'Star Wars,' 'Passion' lead Fox to $3 bil.

Consumer spending on Fox releases in 2004 is closing in on $3 billion for the first time in the studio’s history.The four-month tsunami of more than a dozen major new and older films from September through December — and a similarly extensive slate of TV series like “That ’70s Show” and “Arrested Development” — began last week with “The Passion of the Christ.”

The $370 million box office savior generated roughly $170 million in consumer spending on 9 million DVD copies purchased in the first week despite retail store closings in the critical Southeast during recent hurricanes, according to Variety sister publication DVD Exclusive.

And on Sept. 21, the studio unleashes the most-requested series of movies never on DVD, the “Star Wars Trilogy,” which should easily generate $300 million-$400 million.

Five of a string of six summer titles (all of which opened at $20 million plus) will start hitting stores Tuesday with the release of “Man on Fire” ($78 mil.), followed by “The Day After Tomorrow” ($187 million — Oct. 12); “Garfield: The Movie” ($75 million — Oct. 19); “DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story” ($113 million — Dec. 7); and “I, Robot” ($141 million — Dec. 14).

“Alien vs. Predator” ($77 mil.) is expected early next year.

The studio will likely also add two smaller critical favorites to the fourth quarter lineup, “Garden State” ($11 million) and “Napoleon Dynamite” ($22 million) but DVD dates have not been set in stone with the expansion of theaters for “Napoleon” last weekend.Fox, which ranked fifth among the studios in home video market share last year ($2.36 billion, according to DVD Exclusive), and through the first six months of this year ($1.2 billion), is already having its best year yet and is positioned to be one of the top distributors of the upcoming holiday season and perhaps move up a notch or two for the year.

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