to the remains of his home planet – to save the world from his arch nemesis Lex Luthor (played by the always interesting Kevin Spacey) and to reclaim the love of Lois Lane. It’s worth noting that X-Men 3’s Brett Ratner was set to direct this film and swapped places with Singer who was originally signed to helm the mutant flick.

Pirates ahoy!

If you’re a fan of Johnny Depp, you’ll be happy to learn that he reprises his most popular film role as Captain Jack Sparrow in the sequel to the 2003 box-office and critical hit Pirates of the Caribbean. Opening on the 28th of July, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest sees the return of the original cast – including the doe-eyed Orlando Bloom. This time our heroes struggle to ensure that Sparrow get out of a debt to the legendary Davey Jones or otherwise he’ll be doomed to eternal damnation. A third film was shot back-to-back with this one to cut costs, so expect to see the following instalment next year.

Another silver screen sex symbol making a long awaited return to celluloid is Colin Farrell, with co-star Jamie Foxx, in director Michael Mann’s Miami Vice , opening on the 11th of August. Some may remember the show from the eighties, featuring pastel-bedecked detective duo ‘Sonny’ Crockettt and Ricardo Tubbs who did daily battle with the drug underworld. Sadly, we’re not likely to see that era’s fashion gear in this grittier and more violent incarnation of the popular TV series. Farrell hasn’t been in a major production since playing the bisexual Alexander in Oliver’s Stone’s underrated box-office flop (and then taking a long break in rehab). Many are looking to Miami Vice to re-establish Farrell’s status as a major Hollywood star.

As evidenced by what’ll be playing in cinemas over the next few months, there’s not much of a move away from the tradition

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