As Box Office Sputters Toward Christmas, Can Ticket Sales Rebound?

Hollywood isn’t feeling particularly festive with Christmas just around the corner.

Despite a massive debut for “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” and the openings of two big-budget movies in “Annie” and “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb,” ticket sales this weekend were down more than 4%. Year-to-date the movie business is off by more than 5% from 2013’s record breaker and may have a tough time catching up to 2012’s figure.

“To not have seen an uptick last weekend is disconcerting,” said Jeff Bock, a box office analyst with Exhibitor Relations.

This weekend is the fifth straight that grosses have lagged behind those of the previous year. Bock believes some of the downturn is attributable to too much of the same.

“If you look at this weekend, we had two sequels and a reboot,” Bock argued. “People don’t like what Hollywood is offering. They want original content.”

In the case of the third “Night at the Museum,” that meant an opening that trailed the previous film in the series by more than $30 million.

There are still more films yet to hit, but analysts say upcoming releases such as “Unbroken,” “Into the Woods” and “The Gambler” will pale in comparison to last year’s yuletide contenders — a group that included “American Hustle,” “Wolf of Wall Street” and “Anchorman 2.”

“It was a bit of a hard luck year,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Rentrak. “We just need to lick our wounds and move into 2015.”

A lot of things didn’t break the movie business’s way over the last 12 months. The death of Paul Walker pushed the release of “Fast and Furious 7” out of the summer and into next year, Pixar was forced to delay the debut of its big film “The Good Dinosaur,” and July 4th fell on a Saturday instead of on a week day, preventing the business from prolonging one of the biggest moviegoing times of the year.

That’s to say nothing of the threats of violence that surrounded “The Interview,” forcing Sony Pictures to yank the R-rated comedy out of its Christmas Day slot and casting a pall over moviegoing.

There are some reasons to be hopeful, however. Opening weekends tend to matter less for films that debut in December because there are so many people on vacation. That improves weekday ticket sales substantially.

This year, there are more films hoping to capitalize on school vacationers, such as “Annie,” “Into the Woods” and the latest “Night at the Museum,” as opposed to last year, when “Frozen” was pretty much the only game in town for tykes and teens.

“There’s not a huge rush out mentality with [family films],” said Phil Contrino, vice president and chief analyst at BoxOffice.com. “We’ll have to wait and see how they perform in that golden period between Christmas and New Years.”

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