Sony sizzles but B.O. fizzles

Summer ticket sales melt as tentpole pics fade fast

After a sizzling first half, a late-season sag has resulted in only a modest climb to an industry high for summer box office, and a possible decline in ticket sales.

There’s been a 12% uptick in year-to-date B.O., compared with the same portion of last year. But the summer marked only a 2.4% increase. Including estimates from the season-ending Labor Day frame, summer 2002 has rung up $3.03 billion in industrywide grosses, according to B.O. tracker Nielsen EDI.

The summer started strong, with a 13% improvement over a year ago through the season’s first month and a half. But the market seemed to soften by late July, August was a big loser, and this weekend repped the seventh consecutive decline in total grosses, compared with similar frames a year earlier.

Meanwhile, EDI estimates there’s been a 3.5% to 4% jump in ticket prices since a year ago. So, there were likely fewer admissions than last year, with ticket sales well off from the record 549.8 million in admissions marked over summer 1999.

“At best, it was a push with last summer,” EDI exec veep Dan Marks summarized.

In December, EDI calculated that the average cost of a movie admission was $5.65, and the B.O. tracker again will officially update its calculations at year’s end. But Marks said anecdotal evidence seems to indicate most inflation occurs in the first half of the B.O. year.

Unexceptional summer

Meanwhile, there has been one notable exception to the generally unexceptional B.O. season this summer: Sony has hogged a remarkable 23% share of all summer biz. In fact, its tentpole-packed summer strategy worked so well that in only the eighth month of the year, Sony has surpassed the record for 12-month B.O.

Through the holiday sesh, Sony has amassed $1.29 billion in total grosses this year — with almost $650 million of that coming since the Memorial Day frame. Distrib’s year-to-date total tops the previous annual record of $1.27 billion, set by Sony in 1997.

Disney and 20th Century Fox rank Nos. 2 and 3, respectively, in summer marketshare. Mouse House has $387.3 million in summer B.O., or 14% market share; Fox finished with $361.5 million, or a 13% share.

“It’s been a dream summer for the studio,” Sony marketing and distrib topper Jeff Blake says. “It started great with ‘Spider-Man,’ is ending great with ‘XXX,’ and we had a lot of fun in between.”

Sony got a running leap on its sizzling season by the boffo May 3 launch of “Spider-Man,” which spun B.O. webs well into July. Tobey Maguire starrer amassed $403.7 million in domestic grosses — $105.9 mil since the Memorial Day sesh that EDI uses to begin gauging “summer” perfs.

‘XXX’ performs

“XXX,” an actioner from production partner Revolution Studios, has rung up an estimated $123.9 million in through its first four frames it release. Distrib’s sci-fi spoof “Men in Black II” was its biggest mid-summer grossers with $189.7 million in B.O.

Summer ’02’s biggest grosser since Memorial Day was New Line’s “Austin Powers in Goldmember,” which grossed $203.5 million. Disney’s “Signs,” which bowed Aug. 2, was season’s second-best perf with $195.1 million.

Mouse House distrib topper Chuck Viane said summer’s failure to impress in admissions comparisons could be attributable in part to a hesitancy to slot bigger pictures in late summer.

“I think we were just a picture or two short,” Viane said. “One more major film and you would have been there. And I do think there was room for one more picture (in August).”

Other industry insiders alternately point toward this summer’s late-season sag in year-over-year B.O. comparison as evidence that August openings are overly chancy to risk with their biggest titles.

Several specialty pics also had hot summers, with IFC Films boasting two of the biggest niche winners. Its unrated road-trip laffer “Y tu mama tambien” was a big crossover success, grossing $13.6 million domestically — $3.1 mil of that coming since the Memorial Day sesh — and “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” has collected an estimated $82.3 million to date, $77.2 mil since May 24.

Miramax scored summer wins with Reese Witherspoon starrer “The Importance of Being Earnest” ($7.5 mil) and low-budget laffer “Tadpole” ($1.6 mil).

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