'Fears' Come True: 'Clones' Could Fall to 2nd in Post-Memorial Day Session
This summer is brought to you by the letter "S".

It's the summer of Sony with its slate of eight major releases including Spider-Man, Men in Black 2, Stuart Lilttle 2, and XXX.

It's the summer of sequels (when is it ever not?) with seven in multiplexes now or on the way like Spy Kids 2, Halloween: Resurrection and Austin Powers in Goldmember.

It's even the summer of movie titles that simply begin with the letter "S"—12 in all including Spider-Man, Star Wars and Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron already in the marketplace.

But apropos to the weekend of May 31, it's also the summer of spies and secret agencies which are featured in seven upcoming pictures—Bad Company, The Bourne Identity, Men in Black II, Austin Powers in Goldmember, XXX, The Tuxedo and Spy Kids 2—and the just released The Sum of All Fears and Undercover Brother.

The big question, though, is will Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones stay at No. 1 for the third weekend in a row—as its predecessor The Phantom Menace did three years ago—or will it fall faster than Anakin Skywalker to the Dark Side? The answer is likely the latter.

For one thing, Menace faced a less competitive marketplace, with only the modest Anthony Hopkins drama Instinct opening on this frame. What's more, Clones has been tracking behind Menace for 11 days now and has fallen behind in total gross by $6.5 million. The No. 1 Memorial movie has fallen an average of 61% on the following weekend in the past five years with Menace holding up the best, dropping 51% from $66,904,298 to $32,891,653. Clones has been burning off at nearly double the rate so far, so a more precipitous fall should be in store. Coming off its $60,003,949 four-day frame, it could pull in around $25 million, lowering the bar enough for The Sum of All Fears to snatch the top spot.

Ben Affleck takes over for Harrison Ford who took over for Alec Baldwin to resurrect Paramount's Jack Ryan franchise after an eight year hiatus in The Sum of All Fears, the adaptation of Tom Clancy's best-selling novel of the same name. The subject matter for the long brewing $68 million thriller is perhaps more timely than ever, a point stressed in the news where the movie itself has become a hot button issue in regards to its appropriateness in today's tenuous climate. Paramount's marketing campaign has struck close to home, emphasizing how the picture's scenario could become a reality such as with the tagline "27,000 Nuclear Weapons. One is Missing" and glimpses of a bomb exploding in a civilian setting.

The first Jack Ryan picture The Hunt For Red October, starring Baldwin, surfaced on March 2, 1990 and grossed $17,161,835 at a modest-by-today's-standards 1,225 theaters in its first weekend, a record spring bow at the time. It went on to earn $122,012,643, which would equal $165 million today adjusted for ticket price inflation. Ford's first foray in the role Patriot Games launched June 5, 1992, opening to $18,511,191 at 2,365 venues on course to $83,351,587 ($115 million adjusted). Clear and Present Danger followed on August 3, 1994, debuting with $20,348,017 at 2,378 sites en route to $122,187,717 ($167 million adjusted).

The Sum of All Fears gives Affleck the perfect opportunity to silence nay sayers who have doubted his ability to put butts in seats after a mixed track record ranging from bombs like Reindeer Games to mid-level successes like Forces of Nature to Pearl Harbor, which had the perception of failure despite blockbuster-sized grosses.

Just seven weeks ago, Affleck showed promise in another Paramount thriller Changing Lanes opposite Samuel L. Jackson. It opened at No. 1 with $17,128,062 from 2,613 venues and has earned $64,812,000 so far. In Sum, Affleck gets strong support from Morgan Freeman, who's had his greatest successes in thrillers be they on his own (Along Came a Spider) or with a younger heartthrob co-star (Seven).

Changing Lanes demonstrated another dictum: Paramount Pictures is the master at marketing thrillers, seemingly as sure a thing as Disney is to family fare. Detonating at 3,183 sites, The Sum of All Fears should prove this once again with the biggest opening for the Jack Ryan franchise, possibly coming in at around $32 million.

Universal's Undercover Brother infuses some much-needed funk into a marketplace rife with straight-laced CIA agents, geeky superheroes, sleep-deprived cops and stiff Jedi knights. Coming off as a cross between Austin Powers and Shaft, the comedy is practically the sole and definitely the soul choice for urban audiences and those looking for laughs instead of nuclear blasts.

Starring rising comedy star Eddie Griffin, Brother looks like it could be the start of a new franchise, much the same way the first Austin Powers was five years ago. Universal already has a sequel planned, and is just waiting for solid box office returns to give a sequel the greenlight.

This weekend should give them plenty of encouragement, thanks in part to a marketing campaign chock full of laughs. Among other gags, the trailer includes Griffin trying to keep his big gulp from spilling as he's spinning out in his car and a cat fight involving Denise Richards that becomes every man's fantasy a la Wild Things. There're also catch phrases aplenty such as "You mess with the 'fro, you got to go."

Griffin has already showed some box office clout. Last year, his action comedy Double Take debuted to $10,009,828 from 1,631 theaters on its way to $29,831,583. Earlier this month, if one didn't know better, one would have thought Griffin was the star of The New Guy based on his prominence in the movie's ad campaign. That picture became a surprise hit, opening to $9,007,833 and is on track to a final gross of over $30 million.

Though he may try, "The Man" won't likely bring Undercover Brother down. Infiltrating 2,167 theaters, the picture should have a superbad opening weekend, possibly in the $18 million range.

Meanwhile, the amazing Spider-Man is poised to scale to No. 5 on the all time chart by Sunday or Monday at the latest, surpassing Jurassic Park's $357,067,947. A 50% drop from the Memorial Day frame would give it around $17.5 million this weekend. Sophomores Insomnia, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron and Enough look to fall in the 50-55% range to respective grosses of about $12.5 million, $11.5 million and $7.5 million.

On the same frame last year, Pearl Harbor, also starring Affleck, clung to the top spot but dove 61% in its sophomore session to $29,558,276 en route to $198,542,554. Not far behind was Shrek, which dipped 49% to $28,175,869 in its third weekend on its way to $267,665,011. Rob Schneider's The Animal bowed in third with $19,610,520 from 2,788 theaters, rounding up $57,743,062 by the end of its run. Moulin Rouge expanded into wide release and dazzled with $13,718,306 at 2,279 venues, can-canning its way to $57,386,607. While What's the Worst That Could Happen? lived up to its title for Martin Lawrence, lifting $13,049,114 from 2,675 on course to $32,269,834.