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Film’s big year could have been even bigger

Posted by jahanzaibmemon on December 30, 2007

Despite a fall movie season that had audiences and studios about ready to throw in the towel, ticket sales will top last year’s pace, analysts predict.

With less than a week left on the calendar, ticket sales should eclipse $9.35 billion, up about 4.5% from last year, industry tracker Media By Numbers reports. It marks the second straight year of increased sales, though it probably will fall below 2004’s $9.41 billion.

When adjusted for the rising cost of ticket prices (which averaged $6.58 a ticket this year), attendance is about even with last year, up just 0.5%.

Not bad, but 2007 hardly fulfilled the promise of summer, which raked in a record $4 billion.

“I thought we would do $10 billion for the first time,” says Media By Numbers’ Paul Dergarabedian. “And overall, I think studios have to be happy that revenues are up. But the fall, while providing some high-quality movies, didn’t do much for the bottom line.”

That could be because Hollywood got political and depressing. Despite boasting big-name actors, movies such as Rendition, Lions for Lambs and Reservation Road proved to be clunkers that nearly stopped Hollywood’s box-office momentum. “Fall was flat,” says Adam Fogelson, head of marketing and distribution for Universal Pictures. “It’s hard to tell a year and a half in advance what audiences are going to want. There were a lot of serious movies this fall, when people wanted to be simply entertained.”

The holidays came brimming with hits including Will Smith’s I Am Legend and Nicolas Cage’s National Treasure: Book of Secrets. Even Alvin and the Chipmunks will bring in more than $100 million.

“Heavy movies are fine, but, especially around this time of the year, people want to go out together as a family,” says Chuck Viane, distribution chief for Disney, which released National Treasure. “They’re getting that again, which is why I think we’re finishing big.”

Sales also got a boost from more product. According to Box Office Mojo, a record 619 films were released this year.

So what flourished and what flopped?

The hits:

•Threequels. They weren’t much of a hit with critics, but the third installments of Spider-Man, Shrek and Pirates of the Caribbean together hauled in $966 million domestically and another $1.6 billion overseas. That got the summer season off to its record start.

And one of the threequels, TheBourne Ultimatum, managed to please reviewers and audiences alike. It made $227 million.

•Cartoons. They didn’t have the oomph they once had, but animated films remain a favorite of family moviegoers. Two cracked the top 10: Ratatouille and The Simpsons Movie, which combined for $389 million. Even Jerry Seinfeld’s Bee Movie, which got mixed reviews, mustered $123 million.

•Judd Apatow. The champion of the slacker produced two hits in Knocked Up ($149 million) and Superbad ($121 million). The only misstep came last weekend, when his biopic send-up Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story opened to a dismal $4.1 million.

•Digital filmmaking.300, the music-video-style epic shot entirely in front of a green screen, was the surprise of the year with $211 million. The computer-generated robots from Transformers morphed into $319 million. And Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer raked in $132 million — thanks primarily to the hip, digitally rendered surfer, who is getting his own movie.

The misses:

•The indie hit: Where was this year’s Little Miss Sunshine? Juno may yet claim that mantle, though it’s still in limited release. Movies that were expected to be the year’s sleeper must-sees —The Darjeeling Limited, Waitress, Eastern Promises — managed to turn profits but failed to crack the mainstream.

•Gore. Once a bulletproof genre, gory horror and torture films were no match for suspense this year. Hostel Part II, The Hitcher and Captivity each took in less than $17 million — poor even for the genre’s low production costs.

•Political films. Look at the lowest-grossing movies of the year, and they are littered with stories with something political to say. Blame the films’ quality, dark tones or Hollywood’s liberal leanings, but In the Valley of Elah, Rendition and Lions for Lambs all had big names behind them — and little else.

“No one is going to complain when you can make more money than you did the year before,” Dergarabedian says. “But when you start the way you did this summer, there’s going to be a lot of thought about what might have been.”

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