Signs of Life at the Box Office (if Not a Full Recovery)

Signs of Life at the Box Office (if Not a Full Recovery)

SANTA MONICA, Calif., July 2 — Three teenagers loitered last week outside the ticket booth of an AMC Theater at the upscale pedestrian mall here, skateboards underfoot, the marquee beckoning overhead.

They were weighing whether to see “Superman Returns,” the latest big-budget, Hollywood extravaganza to come hurtling out of the gate.

Siegfried Bodolai, 16, called Siggy, had already seen the film once and found it old-fashioned, though he is enough of a movie buff to consider seeing it again. “We’re more the ‘Spider-Man’ ‘X-Men’ generation,” he said. His friend Daniel Andres, 17, was in no great hurry to see “Superman.” “The movies are repetitive,” he said. “It seems like there’s about eight stories. It’s like I’m seeing the same movie, almost.”

After abandoning theaters in worrying numbers last summer, American moviegoers are returning to the multiplex, steadily if slowly. Through the first 25 weeks of the year, domestic box-office revenue — helped by a boost in ticket prices — was up nearly 5 percent, to $4.6 billion, though it still trailed 2004, according to the tracking company Exhibitor Relations. Movie attendance was up about 1.65 percent to 699 million for the first 25 weeks, after a sharp decline the year before.

The totals grew over the weekend as Warner Brothers’ “Superman Returns” took in $84 million over a six-day period that began with its release on Tuesday night, while 20th Century Fox’s “Devil Wears Prada” has had $27 million in ticket sales since Friday. For the seventh consecutive weekend total ticket sales in the United States outpaced last year’s disappointing performance.

The film industry continues to fret over competition from video games, home entertainment systems and the Internet, but the recovery provides evidence that going out to see movies on a giant, communal screen remains a central part of the American leisure experience.

But that’s because Hollywood is trying harder.

The week’s performance by “Superman Returns,” a $210 million-budget revival of the old superhero franchise, has been typical of the summer so far: big movies yielding reasonably strong box-office returns, though far from the high-water marks of the recent past. During a similar period in 2004, for instance, “Spider-Man 2” took in nearly twice as much as “Superman,” $152 million, for Sony Pictures Entertainment.

“The good news is the bleeding has stopped from last year,” said Bruce Friend, managing director of OTX Entertainment, an online research firm. “But it hasn’t rebounded to the levels of two years ago.”

Hollywood’s next shot at a runaway hit comes on Friday, when Walt Disney Pictures releases “Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Man’s Chest.” With the stars Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley, the film has strong female appeal, and that points toward one of Hollywood’s major survival strategies.

As the once reliable young male audience continues to drift, studios have been trying to widen their demographic appeal. A study last year by OTX found that young men saw 24 percent fewer movies in summer 2005 than they did in summer 2003, a finding reinforced in a new poll by Nielsen Entertainment.

The shift was apparent this summer in an adult-oriented blockbuster like “The Da Vinci Code”; or in a romantic comedy like “The Break-Up,” which appeals to couples; or in a horror film like “The Omen,” which draws adolescent girls; or in a chick-flick comedy like “The Devil Wears Prada.” Those movies, though hardly atypical, represent a more eclectic mix than 2003, which brought “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines,” “The Matrix Reloaded,” “Bad Boys II” and “S.W.A.T.

The audience for “Superman” was weighted heavily toward moviegoers over 25, said Dan Fellman, Warner’s president for theatrical distribution. “Superman is skewing older as a character,” he said.

With young men becoming less reliable, finding a broader audience is necessary, some say in Hollywood. Jeff Blake, vice chairman for Sony Pictures Entertainment, said: “I think for a long while everyone was dining on the fact that young males were pretty much available every single weekend. It’s a matter of which film they choose.

“It was almost as if we lived in a world where this group would go to the multiplex every week and choose what they see. Now they don’t necessarily go to the multiplex every week, and we have to convince them we have something exciting for them to see.”

Mr. Blake pointed out that excitement among moviegoers was “infectious,” as people drawn to theaters by one film are often snared by an attractive trailer for another.

“When you make movies people want to see, they flock to them,” said Bruce Snyder, president for distribution for Fox. “And you have to speak about one movie at a time. That’s so key.”

In fighting its battles one movie at a time, Hollywood has been helped by the international audience, which flocked to some films that were struggling to hit their marks in the United States. Paramount’s “Mission: Impossible 3,” for instance, took in $205 million at the foreign box office, but only $131 million domestically; Sony’s “The Da Vinci Code” had an astonishing $495 million in ticket sales abroad, compared with about $210 million at home.

But none of this resolves the problem of how to keep American moviegoers coming back to theaters. One new study raises the specter of a new core audience of movie devotees, which it calls “über-media consumers.” The study, conducted by Nielsen Entertainment and released in June, suggested that those who go to the movies most often, 10 times per year or more, are also those who most frequently buy DVD’s, which are usually considered a chief rival for box-office dollars.

In a poll of 2,800 moviegoers who bought tickets online, the study found that 83 percent of them also “frequently” or “sometimes” buy the DVD of the movie they saw in the theater.

In other words, the study noted, seeing movies at the theater and at home “are not mutually exclusive occurrences.”

Adrienne Becker, the general manager of Nielsen Entertainment’s strategic development group, who conducted the study, said the data argued strongly for a need to protect the theatrical releases of movies by not competing with a simultaneously released DVD. Thirty-six percent of those polled said they would skip the multiplex if movies were released simultaneously on DVD, which Ms. Becker said would be “devastating” to theatrical exhibitors.

For the moment Hollywood seems to have backed away from the notion of releasing movies simultaneously on different platforms, with some studios preparing to unveil pricier video-on-demand services that offer movies within several weeks of the theatrical release.

But Ms. Becker warned that success over the long haul would require more creativity in giving viewers more control over how they choose their entertainment.

“It would be very irresponsible to say, ‘Look at the summer box office, all things are wonderful,’ ” she said. “There are fundamental, transformative things going on in the way people consume.”



This entry was posted on Monday, July 3rd, 2006 at 9:06 AM and filed under Uncategorized. Follow comments here with the RSS 2.0 feed. Skip to the end and leave a response. Trackbacks are closed.

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