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After a sizzling summer of record box office grosses, Hollywood's crop of fall films -- usually cooled down for adult audiences -- is hot with big movies and big-name stars filling cinema marquees.

Brad Pitt, Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer all take top billing in what is generally considered a slow season for films compared with the summer, when children are out of school.

Heading into the past season, however, studio executives saw a crowded schedule and moved several films to the fall after $100-million-plus hits last year like "The Waterboy" and "Rush Hour" showed fall audiences could support big-budget pictures.

"You've got a lot of major directors paired with major stars in what normally is a quieter time" in theaters, said Brian Callaghan of General Cinema Theaters.

The strong showing has been fueled by surprise hits like "The Sixth Sense" with Bruce Willis -- which scored its fifth $20 million-plus weekend over Labor Day -- and indie breakout "The Blair Witch Project" with its $133.5 million 55-day total, as well as mega-blockbuster "Star Wars -- Episode I: The Phantom Menace," which has tallied more than $420 million in domestic ticket sales.

Industry experts attribute the blistering pace to several factors including the strong economy, hot weather, which sent people to theaters and, very simply, a crop of good movies. Executives hope audiences find the fall films just as good.

The first big stick up to bat is Kevin Costner in September with "For Love of the Game" in which the star, needing a hit after flops like "The Postman," returns to a romance set around the game of baseball, a pairing that scored with audiences in "Field of Dreams." In this new film, Costner plays an aging pitcher with one last shot at a perfect game.

Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening star in "American Beauty," about a middle-aged man coming to grips with a cheating wife, a spiteful daughter and his own lustful fantasizing about his daughter's teen-age friend.

Also in September comes "Mumford" from "The Big Chill" director Lawrence Kasdan, about a psychologist curing the neurosis of a small town. And for comedy fans Martin Lawrence stars in "Blue Streak" as an ex-convict who becomes a cop.

Horror films, which seem to have captivated audiences this summer, are continuing in September with the just-released "Stigmata," starring Patricia Arquette, and "Stir of Echoes" with Kevin Bacon.

The fall usually brings several Oscar-caliber performances from top stars as studios begin sending out movies that could compete for Hollywood's top honors handed out in March. Handicappers like Nicolas Cage in "Bringing Out the Dead" from director Martin Scorsese, which is set for an October debut.

Cage, named Best Actor for 1995's "Leaving Las Vegas," has starred in a lot of action flicks like "The Rock" since, but talk in Hollywood is that "Dead" could put him back in another Oscar hunt. He stars as a New York City ambulance driver haunted by the memories of victims he could not save.

Brad Pitt and Edward Norton team up in "Fight Club," about two angst-ridden twentysomethings searching for meaning in their lives, and taking out their aggression in underground clubs where bloody fistfights are staged.

Several Oscar-caliber actresses also come to the screen in October. Susan Sarandon, Best Actress for 1995's "Dead Man Walking," portrays a mother to "Phantom Menace" star Natalie Portman's daughter in "Anywhere But Here," a role reversal drama in which the daughter has to rein in her wacky mom.

Pfeiffer and Bruce Willis star in "The Story of Us," a romantic comedy about a couple in the throes of divorce, while Ford and Kristin Scott Thomas headline "Random Hearts," about two people who learn their spouses were lovers and they, too, get romantically involved.

Oscar winner Meryl Streep teams with horror director Wes Craven ("Scream") in "The Music of the Heart," a drama about a violin teacher in Harlem, and if you think that's offbeat, try "Happy Texas," about two convicts mistaken for a gay couple.

If you think love stinks and you like action, then October brings "Three Kings," with George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg and Ice Cube as soldiers searching for loot during the Persian Gulf war.

The most anticipated action flick, however, is "The World Is Not Enough," a new James Bond 007 film due to hit theaters in November. In this one, Bond (Pierce Brosnan) battles a Bosnian crook intent on monopolizing the world's oil.

Back to the Oscar race, though. Jim Carrey portrays Andy Kaufman in a movie about the late comedian's life, "Man on the Moon," in November.

Also that month, Jodie Foster brings a new version of the classic 1956 musical "The King and I" to the screen in "Anna and the King," about the 19th century British nanny, Anna Leonowens, and her relationship with King Mongkut of Siam.

Finally, in November, Johnny Depp and director Tim Burton team in "Sleepy Hollow," based on the classic tale of a headless horseman haunting a New England town. And "Toy Story 2," the sequel to the computer-animated hit "Toy Story," hits theaters -- just in time for Christmas -- with Tom Hanks and Tim Allen as the voices of two dolls living adventurously in a human world.

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