The modern blockbuster was born on June 20, 1975, when Universal Pictures opened Jaws across America in 409 cinemas, backed by a then sizable television advertising budget of US$700,000. Prior to that films had opened in one cinema per city, spreading slowly on word of mouth and print reviews, but Steve Spielberg's thriller about a man-eating shark changed all that. Jaws was a huge commercial success, swiftly breaking US$100 million in ticket sales and changing the direction of Hollywood.
In the last four decades there's been numerous refinements, additions and gimmicks added to the blockbuster philosophy, but the idea essentially remains the same. Now beginning at the start of May, many of the year's most aggressively commercial films are released in a tight three month period, all marketed heavily as they arrive in American cinemas at the onset of the northern summer. In recent years, as event movies have increasingly released “day and date” worldwide, blockbuster season has arrived in Australia.
Here's what you can expect over the next 12 weeks, as digital effects supplant drama and titles with multiple tie-ins – fast food promotions, computer games, action figures – vie to be bigger, louder and (sometimes unintentionally) funnier.
X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE
Release date: April 29
At a glance: A mutant biopic, as Hugh Jackman's bewhiskered, near invincible warrior forsakes happiness for revenge.
Assets: A high-end supporting cast – including Liev Schreiber and Danny Huston – plus what may turn out to be an unexpected bonus in the form of the leaked online version of the Gavin Hood (Tsotsi) action flick – it could actually entice audiences to opening day.
What the trailer says: Lots of fight sequences, many an explosion and nary a smile from Wolverine.
What we say: Read the full review here.
STAR TREK XI
Release date: May 7
At a glance: The legendary sci-fi series gets rebooted with a new, just graduated crew as Kirk, Spock and co. get their licence to hyperdrive.
Assets: A collection of fresh young stars, offset by Melbourne's Eric Bana as the Romulan villain, orchestrated by Lost creator and Mission: Impossible III director J.J. Abrams. The title alone is a touchstone for sci-fi fans.
What the trailer says: Space is a very dangerous place. And Scottish accents still signify comic relief.
What we say: read the full review here.
ANGELS & DEMONS
Release date: May 14
At a glance: Tom Hanks returns as Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, who solves mysteries in, around and under the Vatican to avert a conspiracy involving the Catholic Church and a secret society.
Assets: Based on a best selling Dan Brown paperback and a sequel to the 2006 hit The Da Vinci Code, with Ron Howard once again directing and Ewan McGregor playing a priest.
What the trailer says: Tom Hanks has ditched the Da Vinci Code mullet but it's more of the same.
NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM II: BATTLE OF THE SMITHSONIAN
Release date: May 21
At a glance: New museum, same shenanigans. Ben Stiller's security guard and the many exhibits at the America Museum of Natural History are relocated to the Smithsonian in Washington D.C.
Assets: The full team – Stiller, director Shawn Levy, Robin Williams, Steve Coogan and Owen Wilson – from the original feature again, with Amy Adams joining them as Amelia Earheart.
What the trailer says: Ben Stiller is still doing that harried everyman routine, but it's family friendly all the way.
Release date: June 4
At a glance: Judgment Day has occurred, humanity is locked in a war with the machines, and they have a new plan.
Assets: Batman himself, Christian Bale, plays the adult John Connor. Audiences finally get to see the post-apocalyptic future the previous Terminator films hinted at, complete with Transformers friendly giant robots.
What the trailer says: Heavy. The Bale intensity is at 11, as anyone who heard his infamous on-set audio rant about an errant DOP would already know.
LAND OF THE LOST
Release date: June 11
At a glance: Will Ferrell's patented American buffoon, this time a paleontologist, is transported to an alternate world populated by alien creatures and dinosaurs
Assets: Serious CGI dinosaurs make up for few people remembering the original 1974 television series, while co-star Danny McBride is building a following after Pineapple Express and Tropic Thunder.
What the trailer says: “Matt Lauer can suck it!” Good line in an odd effort.
TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN
Release date: June 25
At a glance: The vanquished Decepticons return to Earth to capture Shia LaBeouf's Sam Witwicky, who just wants to go to college. The Autobots and the U.S. Army intervene.
Assets: An astounding dramatic performance by… Who are we fooling? This is even more giant robots blowing even more things up, directed by the master of the genre, Michael Bay.
What the trailer says: Complete and utter Bay-hem.
HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE
Release date: July 15
At a glance: The sixth installment of the boy wizard's increasingly dark adventures see Harry Potter learning about the past of his nemesis, Voldemort, while the world of magic invades the everyday.
Assets: Once again half the working actors in Britain have employment, with Jim Broadbent joining the cast. Hope springs eternal that the young cast have improved their skills.
What the trailer says: It's a mysterious, uncertain world – and that's just the teenage romance.