B.O. faces May malaise

Tentpole openers can't offset overall 2003

If you believe the hype, the box office is blazing.

Media coverage suggests the record bows of “X2” and “The Matrix Reloaded” got the summer off to an explosive start.

A closer look at the data, however, offers a more ominous portrait of the summer as well as 2003 to date. Industrywide B.O. has shrunk for three straight weeks, leaving ’03 about 10% behind 2002 levels. Summer is already off 8%.


Comparisons, admittedly, are tough. Moviegoing last May hit stratospheric levels due to “Spider-Man” and “Star Wars, Episode II — Attack of the Clones,” both rare events and neither rated R, which “Matrix Reloaded” is. Coverage of the weekend factored that in: ” ‘Reloaded’ is big, but not bigger than Spidey,” read the headline in USA Today.

For a conglom-controlled industry obsessed with topping itself every year, the deficit is unsettling, especially as studios gear up for an ultra-competitive June and July. It’s a little early to start making wagers, but the annual record set last year of $9.5 billion suddenly looks vulnerable.

The last time annual B.O. declined was 1991, when it dipped 4.4%. Reports at the time blamed corporate turmoil and recession in the U.S. economy.

So what’s eating the grosses this year? Some theories:

  • Weaker product

By Memorial Day 2002, audiences had already sparked to quality wide releases such as “Ice Age,” “Panic Room,” “Insomnia,” “Changing Lanes,” “Unfaithful” and “About a Boy.” Platform juggernaut “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” launched in April. Adults in particular were well-served by that menu.

What, by contrast, are the best wide pics of ’03? It is not a distinguished list. “X2” and “The Recruit” come closest in terms of critical praise. “Dark Blue” was widely admired, but ranks as one of the year’s more egregious misfires to date.

Chart-toppers have included “Kangaroo Jack,” “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days” and “Bringing Down the House.” The inescapable conclusion: We are living in the Year of Popcorn.

  • Megaplexes

The Motion Picture Assn. of America and the National Assn. of Theater Owners have been vocal in publicizing the fact that U.S. screen count has hit a plateau after years of overbuilding. Hidden in the data released by the MPAA this spring, though, was a 10% rise in the number of megaplexes, defined as theaters with 16 or more screens.

To say megaplexes have changed the dynamics of the business is an understatement. Their great promise is variety. But the reality is something different. The biggest change is that audiences can more readily see their first-choice film, which is how mega-debuts eat up so much of the total weekend pie — 60% to 70% in many cases.

If the show they want is sold out, auds don’t have to buy a ticket to their second choice. They can just wait half an hour for the next showing of their first choice. The result is fewer “spillover” dollars for other films to collect.

The overall effect is monopolization. In other words, behemoths like “X2” or “Matrix Reloaded” use the elasticity of the megaplex to get on more screens and therefore hit a big number, but the overall business doesn’t necessarily grow as a result. It is the demise of the old saw, “A rising tide lifts all boats.”

  • DVD

The film biz has always managed to thwart competing forms of entertainment, from television to the VCR.

DVD, having achieved the most rapid rate of home penetration in consumer electronics history, finally could be sapping some energy from the bigscreen marketplace.

Major tentpoles are not the Achilles’ heel in terms of DVD. People will always want to experience those as communal happenings.

Not every pic can be a tentpole, however: That is practically the mantra of home entertainment. Given ticket-price inflation and the ever-more-attractive price point and ubiquity of DVD, could the theatrical business reach a point of diminishing returns? The rest of ’03 should provide an interesting answer.

More Film

  • Mammoth Films Festival to Open With

    'In Fabric' to Open Mammoth Lakes Film Festival

    Director Peter Strickland’s “In Fabric” starring “Game of Thrones” star Gwendoline Christie is set to open the fifth Mammoth Lakes Film Festival, the organization has announced today along with their film lineup. The festival in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., will take place May 22-26 and feature several films’ U.S. debuts. In addition to the narrative feature [...]

  • Kristen Stewart'JT LeRoy' Film Premiere, Arrivals,

    Kristen Stewart: 'Charlie's Angels' Reboot Is 'Woke' but Still 'Funny and Weird'

    “Charlie’s Angels” has made the jump to 2019. Kristen Stewart, who stars in the Elizabeth Banks-directed reboot as one of the Angels, says the classic ’70s franchise has been updated to modern times without losing its pulpy action. “At one point I think we said it was woke and grounded, and everyone was like, ‘Wait, [...]

  • Calamity Jane

    Indie Sales Acquires Remi Chayé's Female-Driven Animated Feature 'Calamity' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Paris-based company Indie Sales (“My Life as a Zucchini”) has acquired Rémi Chayé’s animated film “Calamity – The Childhood of Martha Jane Cannary,” the French helmer’s follow up to his critically acclaimed feature debut “Long Way North.” “Calamity – The Childhood of Martha Jane Cannary” tells the story of the 12-year-old Martha Jane who must [...]

  • Scarlett Johansson on 2020 Election, Avengers

    Scarlett Johansson on Running for Office: 'Maybe at Some Point'

    President Scarlett Johansson, anyone? While she may not be running for office at the moment, Johansson says a campaign may be in her future. “Maybe some time in the future,” she says when asked if her political activism has inspired her own aspirations. “I think the greatest way to effect change is in local politics. [...]

  • Circus of Books

    Netflix Acquires Tribeca Doc 'Circus of Books,' Exec Produced by Ryan Murphy (EXCLUSIVE)

    Netflix has acquired worldwide rights to the documentary “Circus of Books” ahead of its premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival. Rachel Mason wrote and directed the pic, and also produced it along with Kathryn Robson, Cynthia Childs, Camilla Hall and Adam Baron. Ryan Murphy, Josh Braun, John Battsek, Rhianon Jones and Gerald Herman executive produced. [...]

  • Santa Fe Studios Netflix

    Santa Fe Studios Competes With Other New Mexico Stages for Streaming Business

    Albuquerque Studios entered the spotlight last October when it was purchased by Netflix. While the complex is clearly the jewel in the crown of New Mexico’s production infrastructure, with eight soundstages totaling 132,000 square feet, 100,000 square feet of production offices, a large backlot and support space, it’s not the only modern studio facility in [...]

  • Jennifer Kaytin Robinson Someone Great

    'Someone Great' Director Jennifer Kaytin Robinson on Reimagining the Rom-Com

    Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, creator of the MTV series “Sweet/Vicious,” recently made her feature debut with “Someone Great,”  now streaming on Netflix. The film follows three friends as they navigate relationships and work in New York City.  Here, the writer-director opens up on reimagining the rom-com, and women changing the face of Hollywood. The three young [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content