August 22, 2006

Summer box office expectations calming Hollywood

By Bob Tourtellotte

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - When Hollywood's summer ends in two
weeks, domestic box-office receipts are expected to be up 7
percent over 2005, calming the nerves of studio bosses who last
year worried moviegoers may be disappearing.

Ticket sales in the United States and Canada, led by the
No. 1 hit "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest," are
expected to reach nearly $3.9 billion for the studios' peak
season lasting 18 weeks from early May and through the end of
August, according to tracker Exhibitor Relations Co Inc.

Ticket revenues for 2005's summer were $3.6 billion, which
was down 8.5 percent from summer 2004's record $3.95 billion,
making it the worst box-office showing in four years.

Attendance, the number of people buying tickets, for summer
2006 is estimated at just over 582 million, up nearly four
percent from last year's 564 million, which was off a whopping
11 percent from the previous year.

Last year's lower numbers caused studio bosses to grow
concerned that competition from video games, the Internet and
DVDs, as well as unexciting movies lessened fan appetite. That
was a huge issue because summer films aimed at youths make up
as much as 40 percent of annual domestic ticket sales.

"It begins with the creative movie itself. I think that is
what the difference was for us, and I think for the industry,
too," said Mark Zoradi, president of Walt Disney Motion
Pictures Group. "The industry made movies that made people want
to get out of their houses and spend their hard-earned dollars
to go to the theater."

Exhibitor Relations President Paul Dergarabedian echoed
that sentiment. "This summer proves that people still want to
go to the movies," he said.


Disney and "Pirates" were big winners at the box office.
"Pirates," an effects-filled comedy starring Johnny Depp as
pirate Captain Jack Sparrow, has raked in over $400 million

Disney also scored with Pixar's animated "Cars," which took
in $240 million to become the No. 2 movie domestically and with
recent dance film "Step Up" -- $40 million and climbing.

Twentieth Century Fox will finish at No. 3 with "X-Men: The
Last Stand" ($234 million) and the season's biggest surprise,
"The Devil Wears Prada" -- now at No. 9 with $118 million.

Sony Pictures also had a solid season with No. 4 film, "The
Da Vinci Code" ($217 million) and No. 7, Adam Sandler comedy
"Click." ($135 million).

By most accounts, Warner Bros. was the key loser with
expensive bombs "Poseidon," "Lady in the Water" and animated
"The Ant Bully." Offsetting those was No. 5 "Superman Returns"
with $194 million and still playing.

But "Superman" points to one long-time fact of summer
moviegoing that was reinforced this season: there is a
disconnect between critics and fans.

Reviewers mostly liked "Superman," but its box office
failed to meet expectations that ran up to $250 million. The
same thing happened to No. 8 "Mission: Impossible III," which
was seen as a $200 million movie but ended with $133 million.

Conversely, reviewers panned "Da Vinci Code," and it defied
them with ticket sales that met or topped many forecasts.