Box office looking for summer lovin'

The film biz is more than ready for summer to begin after a touch-and-go stretch at the domestic box office.

Through Sunday, 2008 box office revenues were running 2% behind the same frame last year, according to Rentrak. With the teetering economy and strike worries, that stat doesn’t provide the sort of cushion that studios and distribs are looking for.

Last year, three titles released during the January-April frame grossed more than $100 million, with one crossing $200 million. This year so far, only one release has crossed the $100 million mark, 20th Century Fox’s “Horton Hears a Who!,” which took $147.9 million through Sunday.

Year to date, Fox has built an easy lead in market share — with 23.6% — by successfully mining the lucrative family market with “Horton,” 2007 holdover “Alvin and the Chipmunks” and Fox-Walden’s “Nim’s Island.”

Fox execs stress that while market share is all well and fine, profitability is the aim. “Horton,” which cost $85 million to produce, has grossed $266.7 million worldwide. “Alvin,” which cost less than $70 million to produce, has grossed $358 million worldwide.

If the year has lagged, it’s partly because studios couldn’t replicate last year’s B.O. successes “300” (Warner Bros.) and “Wild Hogs” (Disney), which grossed $206.9 million and $158.7 million, respectively.

In March, Warners released “10,000 BC” on the same weekend that “300” had opened, but the prehistoric actioner topped out at $93.4 million.

While family titles have been the big grossers so far in 2008, some comedies have proved the last-minute saving grace of the January-April box office, with the past two weekends up over 2007 levels after frames were running consistently behind in March and most of April.

This past weekend, the box office was up a sizable 17.2% on the opening strength of Universal’s Tina Fey-Amy Poehler starrer “Baby Mama” and New Line/Warner Bros.’ “Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay.”

On Sunday, U initially estimated an opening gross of $18.3 million for the PG-13 “Baby Mama,” but final numbers released on Monday showed that the comedy grossed $17.4 million. Film still easily came in No. 1 for the weekend. “Harold & Kumar” grossed $14.9 million in its debut.

A week earlier, U’s Judd Apatow-produced “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” grossed $17.7 million in its debut. Pic has cumed $35 million in its first 10 days.

After Fox, Warners comes in second in year-to-date market share, with 14.5%, on the strength of “10,000 BC” and “Fool’s Gold” ($69.6 million). Sony comes in third at 12%, thanks to midrange box office successes including “Vantage Point” ($72.3 million) and “21” ($75.8 million).

Disney places No. 4, with 9.6%, thanks to films including 3-D smash hit “Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour” ($65.2 million) and “Step Up 2 the Streets” ($57.8 million). Paramount comes in No. 5 at 8.9%. Par’s highest-grossing film of the January-April sesh was monster pic “Cloverfield” ($80 million).

Universal places No. 6 in year-to-date market share at 7.8%. Studio’s highest-grossing pic released between January and April is “Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins” ($42.2 million). “Baby Mama” gave U its first top opener of the year.

Order of market share is bound to change quickly once summer gets under way Friday with the release of Paramount and Marvel Entertainment’s “Iron Man” and Sony’s romantic comedy “Made of Honor.”

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