Record box office is qualified corker

Five $200 mil+ pix help sell 1.44 billion tix

Pop the bubbly — just not the Dom Perignon.

While 2001 will mark increases both in box office and admissions over last year, it’s likely to set a record only for B.O. Meanwhile, Warner Bros. will take its first market share crown in eight years, but the distrib won’t break any record in doing so.

The year will set a B.O. record with a projected $8.14 billion through Jan. 1 — a 9% improvement over 2000. But 5% of that boost stems from higher ticket prices, which jumped to an average $5.67 this year, according to B.O. tracker ACNielsen EDI.

EDI projects that just under 1.44 billion movie tickets were sold through New Year’s Day — 6% more than in 2000. But 1998’s more than 1.44 billion admissions likely will remain a record, barring a surprisingly strong final two days of ticket sales; official year-end data circulate today.

“It’s a photo finish,” EDI prexy Tom Borys said.

A record five $200 million-plus grossers contributed to the industrywide tally this year: Warners’ “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” ($286.1 million), DreamWorks’ “Shrek” ($267.7 million), Disney’s “Monsters, Inc. ($236.3 million), New Line’s “Rush Hour 2” ($226.1 million) and Universal’s “The Mummy Returns” ($202 million).

New Line’s “Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” will soon cross the $200 million threshold as well. (Notably, the year-end release calendar for ’02 boasts second installments of both “Harry” and “Rings.”)

Warners will likely end up with a total $1.24 billion in 2001 when totals for Monday and Tuesday are finalized. Through Sunday, distrib had grossed a total $1.21 billion for the year.

Distrib’s perf — padded by hefty November-December grosses for “Harry Potter” — look good enough for No. 2 or No. 3 on the all-time list of annual grossers. But it won’t be enough to blow past Sony’s record $1.26 billion haul of 1997.

Bigger grosses for the first 10 days of Warners/Castle Rock’s disappointing “The Majestic” might have gotten Warners into the record books. Jim Carrey starrer should have grossed more than twice its $15.7 million cume over that span, and another $20 million could have pushed Warners past the Sony record.

‘Damage’ control

But distrib was more inclined to blame the forced postponement of “Collateral Damage,” the Arnold Schwarzenegger starrer planned as a big fourth-quarter release until it was bounced to February amid Sept. 11 sensitivities. Execs had feared auds would object to actioner’s terrorist-themed plot in the tragedies’ immediate aftermath.

Universal will finish No. 2 in U.S. market share for the second year in a row. Its $948 million in 2001 grosses through Sunday was expected to swell to about $960 million through Jan. 1.

The race for the market share bronze medal was too close to call going into the holiday. Disney — which has become accustomed to finishing at least first or second in most years — was No. 3 with $880 million through Sunday; Paramount was No. 4 with $879 million.

But the Mouse House and Par could reverse those places after Monday and Tuesday grosses are added into year-end totals. Mouse had only one top-10 pic last weekend (“Monsters, Inc.”) while Par had two (“Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius,” “Vanilla Sky”).

Twentieth Century Fox and Sony were poised to claim the fifth and sixth market share rungs, respectively, with annual grosses through Sunday of $850 million and $722 million.

In 2000, Disney finished on top of the annual B.O. heap with $1.097 billion. Mouse was followed by U ($1.086 billion), Warners ($891.04 billion), Paramount ($785.9 billion), DreamWorks ($769.3 million) and Fox ($728.6 million).

Interestingly, ’01 was a record year for animated features, with toons accounting for $788 million in combined grosses — 7% more than last year’s then-record $747 million. Yet neither “Shrek” distrib DreamWorks nor “Monsters” distrib Disney managed to crack the market share top three despite toons’ respective No. 2 and No. 3 rankings among year’s top pics.

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