War no longer deterring auds

Mediocre films may be real culprit

HOLLYWOOD — As a slew of new movie releases proved box office disappointments, pundits have blamed audiences’ war jitters.

But new data suggests that the real culprit may be simpler: mediocre films.

A MarketCast survey found that a substantial proportion of the U.S. population decided to stop traveling and taper off entertainment, immediately after the March 19 onset of war. However, that mood has subsided. On March 23, 18% said they would be less likely to go to the movies because of war. Only seven days later, that figure fell to 13%.

Broadway is similarly hemorrhaging ticket sales and concert promoters are crossing their fingers as they put summer tickets on sale. But, again, war may not be the answer.

“Definitely the war is having an effect on whether people go to the movies, but it hasn’t been to the effect that some people might have feared,” MarketCast project manager Jonathan Helfgot says. “We saw the greatest hesitancy in the first couple of days, and that has slowly tapered over the course of the past two weeks.”

Results from the survey of 1,715 people seem to bear out pre-war expectations of an early impact on moviegoing that would soon dissipate. Entertainment tends to be recession- and war-proof, even though the disruption of major events like the first weekend of a war can preoccupy prospective patrons.

“Terrorism has affected people’s interest in traveling,” MarketCast’s Helfgot observed. “Also, you’re only talking about leaving the house for a couple of hours with shopping or moviegoing. But with traveling it’s a matter of leaving your family and home for a longer period, and that (makes) people feel more uncomfortable.”

MarketCast is owned by Reed Business Information, the parent company to Daily Variety.

Six of the seven movies unspooled in wide release over the past two weekends have done fair to poor biz, with even last weekend’s No. 1 perf by “Head of State” underwhelming at just $13.5 million. A $35 million production, the Chris Rock vehicle should drive into profitability — but just.

Film distribs will be heartened that moviegoers are more inclined to return to the multiplex, but they remain challenged by disruptions to pic marketing campaigns.

TV webs have been playing fewer commercials and newspaper feature sections are less likely to run film films, execs say. Paramount recently pulled its “Against the Ropes” drama from release skeds until conditions were more favorable to market the Meg Ryan-toplined boxing saga, and other distribs are poised for possible other moves.

Auds seem most receptive to laffers of late. Disney’s “Bringing Down the House” was top pic three successive weekends before the inaugural-weekend win for “Head of State.”

Even as moviegoers and shoppers indicated an increased inclination to resume normal activities, wartime resistance to travel held firm over the first several days of the survey.

Some 41% of people interviewed March 23 said they would be less likely to travel because of the war. On March 30, the percentage was 39%.

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