It's American idol, big-screen edition.
Some of the nation's most enduring icons, from literature to sports, are suddenly filling the multiplex.
And they're ringing up profits. Consider the spate of hits from homegrown legends:
--The Great Gatsby. The adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic is the surprise hit of the year. The Leonardo DiCaprio drama stunned analysts with $142 million, the eighth-highest grossing film of 2013.
--42. The story of Jackie Robinson breaking Major League Baseball's color barrier marked the highest debut for a baseball film at $28 million. The movie, starring Harrison Ford, stands at $95 million, making it the second-biggest baseball film, behind only 1992's A League of Their Own at $108 million.
--The Wizard of Ozand Superman.Oz the Great and Powerful muscled $235 million at the box office, and Man of Steel has soared to $249 million and counting, getting the franchise aloft for the first time in a quarter-century.
The made-in-the-USA parade continues over the July Fourth holiday weekend as Johnny Depp's The Lone Ranger gallops into theaters.
Once fodder for awards circles and art-house theaters, American legends are striking a sentimental chord among moviegoers.
"There's something about these characters that have appealed to every generation since they were invented," says Lone Rangerproducer Jerry Bruckheimer.
Analysts expect the Western, starring Armie Hammer in the title role, to earn at least $130 million.
The trend keeps going through the year. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Edward Norton star in the documentary Salinger, a biography of the author that hits screens Sept. 6. And James Thurber's short story The Secret Life of Walter Mitty arrives Christmas Day.
"They're America's original superheroes," says Paul Dergarabedian, box-office president of Hollywood.com. "And they're making money like superhero movies."
Analysts credit America's 16th president with freeing American icons from the box-office doldrums. Last year, Steven Spielberg's biopic Lincoln racked up an astonishing $182 million. Audiences haven't been able to get enough since.
"It can't be long until we get the big-budget George Washington story," says Jeff Bock, vice president of industry trackers Exhibitor Relations. "Suddenly, this is a genre audiences are willing to pay for."
Bock credits the surge more to storytelling than nostalgia. "We wouldn't be talking about these movies if they weren't good," he says.
Studios, always on the prowl for known properties, recognize the built-in brand recognition from U.S. icons. "The movies have essentially played like sequels," Dergarabedian says. "Except history is the prequel."
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