B.O. betters $4 billion

The domestic box office is expected to burst the $4 billion mark today, approximately two weeks faster than the prior speed record set in 1996. Through the comparable period of last year, box office gross is ahead by 7.5% and at the present pace should generate a $6.2 billion year.

And, a long and strong fall and holiday lineup holds out the promise of an even better finish.

Simultaneous with reaching the $4 billion plateau, summer B.O. — after a slow start — surpassed last year’s seasonal business. Through Wednesday, the season stood at $1.84 billion, roughly $1 million less than for the comparable frame of 1996, a difference it should easily make up today.

An unusually potent late July/August slate has invigorated summer moviegoing following the worst June results of the past five years. Industry consensus last month was that it would be highly unlikely for summer biz to reach last year’s record $2.2 billion level. While seasonal biz now appears likely to top the 1996 record by about 3%, admissions will wind up slightly trailing last year’s 480 million tally. Summer ticket sales have experienced slight erosions for four consecutive years.

Comeback kid studio Sony continues to lead both the year and season by commanding margins with a year to date market share of 23.7% and a summer slice of 27.9%. Buena Vista holds the No. 2 year and summer spots with 19% and 15.7%, respectively.

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