Holiday movies offer escape from economy's gloom

Wed Nov 26, 2008 7:06am EST
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By Bob Tourtellotte

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Looking for some holiday spirit to escape the economic gloom? Never fear, Hollywood is here.

This weekend marks the formal kick-off to the annual U.S. holiday season during which the major movie studios release many of their best films that will either lure huge audiences to theaters or gain traction in the race to February's Oscars.

Wednesday's debut of films such as relationship comedy "Four Christmases," action-packed "Transporter 3" and epic romance "Australia," as well as Oscar hopeful "Milk," provide the spark for six more weeks of red hot moviegoing that will account for nearly 20 percent of annual ticket sales.

"The thing about holiday movies, as usual, is that there really does seem to be something for everybody," said Dave Karger, movie writer for Entertainment Weekly magazine.

Already, the box office is on a roll with the latest James Bond flick "Quantum of Solace" and teenage vampire romance "Twilight" beating expectations two weekends in a row. Each took in about $70 million their respective opening weekends.

Paul Dergarabedian, president of box office watcher Media by Numbers, noted that only one weekend in the past two months has seen ticket sales dip from the same time last year.

"Momentum is with us, and momentum is key because the more people are in theaters, the more they see (promotion) trailers and marketing materials. It's a snowball effect," he said.

Overall U.S. and Canadian box office receipts are up only slightly at $8.34 billion this year compared to $8.32 billion at the same point one year ago. Attendance is down 4.2 percent, according to Media by Numbers.   Continued...

<p>Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn in a scene from Warner Bros.' seasonal comedy "Four Christmases". REUTERS/Handout</p>