No-name summer still sets mark

Sequels push B.O. up

HOLLYWOOD — It’s a split decision: Summer 2001 set a record for box-office grosses — but not for admissions.

Box office tracker ACNielsen EDI projects Labor Day grosses would likely lift summer B.O. to a total of $2.93 billion. That’s 10% ahead of last year and 5% ahead of the record summer of 1999.

But ticket prices jumped 6% last year and are believed up 5% already this year, so summer ’01 won’t beat ’99 in admissions, when a total 550 million tickets were sold to moviegoers between the Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends. Using an EDI estimate that ticket prices currently average about $5.66 — compared with $5.39 last year — the B.O. tracker figures this summer’s admissions likely will top out at about 517.6 million through Labor Day, or almost 6% off the record set two summers ago.

Considerable emphasis often is placed on admissions data because they reflect consumers’ relative enthusiasm for moviegoing in any given year. But others stress that because moviemaking ultimately reps business as well as art, business success is best measured by gross receipts.

“It’s the dollars that count — that’s what it’s all about,” says analyst Arthur Rockwell of Rockwell Capital Management in Los Angeles.

EDI prexy Tom Borys notes this summer’s infamous second-week drop-offs haven’t hurt pics’ total grosses through their first two frames of release.

The running total for all releases this summer through their first two weekends was $1.51 billion, compared with $1.29 billion last summer, Borys notes — a 17% expansion.

The average gross per film is also “trending upward,” he says, though a precise figure won’t be available until fall when some summer releases complete their runs.

There was a modest uptick in the overall number of wide releases this summer, as season bows totaled 38 through Labor Day compared with 36 wide openers last summer.

Deep tentpoles

Summer ’01 has delivered record B.O. chiefly because the public has enthusiastically embraced sequels. But it’s also been a season in which distribs managed to stretch their big releases well into the season, making for a string of tentpole releases deep into August.

“This has been the most amazing summer in my experience,” 20th Century Fox distrib topper Bruce Snyder observes. “Until last weekend, you had a big blockbuster opening each and every weekend.”

‘Silent’ strike

Though a whopping five wide releases unspooled the final weekend of August, only Miramax/Dimension’s “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back” broke into double-digit millions, with an $11 million bow.

Meanwhile, many observers trace 1999’s record success in movie admissions to Fox’s B.O. phenom “Star Wars: Episode One — The Phantom Menace.” The “Star Wars” prequel debuted in spring but played well long into summer ’99.

By contrast, summer ’01 was the year with no breakout release. And again, the summer’s biggest performer was a pic that debuted in the spring — DreamWorks’ “Shrek.”

The toon laffer grossed $261.4 million domestically through Aug. 26, with $204.9 million of that coming since the Memorial Day frame. Disney’s “Pearl Harbor,” which bowed over that long holiday sesh, delivered the summer’s second-biggest perf, with $195.5 million through Aug. 26.

U takes crown

Universal will take the season’s market-share laurels, leading Disney with $487.9 million vs. $381.3 million in total summer B.O. through the final August frame. That translates into 17% in market share compared with less than 14% for the Mouse.

U also leads year-to-date comparisons, with $714.2 million in B.O. since Jan. 2 and a 13% market share.

Sequels hit

Three of U’s four biggest summer perfs have come from sequels — “Jurassic Park III,” “American Pie 2” and spring-opener “The Mummy Returns.” Surprise blockbuster “The Fast and the Furious” followed “JPIII” as the distrib’s second biggest hit of the season.

Paramount is No. 2 through Aug. 26 with $605.3 million, or 11%. Distrib’s vidgame adaptation, “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” was its top summer title.

(Anthony D’Alessandro contributed to this report.)

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