Box office heading toward record despite economy
By Lisa Richwine
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A popular boy wizard, comic-book heroes and some foul-mouthed women are leading Hollywood toward a record-breaking summer despite the sour economy and high unemployment resulting in tightened consumer spending.
Underscoring the notion that movies are recession-proof, U.S. and Canadian ticket sales are expected to finish nearly 5 percent higher than a year ago thanks to the "Harry Potter" finale and other big-budget sequels plus raunchy adult comedies such as "Bridesmaids."
Summer ticket sales in the domestic (U.S. and Canadian) market through last weekend stood at an estimated $3.8 billion. Attendance was up 2.8 percent, though that was compared with last year's 13-year low, according to figures from tracking firm Hollywood.com. Premium charges for 3D films and slightly higher average ticket prices helped raise revenue.
"If we keep at this pace, we should wind up with $4.5 billion," the highest summer total ever, said Paul Dergarabedian, box office analyst with Hollywood.com.
The summer film season -- usually measured from early May through Labor Day weekend in September -- represents the most lucrative time of the year for studios, providing as much as 40 percent of annual box-office dollars.
Still, year-to-date box office revenue is down 4 percent from 2010 while attendance has shrunk 5 percent after weak winter and spring ticket sales. Studios need a strong holiday season to regain lost ground at a time when the U.S. economy is sputtering.
"Overall I think people are feeling good" about the summer results, said Rory Bruer, president of worldwide distribution for Columbia Pictures, a unit of Sony Corp that rang up big sales with family film "The Smurfs."
HOLLYWOOD BUCKS THE ECONOMY Continued...