Call summer 2007 the season of the three-peat.
After Spider-Man 3 comes the deluge:
Shrek the Third arrives on May 18, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End on May 25, Ocean's Thirteen on June 8, The Bourne Ultimatum on Aug. 3, and Rush Hour 3 on Aug. 10.
And three-peats in disguise add to the flood.
The new Hairspray (July 20) is the third Hairspray: a reimagining of the Broadway musical hit based on John Waters' 1988 film sensation.
The Nicole Kidman-Daniel Craig sci-fi movie, The Invasion (Aug. 17), shot in Baltimore (with reshoots in Los Angeles), is the third official rethinking of Don Siegel's classic 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers, after Philip Kaufman's even better 1978 update and Abel Ferrara's turgid 1994 The Body Snatchers.
These days, pundits and bloggers express equal attraction and repulsion for these name-brand "tentpole pictures," as if the production of any kind of follow-up or remake proves Hollywood's creative bankruptcy.
But movie series have always been a mainstay of the movies, providing many glittering moments not just of Hollywood's Golden Age, but of its Silver, Bronze, Copper and Tin ages, too.
Peter Sellers' Inspector Clouseau comedies and Basil Rathbone's Sherlock Holmes mysteries turned into open-ended, continuing series only after Sellers and Rathbone made their third appearances as Clouseau and Holmes.
And from Tarzan to James Bond, the best films in many a series have often been the third. It may take three tries for a series to master the tone that's perfect for its hero and his trademark exploits.
For example, the ultimate 007 movie will probably always be Goldfinger, Bond No. 3, for its expert juggling of adventure and invention. Everything from the souping-up of Bond's Aston Martin to his near-death by laser beam perches perilously yet firmly on the thin line between wit and camp. There's never been a pithier hero-villain interchange than Bond asking, "Do you expect me to talk?" and Auric Goldfinger answering, "No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die."
The most exciting Johnny Weissmuller jungle epic, Tarzan Escapes, wouldn't have existed without Tarzan the Ape Man and Tarzan and His Mate. But with all the exposition out of the way, the filmmakers could tease our anticipation of Tarzan and Jane's entrance before throwing them into action so headlong and intense that Tarzan's battles with some bats had to be deleted when preview audiences got too excited.
Ideally, moviemakers grow ever-fonder of their characters and more confident of their powers as a series goes along, so affection and inspiration reach critical mass at No. 3. The Bing Crosby-Bob Hope comedy adventures, the Road movies, hit their peak with Road to Morocco. The stars are so sublimely at ease that everything they say is funny in a ticklish way, and it seems supremely natural even for camels to crack wise in their presence - though the killer moment, unscripted, comes when one of them spits smack in Bob Hope's face. (The Library of Congress selected Road to Morocco as one of the essential films to be preserved in the National Film Registry in 1996.)
Several of the third entries coming at us hard this season will aim to recapture the zest that made their series sensations in the first place. Andrew Adamson, the director of Shrek and Shrek 2, has admitted he was fonder of the fractured-fairy-tale first than of the show-biz-joke-ridden second. Adamson contributed the original story to Shrek the Third, and with new characters such as Amy Sedaris' Cinderella and John Krasinski's Lancelot, it sounds as if he's gone back to the creative font.
When a series like Pirates of the Caribbean becomes as bloated as it did in No. 2, Dead Man's Chest, it can be hard to pull back - and the 170-minute running time of the new one isn't promising. But the re-emergence of Geoffrey Rush and the introduction of Chow-Yun Fat in At World's End may put some spring back into the Pirates mix.
Critical humiliation can be a good thing for the creative process. Steven Soderbergh was so chagrined at the smackdown he took for Ocean's Twelve that he quipped he should call Ocean's Thirteen "The One We Should Have Made Last Time."
But Paul Greengrass, director of The Bourne Ultimatum, faces the opposite challenge: Holding the Bourne series to the platinum standard of the first two movies starring Matt Damon as a government assassin who rediscovers his soul.
Last and possibly least is Rush Hour 3. This time, Jackie Chan's Hong Kong cop and Chris Tucker as his L.A. counterpart and buddy hound Chinese crooks through the City of Light. Whatever you think of the noisy Rush Hour movies, the ebullient Chan and the obstreperous Tucker conjure an odd-couple charm.
At times, Chan and Tucker have paid direct homage to Hope and Crosby. With any luck, their director, Brett Ratner, will relax and deliver Road to Paris.