B.O. eyes momentum for record-breaking year

Even admissions up solidly so far in 2012

At the mid-year point, 2012 is looking like the highest-grossing year ever domestically. But after early releases like “The Avengers” and “The Hunger Games,” can the box office keep up its record-setting momentum?

Totals through July 1 reached a record $5.44 billion, meaning bizzers aren’t worried about lopsided box office: By this time in 2010, Stateside B.O. had reached $5.42 billion vs. $5.28 billion in 2009. Both wound up becoming benchmark years in North America, with $10.6 billion each.

Even year-to-date admissions are up solidly over last year, by 6.5%, according to the National Assn. of Theater Owners.

Holding onto the record is a solid possibility with “The Dark Knight Rises” and the final “Twilight” installment yet to open.

So far this year, Disney-Marvel’s “The Avengers” stands as the clear winner, with $606.5 million domestically; worldwide, the film has cumed nearly $1.45 billion, making it the third highest grossing film of all time. In second place, Lionsgate’s first-quarter blockbuster “The Hunger Games” surpassed $400 million in the States.

But just as 2012 already boasts some of the industry’s biggest successes, the year also has seen some of the biggest big-budget misfires, namely, “John Carter” and “Battleship.”

This year’s domestic weekend-to-weekend box office was up for the first 10 weekends over 2011, which had a sluggish start. And in fact, there have been only nine weekends so far that haven’t done better than 2011.

While “Avengers” and “Hunger Games” grossed almost embarrassingly more than the rest of the year’s hits, Stateside moviegoers also warmed to family fare such as Universal’s “The Lorax,” in third place with $213.2 million domestically, Paramount-DreamWorks Animation’s “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” ($180 million) and Sony’s “Men in Black 3” ($169.7 million).

The top-heavy B.O. means that 2012 has fewer $100 million-plus grossers — with 12 — than either 2011 or 2009 through the end of June. By this time last year, there were three films that had grossed more than $200 million, led by “The Hangover Part 2” ($248.2 million), as well as 13 other films that crossed the $100 million mark.

Summer B.O. should have enough major product to keep pace with last year’s $4.4 billion record-setting sesh: “The Amazing Spider-Man” began what should be a boffo Stateside run Tuesday, to be followed a week later by “Ice Age: Continental Drift” and then “The Dark Knight Rises” on July 20.

Mid-budget pics that clicked included Sony trio “The Vow,” “Think Like a Man” and “21 Jump Street,” as well as Universal’s “Safe House.”

Even lower-budgeted films have helped prop up 2012 totals: Par’s “The Devil Inside,” which the studio acquired for a scant $1 million, scored big by cuming $53.3 million domestically. Relativity Media’s “Act of Valor,” budgeted at around $12 million and acquired for $13 million, wound up making $70 million Stateside.

But the performance of 3D pics has been consistently inconsistent in the U.S. Overseas, 3D continues to tally encouraging percentages.

The format got off to stellar start with “Underworld Awakening” and “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island” each earning around 75% from 3D, with the latter pic’s perf in 3D even more impressive given its family turnout. But 3D began to wane as early as March, when “John Carter” and “Wrath of the Titans” scored in the low-to-mid 60 percent range.

“The Avengers,” which recorded a smashing $207 million domestic debut, earned just 52% of that from 3D. The Mouse followed “Avengers” in 3D a month later with a new 3D-low from Pixar’s “Brave,” at 34%.

The media offered plenty of spin about some of this year’s pricier pics — in either format. Universal’s 2D-only “Snow White and the Huntsman,” for instance, drew heat for its costly $170 million-plus pricetag before going on to tally $335 million worldwide so far.

The same goes for Sony’s “Men in Black 3,” which cost $230 million to produce and got off to what the media called a sluggish domestic start over the Memorial Day weekend. But the “MIB” three-quel wound up becoming the franchise’s highest-grossing installment yet with more than $600 million globally.

The growing disconnect between domestic and international moviegoing tastes seemed to widen in 2012.

While “MIB 3” earned 72% of its global tally from overseas, “The Hunger Games” conversely tallied 60% of its nearly $678 million global cume from Stateside plexes.

Fox’s “Ice Age: Continental Drift” is likely to score much more overseas than at home, consistent with how the previous “Ice Age” pics played; the fourth installment launched last weekend in 35 territories, grossing $80.3 million. “The Dark Knight Rises,” on the other hand, will earn more from domestic wickets if it plays similarly to its predecessor.

Looking ahead, 2012 has plenty to offer audiences — both internationally and in the U.S.

Rounding out the summer are major releases including Sony’s “Total Recall” on Aug. 3 and Universal’s newly moved “The Bourne Legacy,” which now bows Aug. 10. Lionsgate’s “The Expendables 2” launches the following weekend, alongside Focus Features’ stop-motion 3D toon “ParaNorman.”

Fall studio highlights include Warner Bros.’ “Gangster Squad” (Sept. 7); Fox’s “Taken 2” (Oct. 5); Paramount’s “Paranormal Activity” four-peat (Oct. 19); and Thanksgiving entries such as Par-DWA’s “Rise of the Guardians” and Fox’s “Life of Pi.”

As it stands, a crowded holiday timeframe kicks off with two pics bowing Dec. 14: Warner’s “The Hobbit” and U’s “Les Miserables.”

Four wide releases bow at around Dec. 21 — Universal’s “This Is 40,” Paramount’s “Jack Reacher” and “Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away” and Sony’s untitled Kathryn Bigelow project (on Dec. 19) — followed by a trio of Christmas Day entries: Par’s “The Guilt Trip,” the Weinstein Co.’s “Django Unchained” and Warner’s “The Great Gatsby.”

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