Summer cannot come soon enough for Hollywood

Tue Apr 15, 2008 1:21am EDT
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By Carl DiOrio

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Hollywood is whistling past the box office graveyard. Year to date, ticket sales are off 3% from the same portion of 2007, with misfiring films from an array of genres littering the landscape. The spring tally is off a big 19% so far in Nielsen EDI data, and eight of the past nine weekends underperformed the same frames from a year earlier.

Yet much of the industry reaction amounts to a collective "What, me worry?" with executives shrugging off the slack period as a simple cyclical downturn.

"It's all product-based," a studio executive said Monday. "There was a lot of product coming out over the last month or two that the audience didn't see. But all you have to do is look at the 'Iron Man' tracking numbers to see that the public is pumped for that, and it will just go on from there."

Awareness for the May 2 release, starring Robert Downey Jr. as the Marvel superhero, and some other big summer "tentpoles" does appear high. So perhaps understandably, the prospect of a summer salvation for the industry proved something of a theme in an informal poll of studio execs.

"Summer will be here very soon, and it's going to be terrific," another top player insisted. "And at the end of it all, it will be a terrific year. I really would be very surprised if at the end of the year we do not equal or surpass last year's box office."

Still, such sentiments could amount to wishful thinking. Last summer's $4.16 billion in industry box office was a record, built on three May openers that proved to be $300 million domestic grossers.

This May, the highest flyers will include Paramount's "Iron Man" and "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" (May 22), Disney's "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" (May 16) and perhaps Warner Bros.' "Speed Racer" (May 9). Most box office handicappers expect at least one of those to travel north of $300 million, but anything beyond that is uncertain.

"Even with all the big titles this summer, it's still a tough comparison," Fox domestic distribution president Bruce Snyder acknowledged.   Continued...

<p>Brittany Snow in a scene from "Prom Night". The teen horror movie was the belle of the ball at the weekend box office in North America, earning an estimated $22 million during its first three days, distributor Sony Pictures said on Sunday. REUTERS/Screen Gems/Handout</p>