August releases heat up box office

It looks likely to be a record summer

The dog days of summer have turned into sunny days at the domestic B.O., as a healthy crop of August releases is boosting box office so high that this looks likely to be a record summer.

The latest overperformer is the Weinstein Co.’s “Inglourious Basterds,” which opened to $38.1 million over the weekend, exceeding the company’s early estimate of $36.7 million.

Through Sunday, summer B.O. revenues were $3.99 billion, up 5% over the same stretch in 2008, which eventually notched up $4.14 billion. That means that ticket sales are nearing the $4.16 billion collected in the record breaking summer of 2007.

Studios and theater owners expect revs to break that record by Sunday, a week before Labor Day weekend, which is the official end of the season.

If this summer hits a record, it will be with a few caveats. The Sept. 7 Labor Day holiday is later than usual, giving the box office some extra padding from its start on May 1.

And admissions are running 3%-4% behind last summer’s levels.

Still, in this economy, the tallies are good news, and year-to-date admissions are up 2.6%-2.7%. Revs for the year are up 6.5%.

August has traditionally been reserved for genre pics like actioners and thrillers, or titles being dumped by studios. If a studio targeted a bigger film for August (like the “Bourne” movies), it was usually the first weekend of the month.

That strategy changed this year as the other months of summer became overstuffed, so August has been packed with high-profile titles every weekend.

Joining “Basterds” on the list of August pics doing sizable business domestically are Paramount’s “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra,” which has grossed $120.2 million since its Aug. 7 release and Sony’s “District 9,” opened Aug. 14, which grossed $72.8 million in its first 10 days.

Sony’s femme pic “Julie and Julia” has cooked up $59.1 million in revenues since its Aug. 7 release. Opening a week later, Warner Bros.’ “The Time Traveler’s Wife” has grossed $37.2 million.

It’s back to the genre well this weekend with horror pics: Warner Bros./New Line’s 3-D “The Final Destination” and the Weinstein Co.’s “Halloween II.” Focus Features opens Ang Lee’s “Taking Woodstock” in New York and L.A. on Wednesday, then goes wide Friday.

Labor Day weekend entries include 20th Century Fox’s “All About Steve,” starring Sandra Bullock and Bradley Cooper, Miramax’s Justin Bateman-Ben Affleck comedy “Extract” and Lionsgate’s Gerard Butler suspenser “Gamer.”

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