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Published: Friday, 9/7/2012

COMMENTARY

Summer drought at the box office

BY KIRK BAIRD
CULTURE SHOCK

It's been one of the those summers for movies, the kind where the first film out of the gate -- The Avengers -- easily proved to be the most successful, while the two films that followed -- Dark Shadows and Battleship -- proved to be two of the bigger bombs.

But there was no bigger loser this summer than the film studios, which watched ticket sales continue to slide. Attendance, according to Hollywood.com, dropped about 4 percent to 533 million overall, the lowest number in nearly two decades. Just since 2002, total ticket sales are down 100 million.

Just as alarming: the box-office receipts also were down, 2.84 percent -- about $4.3 billion -- from the same May to Labor Day period from 2011.

Of course, higher ticket prices and upcharges for 3-D and IMAX help mask this serious problem in the industry; patrons are going to the movies less often, but paying more for tickets when they do.

That said, Marvel's The Avengers got summer off to a massive bang with a $1.5 billion worldwide total haul, $620 million of which was from the domestic box office, according to boxofficemojo.com. Runner-up to the summer box-office crown was The Dark Knight Rises, with $433 million domestically and more than a billion dollars worldwide. Rounding out the superhero triumvirate is The Amazing Spider-Man, which is also the third-highest-grossing film this summer at $260 million domestically and $735 million worldwide.

Despite the early success of The Avengers, May was a fairly weak month: Dark Shadows earned less than $80 million domestically for the Tim Burton-Johnny Depp supernatural dark comedy that cost $150 million to produce, and Battleship grossed only $65 million domestically for the $209 million film based on a Hasbro board game. And Hollywood wonders why moviegoers are coming to the cinema less often.

Thanks to the foreign box office, both films made a profit with $236 million and $302 million total worldwide receipts, respectively.

The foreign box office also helped push other expensive films into profitability.

The production budget of Men in Black 3 was $225 million, and the film made nearly $625 million worldwide. Snow White and the Huntsman was filmed for $170 million and earned $394 million around the globe.

Not every movie needed help from abroad. Ted was the summer's only true comedy smash. It made $216 million domestically, more than four times the cost of the film. Even better was Magic Mike, the comedy-drama directed by Steven Soderbergh, starring Channing Tatum as a Tampa stripper and based on his real-life experiences. The film earned nearly $114 million in North America, or more than 16 times the $7 million production cost.

While big-budget films garner the most attention, smaller-budget films also find big audiences during the summer.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel has earned $131 million worldwide on a budget of $10 million. Wes Anderson released his second-biggest film, Moonrise Kingdom, which has earned nearly $60 million worldwide on a budget of $16 million.

And while no production budget was available, certainly the conservative documentary 2016: Obama's America exceeded expectations with more than $20 million so far at the domestic box office after an opening haul of $31,000 in mid-July in one theater in Houston.

Contact Kirk Baird at kbaird@theblade.com or 419-724-6734.



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