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Summer box office sees its worst Memorial Day weekend in 17 years

May 31, 2010 | 12:05 pm

SexCity2a Blame the playoffs, blame the economy or just blame the movies, but this was a Memorial Day weekend that Hollywood would like to forget.

With new releases "Prince of Persia" and "Sex and the City 2" failing to generate big box office, total movie ticket sales for the four-day holiday weekend were an estimated $186 million, the lowest total since 2001.

(For details on the performances of those two movies and "Shrek Forever After" this weekend, see our initial post.)

Accounting for ticket price inflation, the numbers are much worse. The actual number of tickets sold -- about 23.4 million -- was the lowest since 1993, according to data compiled by Hollywood.com.

Movie studio distribution executives pointed to several factors that may have depressed this weekend's box office: the NBA and NHL playoffs that this year feature teams from major cities -- Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia -- and the Indianapolis 500 race. Another possible reason could be the improving economy, as more people have been going on vacation this year compared with last year.

There's no precise way to measure just how much of a factor was played by simple disinterest in the available films. Moviegoers who saw "Prince of Persia" and "Sex and the City 2" liked them better than did most critics, giving the films average grades of B+ and B, respectively, according to market research firm CinemaScore. But there's no denying that the level of excitement was far lower for the two films than for "Night at the Museum 2" and "Terminator Salvation" last year or "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" in 2008.

Prince1So far, the high-stakes summer movie season, which starts on the first weekend of May, hasn't been a good one for the entertainment industry. "Shrek Forever After" had a soft start, though it held relatively well on its second weekend, and "Robin Hood" flopped almost as badly as "Prince of Persia." Only "Iron Man 2" has achieved the blockbuster status that studios strive for with big-budget summer releases.

And despite a substantial increase in ticket prices, domestic box-office revenue for the first four weekends of May through Memorial Day is essentially flat with 2009, according to Hollywood.com. Movie attendance in that period is down a substantial 6.3% this year.

Still, studio executives are hopeful that pictures like "Shrek" and "Sex and the City 2" will hold on much better after their openings than did past summer movies. They also have big commercial hopes for several upcoming titles including "Toy Story 3," "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse" and the Leonardo DiCaprio thriller "Inception."

"I'm not willing to say that the summer is going to be a problem just because we didn't jump out with the same numbers that we did last year," said Dan Fellman, president of domestic distribution for Warner Bros.

Here are the top 10 movies in the U.S. and Canada, based on their four-day grosses. Percentage drops are based on three-day grosses. International grosses are through Sunday only.

1. "Shrek Forever After" (DreamWorks Animation/Paramount): $55.7 million on its second weekend, down 39%. $18.5 million overseas in 15 foreign markets. Domestic total: $145.5 million. International total: $53.5 million.

2. "Prince of Persia" (Disney): Opened to $37.8 million. $59 million overseas in 47 foreign markets. International total: $87.5 million.

3. "Sex and the City 2" (Warner Bros./New Line/Village Roadshow): $37.1 million for the four-day weekend, plus $14.3 million on its opening Thursday. $27.6 million overseas in 15 foreign markets. Domestic total: $51.4 million. International total: $27.6 million.

4. "Iron Man 2" (Marvel/Paramount): $20.6 million on its fourth weekend, down 38%. $6.8 million overseas in 61 foreign markets. Domestic total: $279.2 million. International total: $281.5 million.

5. "Robin Hood" (Universal/Relativity): $13.6 million on its third weekend, down 44%. $17.6 million in 56 foreign markets. Domestic total: $86.3 million. International total: $154.6 million.

6. "Letters to Juliet" (Summit): $7.3 million on its third weekend, down 34%. Domestic total: $37.9 million.

7. "Just Wright" (Fox Searchlight): $2.7 million on its third weekend, down 50%. Domestic total: $18.7 million.

8. "Date Night" (Fox/Dune): $2.3 million on its eighth weekend, down 38%. $1 million overseas in 32 foreign markets. Domestic total: $93.9 million. International total: $52.8 million.

9. "MacGruber" (Rogue/Universal): $1.9 million on its second weekend, down 62%. Domestic total: $7.6 million.

10. "How to Train Your Dragon" (DreamWorks Animation/Paramount): $1.5 million on its 10th weekend, down 44%. $4.7 million overseas in 62 foreign markets. Domestic total: $213.1 million. International total: $243 million.

-- Ben Fritz

RELATED:

First look: 'Shrek' wins weekend as 'Sex' disappoints and 'Persia' flops

Top photo: Kristin Davis, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall and Cynthia Nixon in "Sex and the City 2." Credit: Craig Blankenhorn / New Line Cinema. Bottom photo: Jake Gyllenhaal and Gemma Arterton in "Prince of Persia." Credit: Andrew Cooper / Walt Disney Studios

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