Hollywood shakes off box office blues this summer
After a weak performance earlier in the year, Hollywood rounded out the summer on a high note.
Box office revenues in the U.S. and Canada hit $4.4 billion between May and Labor Day, up 4.5% from the same time a year ago, according to the National Assn. of Theatre Owners. That is a record not accounting for ticket price inflation.
However, box office attendance or admissions -- the number of tickets sold -- rose a more modest 1% to $546 million.
Higher ticket prices and premium-priced 3-D tickets accounted for the stronger increase in revenue than attendance.
Domestic receipts during Hollywood's lucrative summer season were fueled by a crop of R-rated hit comedies such as "Bridesmaids" and "Bad Teacher" as well big-budget sequels that included "Transformers: Dark of the Moon," "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" and "The Hangover Part II."
Those tentpole movies performed even better overseas, where fast growing markets such as Russia, China and Latin America are accounting for an increasing majority of the film industry's box office revenues.
But not every expensive event movie hit such lofty heights. This summer's most prominent box office disappointments included "Green Lantern," "Cowboys and Aliens" and "Conan the Barbarian."
The strong summer comes as welcome relief to an industry that saw a steep drop in business earlier this year, when movie theater attendance and revenue were each down about 20%.
Admissions are still down by 5.1% so far this year compared to 2010, while year-to-date revenues through the Labor Day weekend were down 4.3 % from a year ago.
Nonetheless, film industry officials are optimistic that the box office will make up much of the lost ground by the end of the year, particularly with sequels to hits including "Sherlock Holmes," "Mission Impossible" and "Alvin and the Chipmunks" debuting during the holidays.
"In the midst of 9% unemployment and a continuing weak economy, it is striking that the movie theater industry can continue to grow revenues and admissions,'' NATO President and Chief Executive John Fithian said in a statement. "In a weak economy or strong, the movie theater remains the first and most affordable choice in out-of-home entertainment."
-- Richard Verrier and Ben Fritz
Photo: Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter in Warner Bros.' fantasy adventure movie "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2." Credit: Warner Bros.