What do today's young actors want to be when they "grow up"? Psychotic killers, evidently. At least if three of our most popular, 20-something hunks are any indication.

"Titanic" star Leonardo DiCaprio recently signed on to play the title character of "American Psycho," a thriller about a deadly sexual predator.Meanwhile, "Good Will Hunting's" Matt Damon has just wrapped his role as "The Talented Mr. Ripley," the murderous lead in an upcoming macabre comedy from "The English Patient" director Anthony Minghella.

The awful trend doesn't stop there. Vince Vaughn, from "Swing-ers" and "The Lost World: Jurassic Park," has landed the "coveted" role of cross-dressing killer Norman Bates in a remake of Hitchcock's classic 1960 thriller "Psycho," from "Good Will Hunting" director Gus Van Sant. (Van Sant is promising his version will follow the original quite faithfully. We'll see about that.)

Not to judge these films before they're released, but this "new" film genre is getting really tire-some.

There has been some fallout from recent news, however. The announcement of DiCaprio's casting in "American Psycho" set off a firestorm of protests from the National Organization of Women, which originally urged a boycott of the Bret Easton Ellis novel on which the film is based.

NOW Vice President Elizabeth Toledo recently condemned the decision to make the film, calling it "irresponsible, and also lazy of Hollywood to continue to rely on sexual violence for entertainment."

She added that casting DiCaprio, "an actor that attracts a very young, impressionable audience, poses extra risks."

In DiCaprio's defense, it is unfair to single him out for castigation when he's not the only guilty one. Gwyneth Paltrow and Cate Blanchett will co-star with Damon in "The Talented Mr. Ripley," while Anne Heche and Julianne Moore will join Vaughn in the updated "Psycho."

Actually, the real culprit here is the major film studios, who point to the critical and box-office success of "The Silence of the Lambs," "Seven" and the two "Scream" movies as their reason for making "killer" pictures.

And, of course, the audiences for continuing to go see them.

- A NOVELIST TWIST?: Not content to be outdone by her "Titanic" co-star DiCaprio in the outrageous department, Kate Winslet is set to play Daphne du Maurier in a film about the famous author.

What's irking du Maurier's offspring, though, is that the drama is based on Martyn Shallcross' controversial biography, which depicts her as bisexual.

This would seemingly prohibit Winslet from reuniting onscreen with DiCaprio - though with all the career curves they're throwing at us, you never know.

- FROM THE COPYCAT DEPARTMENT: As if we needed any more proof that Hollywood lacks originality, here comes a tidbit about the further screen adventures of James Bond.

It seems MGM/UA and TriStar Pictures are currently embroiled in a legal struggle over a proposed new Bond film.

The rights to most of the Ian Fleming novels are owned by MGM and the Broccoli family (the late Albert R. "Cubby" Broccoli produced the original 007 movies). But one Fleming story, "Thunderball," is owned by others, and TriStar wants to make a new film version.

In fact, TriStar greenlighted the 007 film, which was to star former big-screen Bond Timothy Dalton ("Licence to Kill," "The Living Daylights") . . . until the Broccolis objected.

The Dalton project would have been based on the "Thunderball" short story - which was made into the third film in the original James Bond series in 1965, starring Sean Connery.

Then, it was loosely remade outside the official series in 1983, as "Never Say Never Again" - again with Connery.

Legal machinations have halted the Dalton version . . . for the moment.

- COPYCAT DEPARTMENT, PART II: Producers of art films aren't immune to this brand of concept-thievery, either.

Two British movie projects in the works are to be based on Oscar Wilde's 1895 marriage-of-convenience play "An Ideal Husband."

One is a period piece, which will star Minnie Driver and Rupert Everett ("My Best Friend's Wedding"). The other is a contemporary comedy/drama starring James Wilby and Sadie Frost.

Both, presumably, will be more original than the Bond projects.

- QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "At one time the directors were in charge. That's gone now. We are witnessing the destruction of the cinema by sheer money. These pictures, supported by massive television advertising campaigns, crush all the smaller pictures in their wake." - Filmmaker John Boorman, winner of the Cannes Film Festival's Best Director Award for his new movie "The General"