November 3, 2008

Hollywood Proves No Match for Halloween

By Scott Bowles

When it comes to Halloween, Hollywood is finding more tricks than treats.

The holiday that once was a boon to the film industry has become a drain as families and young moviegoers opt to socialize rather than sit in theaters, studio executives say.

That scenario played out Friday as High School Musical 3: Senior Year retained the top spot with $15 million on an anemic box-office weekend, according to estimates from Nielsen EDI.

The weekend was supposed to be a neck-and-neck race between the crooning teens and Kevin Smith's raunchy comedy Zack and Miri Make a Porno. But both films took significant hits in ticket sales on Friday. HSM3 grossed just $1.9 million, Zack and Miri only $2.3 million, less than half what was projected.

"Over the last half-dozen years, Halloween has become very tough," says Chuck Viane of Disney, which released HSM3. "Instead of going to the movies, parents are taking their kids trick-or-treating and teenagers are going to Halloween parties.

"You effectively have to write that day off."

HSM3 regained its footing and picked up $15 million, bringing its total to $61.8 million. Zack and Miri came back with $10.7 million for the weekend, still about $3 million less than expected.

Steve Bunnell of the Weinstein Co., which released Zack and Miri, says movies took a bigger hit than they did in 2003, when Halloween also fell on a Friday.

"It had a bigger impact than you'd expect," he says. "We were hoping we could overcome it a little more, but we're thrilled we had such a big number on Saturday."

Paul Dergarabedian of Media By Numbers says moviegoing can't compete with Halloween.

"It's a huge social outing now," he says. "And in this economy, who is going to turn down free candy? Game over if they start handing out free hamburger and macaroni and cheese."

Horror films Saw V ($10.1 million) and The Haunting of Molly Hartley ($6 million) took Nos. 3 and 5, while the Angelina Jolie true-life drama Changeling fell in between with $9.4 million in its nationwide expansion.

The only film that thrived didn't compete with Halloween. The latest installment of the James Bond series, Quantum of Solace, collected $38.6 million in England, France and Sweden. It opened with $25.3 million in the U.K., the biggest debut on record. It opens nationwide Nov. 14.

Final figures are out today.

(c) Copyright 2008 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.