"Hobbit" may bring a Hollywood ending to 2012 box office
By Lisa Richwine
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - It took more than a decade, two directors and a lawsuit before "The Hobbit" made it to the big screen. Hollywood executives are crossing their fingers that the culmination of that journey will help smash movie box office records this year.
The film, which opens on December 14, is expected to contribute to the first annual box office increase in North America in three years, a sign that big movie studios have made more films enticing enough to get people into theaters and away from their TVs, games and the Internet.
"The Hobbit" follows this year's other big box office successes "The Avengers," which became the industry's third-largest film with $623 million in U.S. sales, and "The Dark Knight Rises" and "The Hunger Games" which both passed $400 million.
Hollywood analysts predict the two months of the year that include "The Hobbit" and the finale of the "Twilight" vampire series may lift U.S. and Canadian ticket sales above the $10.6 billion record set in 2009.
"The fourth quarter is just gangbusters," said box office watcher Phil Contrino, editor of the boxoffice.com website. "One movie after the other is exceeding expectations."
Annual receipts are on track to end 5 percent above last year at $10.8 billion or more, projects Paul Dergarabedian, box office analyst for Hollywood.com. Ten films have already passed $200 million in ticket sales, compared to seven last year, when no film passed the $400 million mark.
That would be the first yearly box office increase in three years, and would be from a jump in admissions rather than a hike in ticket prices that traditionally fuel box office growth. Ticket prices are averaging $7.94, a penny increase from last year, according to the National Association of Theatre Owners.
Hollywood has raked in $9.7 billion so far in ticket sales and sold more than 1.2 billion tickets in the North American (U.S. and Canadian) market, 5.5 percent up on a year ago. Continued...