Fox, Disney lead B.O. in a bummer summer

Overall receipts off 6% from a year ago

Fox narrowly edged Disney during the Memorial Day-Labor Day B.O. period for the summer market share crown. But the real summer story was not which studio won or lost but rather Hollywood’s first year-to-year decline in theatrical revenue since 1991.

Because majors feast during the summer, bringing in 40%-50% of their annual B.O., the downtrend is disturbing.

“You’ve got to look at this summer as a mixed bag,” said Tom Borys, prexy of B.O. tracker ACNielsen EDI. “We’ve come to expect expansion, and this year the business didn’t expand.”

Overall receipts from Memorial Day through Labor Day totaled $2.6 billion, off 6% from $2.8 billion a year ago.

Propelled by hits “Big Momma’s House” and “X-Men,” Fox took in $388.4 million, up 9% from last summer, to secure 14.7% of the marketplace.

Disney, which lacked a true high-achiever this summer, rode “Dinosaur” and “Gone in 60 Seconds” to a $386.7 million tally. While that came within a couple of million of Fox, it also repped a steep 25% drop from last summer.

Daily Variety has returned to defining the summer as starting on Memorial Day. Some studios and industry observers believe May 5 is a better date, given the summer treatment — and accompanying grosses — given to DreamWorks’ “Gladiator.” Previous early-May hits such as “Twister” and “The Mummy,” it is argued, have pushed the summer ahead.

D’Works win

Using May 5 had been the starting point, DreamWorks wins the summer derby. Starting on Memorial Day, they’re third. Either way, most B.O. watchers dub it the most successful distrib, with all five pics — “Gladiator,” “Road Trip,” “Small Time Crooks,” “Chicken Run” and “What Lies Beneath” — commercially strong.

As it turns out, the contested overall May 5-25 figures were flat compared with the same period in ’99, meaning that any way you slice it, summer business fell 6%. The year-to-date B.O. is an eyelash ahead of where it was in 1999, after starting May up 10%.

Those looking for a silver lining point out that summer 2000 is still the second-best on record. The season birthed 12 pics that have crossed (or soon will cross) the $100 million barrier, the same impressive total as in 1999.

They also argue that the record-breaking likes of 1999, with mega-titles such as the “Star Wars” prequel, “Austin Powers 2” and “The Sixth Sense,” may never be seen again.

But especially with the mandates for revenue growth imposed by new corporate parents, showbizzers found themselves unfulfilled this summer. Studios certainly didn’t get the same returns for their money given the steep ticket-price hikes, additional U.S. movie screens and hefty budgets and marketing behind summer titles.

“From the studio standpoint, most pictures just didn’t generate the heat we needed to expand the overall business,” Borys said.

With a domestic gross of $213 million, Paramount’s first-place “Mission: Impossible 2” would have ranked third last summer. Seven pics from 1999 cleared $150 million, compared with just five this season. Last year, three passed $200 million, compared with only “M:I 2” in 2000.

July 4 fireworks

The month of July did set a record, propelled by a historic Fourth of July showdown between Sony’s “The Patriot” and Warner Bros.’ “The Perfect Storm.”

Though “Storm” prevailed Stateside, “Patriot” fared OK worldwide. More importantly, the competish reinvigorated the B.O., with year-to-year gains posted for three straight weekends in July.

“Scary Movie” and “X-Men” arguably reaped spillover from the five-day July 4 binge, which spurred the moviegoing habit. Latter pair, and maybe “What Lies Beneath,” became the summer’s chief upside surprises.

A lackluster June and August, however, kept the biz tethered to reality. June pics such as “Shaft,” “Gone in 60 Seconds” and “Me, Myself & Irene” opened strong but didn’t join the ranks of the all-time summer greats.

Ditto in August, with pics such as “Hollow Man,” “The Original Kings of Comedy,” “Space Cowboys” and “Bring It On” posting good numbers but laboring in the shadow of last year’s late-summer winners “The Sixth Sense,” “Runaway Bride” and “The Blair Witch Project.”

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