Summer Box Office Blahs

By Robert Marich
   Aug. 3, 2009 – After eye popping double-digit percentage increases early in the year, box office has gone soft, as the Wall Street Journal notes weekend movie receipts trail their year-ago mark for the fourth straight time.
   For the peak summer season since May 1, box office is cumulatively down 0.77% on a revenue basis and 4.36% on a ticket basis (higher priced tickets account for the spread).
   “That's a big shift from a record-breaking pace earlier in the year at the multiplex, when films including Universal Pictures’ Fast & Furious, Sony Corp.’s Sony Pictures’ Paul Blart: Mall Cop, and Warner Bros.’ Gran Torino helped push box-office revenue up by 15% compared with the first three months of 2008,” notes the WSJ article by Lauren A. E. Schuker. “Attendance during that period was up by 13% over the year-earlier quarter.”
   While a poor summer is a concern, it should be pointed out that since Jan. 1, box office revenue is still up 6.9%, according to Putting that in perspective, most industries would be ecstatic to be flat or down even by that percentage, due to the economic recession. The 6.9% blends the hot first couple of months with the weak summer.
   In the past July 31-Aug.2 weekend, total box office was down a sharp 19%. The top film was Universal’s Funny People – a $75 million R-rated comedy -- with a so-so $22.6 million for three days. Disappointing was the $8 million for PG-rated family adventure Aliens in the Attic, which is a $45 million production released by Fox.
   As pointed out by the Marketing to Moviegoers website in May (see link below), summer was unlikely to set a record. A year ago, Warner Bros. released The Dark Knight that achieved a super-nova $533 million in domestic (U.S./Canada) box office. The most promising film this year – the Transformer sequel – was expected to bag about $300 million. That would make for a $200 million gap comparing the top film each year.
   The Paramount release of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen rolled up an higher-than-expected $388 million so far, but some other films have underperformed. These include Bruno and Aliens in the Attic. In any case, the year-to-year comparisons got tougher since mid July because that’s when The Dark Knight premiered a year ago.
   According to the WSJ article, last great hope to eke out a box office improvement is Paramount’s G.I. Joe next weekend.
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