Movie sequels lift summer box office to new record

Wed Sep 2, 2009 8:11am EDT
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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Summer box office sales narrowly hit a new record in North America -- with a little help from an angry memo written by "Transformers" director Michael Bay.

The filmmaker in May accused Paramount Pictures executives of fumbling the marketing campaign for his June 24 release "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen."

"Right now we are not an event. We are just a sequel, which is very different," he wrote in the missive that was leaked to the media.

Fortunately for both parties -- if not for the overwhelming majority of critics who eviscerated the big-bang spectacle -- Paramount's marketing plan kicked into high gear and the movie became the top draw at the summer box office in North America.

The movie grossed $399 million in the United States and Canada, well ahead of the No. 2 choice Warner Bros.' "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" with $294 million.

When overseas sales are included, the rankings are reversed. "Harry Potter" earned $905 million worldwide, and "Transformers" $828 million.

The two franchise pictures helped the summer moviegoing season reach another record -- barely.

North American ticket sales totaled $4.18 billion for all films from May 1 through September 2, according to tracking firm Rentrak Corp. This represents a 0.01 percent rise from the year-ago haul of $4.14 billion.

"Even in a tight economy, consumers seeking a great entertainment value continued to flock to movie theaters to see blockbusters across action, comedy, drama and family-friendly genres," said Ron Giambra, Rentrak's executive vice-president of Theatrical Worldwide.   Continued...

<p>Transformers character Optimus Prime, is displayed as a full size cab from a tractor trailer truck at the start of the red carpet at the Los Angeles premiere of "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" June 22, 2009. REUTERS/Fred Prouser</p>