'Captain America,' 'Rio' bring early summer heat to Hollywood

Sun Apr 27, 2014 3:00pm EDT
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By Lisa Richwine

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Hollywood is remaking one of its most cherished traditions: the summer blockbuster.

Unlike last year, when every summer weekend seemed to bring one or more mega-budget films, this year studios have spread out their most expensive entries for the warm weather months that traditionally make up roughly 40 percent of annual ticket sales.

This year, the parade of super heroes, animated films and big-budget sequels started two months earlier, in March instead of May.

So far, moviegoers are lining up. Six films released since March 7 have passed or are nearing $100 million in U.S. and Canadian ticket sales, according to tracking firm Rentrak. Walt Disney Co's "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" has collected $225 million so far. "Divergent" from Lions Gate Entertainment Corp has earned $139 million, and Fox's "Rio 2" has grossed $96 million.

In the same period last year, only three releases had reached that mark. This year's early start to summer has pushed the 2014 box office to $3.1 billion, a 9.4 percent hike from last year, according to Rentrak.

"I'd rather have us in April with relatively no competition than in July with a huge movie ahead of us and a huge movie behind us," Alan Horn, chairman of Walt Disney Studios, said of the release strategy for "Captain America." "It's hard to find dates."

"Captain America" set an April record when its opening weekend sales hit $95 million. With no other big-screen superheroes to battle, the Marvel Studios sequel topped domestic box office charts for three straight weeks, a feat that's hard to accomplish in the busy summer.

Last year, Hollywood executives overloaded the summer season with 18 larger-budget sequels, animated and action "tent pole" films in the 18 weeks from May to the end of August, according to Box Office Mojo, and suffered an unusually large number of bombs, such as Disney's $215 million budgeted "The Lone Ranger," and the $130 million "R.I.P.D." from Comcast Corp's Universal Pictures.   Continued...

Actress Scarlett Johansson (R) gestures to the crowd during an interview at the UK premiere of "Captain America: The Winter Soldier: at Shepherds Bush in London, March 20, 2014. REUTERS/Paul Hackett