Overall totals still ahead of prior year-to-date figures

A four-week year-vs.-year losing streak that began Labor Day weekend sunk the third quarter domestic box office by 7.2% — but looking at the bigger picture, there’s reason for optimism, with overall totals still ahead of last year, and a fourth-quarter that’s already off to a solid start.

Third-quarter domestic B.O. (July 1-Sept. 30) came in at $2.69 billion, compared with $2.9 billion for the same period last year, according to stats provided by the National Assn. of Theater Owners. But Stateside year-to-date totals are ahead of last year by more than 3% through Oct. 14, with admissions (at roughly 1.05 billion) also up, by 2.6%.

Domestic 2011 box office rang in at $10.17 billion, below the 2009 all-time high of $10.6 billion.

The summer’s usual clutch of tentpoles helped prop up this year’s third-quarter B.O., most notably Warner Bros.’ “The Dark Knight Rises,” which led the pack, grossing $444 million through Sept. 30. Sony’s “The Amazing Spider-Man” followed, with $262 million domestically. Fox toon “Ice Age: Continental Drift,” which topped several overseas territories, was third, with $159 million. Including Universal’s “The Bourne Legacy” ($112 million), there were four $100 million-plus grossers this summer vs. seven during third-quarter 2011.

When the summer season folded up its tentpoles, though, third-quarter box office began to struggle — even more so than the usual early-fall dip. The weekend following Labor Day saw one of the lowest three-day totals in more than a decade, and the slump continued for two more weekends until Sony launchedanimated pic “Hotel Transylvania,” which opened to $42 million domestically, and has cumed $103 million, and counting.

Fourth quarter box office meanwhile, has been promising.

Boosted by pics like “Hotel Transylvania” and “Taken 2″ (a $49.5 million bow), October 2012 is outpacing the same period last year by a whopping 27%, setting the pace for a potentially record-breaking month.

And there’s plenty of October product to keep things ahead of the curve: Paramount’s “Paranormal Activity 4″ bowed Oct. 19, with each new entry in the franchise having opened at better numbers than its predecessor. Warner Bros.’ epic ensembler “Cloud Atlas” comes a week later.

Leading up to Thanksgiving, Sony-MGM launches its newest James Bond pic, “Skyfall,” on Nov. 9, followed by Summit’s “Twilight” finale, “Breaking Dawn — Part 2″ on Nov. 16. Thanksgiving weekend, meanwhile, will have Paramount’s last DreamWorks Animation pic, “Rise of the Guardians,” along with Fox’s “Life of Pi,” the Weinstein Co.’s “Silver Linings Playbook” and FilmDistrict’s “Red Dawn.”

Christmastime entries include such highlights as “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” (Dec. 14), from Warner Bros. and New Line; Sony’s “Zero Dark Thirty” (Dec. 19); and TWC’s “Django Unchained” and Universal’s “Les Miserables,” both of which bow Dec. 25.

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