September 24, 2020

A Year of Disappointment for Hollywood

Movies are a cyclical business and analysts say that 2010 benefited mightily from holdover sales for “Avatar,” which was released late in 2009 and became one of the most popular movies of all time. A decline of hundreds of millions of dollars is not catastrophic when weighed against the size of the industry. Over all, North American ticket revenue for 2011 is projected to be about $10.1 billion, according to, which compiles box-office data.

That is only a 4.5 percent falloff from 2010. But studio executives are alarmed by the downturn nonetheless, in part because the real picture is worse than the raw revenue numbers suggest.

Revenue, for instance, has been propped up by a glut of 3-D films, which cost $3 to $5 more per ticket. Studios made 40 pictures in 3-D in the last 12 months, up from 24 last year, according to, a movie database. Theaters have also continued to increase prices for standard tickets; moviegoers now pay an average of $7.89 each, up 1 percent over last year.

Attendance for 2011 is expected to drop 5.3 percent, to 1.27 billion, continuing a slide. Attendance declined 6 percent in 2010.

Hopes that a group of major releases would supercharge the Christmas box office fizzled over the weekend. Paramount’s “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol” was a solid No. 1, taking in $26.5 million in its second weekend for a total of about $59 million. But “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” (Warner Brothers) was a softer-than-expected second, with $17.8 million in ticket sales, lifting its two-week total to $76.6 million.

“Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked” (20th Century Fox) continued to struggle in third place, taking in about $13.3 million for a two-week total of $50.3 million. Three heavily promoted new entries had tepid results. “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” (Sony), was fourth, taking in $13 million for the weekend and $21.4 million since opening last Wednesday. Steven Spielberg’s “Adventures of Tintin” (Paramount) was fifth with about $9.1 million ($22.3 million since opening last Wednesday). Fox’s “We Bought a Zoo” came in sixth, taking in a lackluster $7.8 million in its opening weekend.

What has gone wrong? Plenty, say studio distribution executives, who point to competition for leisure dollars, particularly among financially pressed young people (the movie industry’s most coveted demographic); too many family movies; and the continued erosion of star power.

One more thing: “You have to go back and look at the content,” said Dan Fellman, president of domestic distribution for Warner Brothers. “Good movies always rise to the occasion. Bad ones, not so much.”

Young people, defined by studios as teenagers and people in their 20s, certainly helped power some of the biggest movies of 2011, including Warner’s “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” the year’s No. 1 release with $381 million in domestic ticket sales. (Paramount’s “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” was second with more than $352 million, and “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 1” from Summit Entertainment was third with more than $269 million.)

But a spate of smaller movies aimed at younger audiences bombed, including “Prom” from Walt Disney, “Glee: The 3-D Concert Movie” from 20th Century Fox, Warner’s “Sucker Punch,” Lionsgate’s “Conan the Barbarian” and “Your Highness,” a drug-oriented comedy from Universal. The horror genre struggled as an entire category, with lemons like “Fright Night” (DreamWorks Studios), “The Thing” (Universal) and “Priest” (Sony).

“As bad as the economy is for adults, it’s worse for teenagers,” said Phil Contrino, editor of, by way of an explanation. “Because they have less disposable income and because they are more plugged in to audience reaction on Facebook and Twitter, the teenage audience is becoming picky,” he added. “That’s a nightmare for studios that are used to pushing lowest-common-denominator films.”

Mr. Fellman said he had seen evidence that younger consumers were choosing other leisure activities over movies.

“There may be a correlation to the recent strength of video game sales,” he said. “You look at a game like the new ‘Call of Duty’ selling $400 million in its first 24 hours and say, ‘What? How is that even possible?’ ”

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