Analysis: Lower-cost surprises drive Hollywood toward record year

Thu Dec 19, 2013 5:17pm EST
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By Lisa Richwine

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - As Ron Burgundy returns to the big screen this weekend in the "Anchorman" sequel, it's kind of a big deal, as the fictional newsman would say, for Hollywood's entire year.

After a handful of expensive summer flops, lower-cost movies such as the $50 million "Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues" are lighting up the screen for studio executives who are cautiously predicting a second straight record year.

Ticket sales at theaters in the United States and Canada started slowly at the beginning of 2013. Even with the summer hits "Iron Man 3" and "Despicable Me 2," revenue for the year was running 0.3 percent lower than last year through July 26, according to data from Rentrak, following bombs like "The Lone Ranger."

But starting in August, box office receipts pulled ahead of last year's pace, helped by late-year surprises such as the civil rights story "Lee Daniels' The Butler" and the hostage thriller "Captain Phillips" that were made for $55 million or less and had ticket sales of more than $100 million each.

They were joined by comedies "We're the Millers" and "Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa."

"The poster child is 'Gravity,'" said Gerardo Lopez, chief executive of theater chain AMC Entertainment, who said the film was expected to take in only $50 million to $70 million at domestic theaters. "It's a good film and people found it."

"Gravity," the 3D space thriller about a pair of stranded astronauts starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, defied projections to sell $253 million at movie theaters in the United States and Canada.

The film, which cost about $100 million to make, ranks sixth on this year's list of highest-grossing movies at domestic theaters, ahead of big-budget action hits like "Fast & Furious 6" and "Star Trek Into Darkness." Those films both cost at least $160 million apiece to make.   Continued...

Director Paul Greengrass attends a photocall for his film "Captain Phillips" during the BFI (British Film Institute) London Film Festival in this file photo from October 9, 2013. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor