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Summer Movie Flashback: Everything You Need to Remember About 2003

Joal Ryan
Movie Talk
May 2, 2013

When the movie summer of 2003 kicked off, Angelina Jolie was still married to Billy Bob Thornton, Ben Affleck was still engaged to Jennifer Lopez and Lindsay Lohan was still best known for acting.

Yes, it's been a while.

Return with us now to those thrilling days of Jim Carrey's A-list run as we recount the highs, the lows and the weirdness of the summer season that was:

Biggest Hit: "Finding Nemo." The Pixar production grossed nearly $340 million, winning over critics, clicking with audiences of all ages, and setting the stage for the renaissance of Ellen DeGeneres, who launched her daytime talk show later that fall.

Biggest Bomb: "Gigli." Why did Affleck seem to weep tears of joy and relief as he clutched his "Argo" Oscar this past February? Because once upon a time, he was the set-up line, and "Gigli" was the joke. His and Lopez's $50 million hitman comedy "won" a Razzie for each measly million it made in theaters: six. Not helping things, "Battle for Shaker Heights," the second product of Affleck and Matt Damon's "Project Greenlight" reality show (and one of Shia LaBeouf's first feature films), barely made a blip. By the fall, a studio got cold feet on Affleck and his next project ("Ghosts of Girlfriends Past," eventually made with Matthew McConaughey), and the leading man was left for box-office dead.

Batting Lead-Off: "X2: X-Men United." The first "X-Men" sequel proved "Spider-Man" was no superhero fluke. "X2" got summer's class of 2003 off to a fast, $86 million start.

End of an Era(s): "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" was Arnold Schwarzenegger's last hit before becoming governor of California; "Daddy Day Care" was Eddie Murphy's last live-action comedy (to date) to crack $100 million domestically; and "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" apparently was Sean Connery's last movie -- period.

End of the '90s: It was a career-changing summer, in a bad way, for Josh Hartnett ("Hollywood Homicide") and Tara Reid ("My Boss's Daughter").

Breakout Star: Johnny Depp. Already a brand name, he became a global rock star when he channeled Keith Richards for "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl." The movie launched one of Hollywood's all-time franchises, and landed Depp his first-ever Oscar nomination.

Not Exactly the Summer of the Woman: Jolie's "Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life," Reese Witherspoon's "Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde," and the Drew Barrymore-led "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle" were all relative box-office disappointments. (Not that that criticism ever kept Hollywood from making movies about men...)

If You Knew Then What You Know Now: You'd see the titular irony in "Bruce Almighty," the last Carrey top-lined comedy to kill it domestically.

Not Ready for His Close-Up: The Hulk. The Marvel Comics green guy made his big-screen debut in Ang Lee's non-incredible film of the same name, only to find himself rebooted just five years later. Even after all that, the character didn't really, truly come alive until 2012's "The Avengers."

Things That Make You Retroactively Sad: Lindsay Lohan looking like she's got it all together in the hit "Freaky Friday"; the late Brittany Murphy acting spunky in "Uptown Girls."

Best Summer Movie That Wasn't Really a Summer Movie (i.e., It Didn't Blow Up Stuff or Co-Star Ghost Monsters): The cranky, oddball, Oscar-nominated "American Splendor," starring Paul Giamatti as underground-comics notable Harvey Pekar. Movies deserving of honorable mentions include Catherine Hardwicke's "Thirteen," "The Secret Lives of Dentists," and the documentaries "Capturing the Friedmans" and "The Weather Underground."

Best Sales Pitch: Mark Wahlberg's crackerjack remake of "The Italian Job" made Mini Coopers a very big deal.

Signs of Things to Come: "28 Days Later" helped spawn the zombies revival; "Camp" was "Glee" before "Glee" got ridiculous.

A Movie Ahead of Its Time (Or at Least Ahead of "Mad Men"): "Down With Love," the romantic comedy that put Renée Zellweger and Ewan McGregor in the wayback machine to the early 1960s -- and got no love for its retro effort.

Notable Quotable: "I'm not sure I deserved that." -- Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow upon being slapped by a lady friend.

Runner-Up Quote: "I may have deserved that." --Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow upon being slapped by a second lady friend.

Hit Soundtrack Song: "Shake Ya Tailfeather," by Nelly, P. Diddy and Murphy Lee, from "Bad Boys II."

So, Just How Long Ago Was the Summer of 2003 Again? So long ago that you can plausibly deny having ever bought a ticket to the fairly successfully Hilary Duff vehicle that was "The Lizzie McGuire Movie."

Four More Words: "From Justin to Kelly."

Bottom Line: You wouldn't know it looking back, but the summer of 2003 was the hottest Hollywood had ever enjoyed. Seventeen films earned $100 million or more domestically; five made more than $200 million. And yet it was a charmless summer. "Hulk" was a crushing bore. "Seabiscuit" lumbered. "S.W.A.T." beat audiences into submission. And then there was "The Matrix Reloaded." It was the season's third-biggest-grossing movie, and probably its most anticipated. But above all, it was forgettable. Just like the movie summer of 2003.

Watch the trailer for the 'The Matrix Reloaded':