Superhero summer heads for $4 billion box office

Wed Aug 20, 2008 7:05pm EDT
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By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Hollywood studios are nearing the end of their summer of superheroes with domestic box office receipts expected to roughly match last year's record $4.18 billion sum despite lower movie attendance.

Led by the blockbuster Batman sequel "The Dark Knight," U.S.-Canadian weekend ticket sales since May 2 are running just ahead of last summer, up 1.2 percent, according to box office tracking service Media By Numbers.

But with the number of actual admissions down nearly 3 percent from a year ago, the gain in revenues is fueled mostly by higher ticket prices.

With no other huge hits on the horizon before the U.S. Labor Day holiday on September 1, the 2008 vacation season will likely draw to a close at about the same level as last year's summer tally, which crossed the $4 billion threshold for the first time, box office analysts said.

Brandon Gray of the Web site Box Office Mojo said Hollywood suffered in the second half of summer from a mediocre film slate propped up almost entirely by the record-breaking strength of "The Dark Knight," now closing in on $500 million.

"If 'Dark Knight' failed to perform way above expectations, this would have been a decidedly down summer," Gray said.

Paul Dergarabedian of Media By Numbers agreed, saying Hollywood was hard-pressed to repeat the success of last year, which was anchored by "threequels" "Spider-Man 3," "Shrek the Third" and "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End."


<p>The late actor Heath Ledger playing his role as The Joker in "The Dark Knight". REUTERS/Warner Bros Studio/Handout</p>