School days blamed for sagging ticket sales

SYDNEY — With kids back in school Down Under after their midyear vacation, the Aussie box office is in a funk.

While “Fantastic Four,” “War of the Worlds” and “Batman Begins” are still drawing auds, total gross this weekend was just A$7.4 million ($5.6 million), down 18% from the previous week and 33% from the same weekend in 2004.

Despite the preem of Warners’ “The Island,” the July 28-31 frame was one of the lowest earning of 2005. Loop Greater Union has reacted by slashing its Discount Tuesday tickets to $3.80 during August; exhib Hoyts has opted for a quick fix, cutting prices from $11.70 to $6.50.

The B.O. has been tracking below 2004 all year despite hopes for a popcorn-season uptick. “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith” has taken $26.6 million in 11 weeks and is still unspooling on 33 screens. “Madagascar” has tallied $18.9 million in seven weeks and remains on 183 screens. Fox’s “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” is showing on 83 after eight weeks; cume is $15 million.

How to arrest the decline will be a major talking point at the upcoming Australian Intl. Movie Convention on Queensland’s Gold Coast, to be held Aug. 15-18. Greater Union general manager Jim Collier will moderate talks between Robb Chase from Canada’s Famous Players loop, DreamWorks Intl. topper Stephen Basil-Jones and Nielsen EDI managing director Mark Burton.

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