Hollywood endures summertime blues

Mon Sep 1, 2008 2:34pm EDT
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By Dean Goodman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The lucrative summer moviegoing season in North America ended on a lackluster note on Monday as ticket sales limped to a new record while attendance slumped to a three-year low.

The U.S. Labor Day holiday weekend, which marks the traditional end of summer, was led for a third round by "Tropic Thunder." Ben Stiller's Hollywood satire earned an estimated $14.3 million during the four-day period. It marks the lowest tally for a Labor Day holiday chart-topper since 2004, when the martial-arts film "Hero" opened to $11.5 million.

The DreamWorks/Paramount comedy, which Stiller directed and stars in alongside Robert Downey, Jr., has earned about $86.6 million to date. Four new entries were largely ignored, with 20th Century Fox's Vin Diesel sci-fi picture "Babylon A.D." coming in at No. 2 with just $12 million.

The overall picture for summer was not particularly shiny, with a 4 percent rise in the average U.S. ticket price to $7.16 saving the day for the movie industry.

Estimated sales inched up 0.43 percent from last year's record to $4.2 billion, while the number of tickets sold slid 3.5 percent to 586.9 million, according to tracking firm Media By Numbers. The previous low for attendance was in 2005, when 563 million tickets were sold.


All this despite the massive success of "The Dark Knight," which has grossed almost $505 million to date across the United States and Canada. Warner Bros. Pictures' Batman sequel ranks as the second-biggest movie in history behind "Titanic" (before adjusting for inflation).

The 18-week summer span generally accounts for about 40 percent of annual ticket sales, and studios take advantage of school holidays to churn out big-budget sequels and superhero sagas aimed at Hollywood's sweet spot of male youngsters.   Continued...

<p>Ben Stiller and Robert Downey Jr. in a scene from "Tropic Thunder" in an image courtesy of DreamWorks Pictures. REUTERS/Handout</p>