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Archive for Monday, September 4, 2006

Summer smash ‘Pirates’ turns Hollywood tides

September 4, 2006

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— The Hollywood hand-wringing of 2005 has been forgotten. After a dismal box-office year and gloomy prophecies about its future, the movie business has rebounded with a solid - though far from spectacular - summer season.

Led by one of the biggest all-time hits, Johnny Depp's "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest," Hollywood will have rung up about $3.85 billion in domestic ticket sales from the first weekend in May through today, up 6.3 percent from the same period last year, according to box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations. Factoring in higher ticket prices, movie attendance was up about 3.1 percent.

"If every year were like this, it would be fine," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations. "Hollywood will take solid over slump any day."

For summer 2005, revenues declined 8.5 percent and attendance tumbled 11.4 percent compared with summer 2004.

This summer's revenues will come in about 2 percent to 3 percent below those of 2004, a strong box-office season. This summer's attendance will be down about 8 percent compared with 2004.

Last year brought continual bad headlines as the flop of the week hit theaters, with Hollywood's overall revenues down weekend after weekend. Analysts theorized that home theaters and other personal entertainment options were undermining cinema business.

Actor Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow is shown in a scene from "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest." The movie, which earned more than $400 million, helped lift Hollywood out of a slump it suffered in 2005.

Actor Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow is shown in a scene from "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest." The movie, which earned more than $400 million, helped lift Hollywood out of a slump it suffered in 2005.

"The great thing this year is it seemed like audiences found a picture they wanted to see every week and sometimes two. That didn't happen last year," said Jeff Blake, vice chairman at Sony, which had summer hits with Tom Hanks' "The Da Vinci Code" and Will Ferrell's "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby." "Clearly, there were some weekends last year where people would say, 'Let's not go to the movies.'"

Performance standards

The opposite happened this year as most big films delivered, pulling in steady audiences. Overall movie revenues were up 14 out of 17 weekends this summer.

"Pirates of the Caribbean" raced past $400 million domestically, only the seventh movie to top that mark. "Cars," "X-Men: The Last Stand" and "The Da Vinci Code" all made it past $200 million, with "Superman Returns" at $196 million and creeping toward that level.

The first big-screen adventure for the Man of Steel since 1987's "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace," "Superman Returns" drew huge audiences. But box-office analysts had expected it to do better considering how well other elite superhero franchises have done, such as "Spider-Man" and "X-Men."

Another underachiever was Tom Cruise's "Mission: Impossible III," which took in a respectable $133 million but fell far short of the 1996 original ($181 million) and 2000's sequel ($215 million). Fans apparently were turned off by Cruise's schoolboy antics in his romance with Katie Holmes and his religious preaching on Scientology.

Unlike summer 2005, this season produced only a few outright flops, mainly the family flicks "Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties" and "The Ant Bully" and Uma Thurman's comedy "My Super Ex-Girlfriend."

Other movies such as "Miami Vice," "Poseidon" and "Lady in the Water" managed passable ticket sales though they failed to live up to studio hopes.

Samuel L. Jackson's "Snakes on a Plane" had sky-high expectations, preceded by a frenzy of Internet buzz and parodies. Yet it landed in theaters with the modest box office typical of a B-movie fright flick, raising questions about the value of Web mania in luring people to movie theaters.

A few films pulled in bigger audiences than expected, among them Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn's romance "The Break-Up" and Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway's office comedy "The Devil Wears Prada," both $100 million hits.

Beyond the mainstream

Oliver Stone's "World Trade Center" did solid business on the heels of another Sept. 11-themed movie, "United 93," the two proving that many moviegoers had the stomach for big-screen dramatizations about the terrorist attacks.

And smaller, independent-minded movies brought in viewers looking for more adult fare, including Al Gore's global-warming documentary "An Inconvenient Truth," Robert Altman's "A Prairie Home Companion," the road-trip black comedy "Little Miss Sunshine" and Edward Norton and Paul Giamatti's period piece "The Illusionist."

"Moviegoing is still a great American pastime. When movies are appealing enough, people still are willing to go out and see them," said Steve Gilula, chief operating officer at Fox Searchlight, which released "Little Miss Sunshine." "I think the public is more selective than ever. But the quality of movies this summer shows they still like going out to the theater."

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