Variety is reporting that domestic box office is up 8% this year; in fact, it's poised to break the $10 billion mark for the first time. And that's not just because of higher ticket prices. More people are going to the movies; the number of tickets sold is up 3% from last year. Even in this disastrous economy, there's still one apparently recession-proof industry.
Variety is reporting that domestic box office is up 8% this year; in fact, it's poised to break the $10 billion mark for the first time. And that's not just because of higher ticket prices. More people are going to the movies; the number of tickets sold is up 3% from last year.
And that's before all of the likely year-end blockbusters have opened, including probable hits such as 'Sherlock Holmes,' 'Invictus,' 'Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakuel' and 'Avatar.'
As of this past Sunday, the year's domestic box office take stood at $9.48 billion, only $175 million short of last year's record take of $9.64 billion. At this date in 2008, the year-to-date total was just $8.78 billion. At this rate, the box office should beat the total for last year within days and should cross $10 billion before the end of the year.
How to account for the rises in revenue and attendance? Aren't we all supposed to be staying home, hoarding our pennies and watching rented movies on our home theater systems?
Well, yes, but this year's box office success suggests that the conventional wisdom doesn't tell the whole story.
Here are some lessons from the box office bonanza of 2009:
• Moviegoing is not seasonal. Used to be, the studios put out their blockbuster hopefuls in the summer and at the holidays. left the fall to the Oscar-seeking grown-up movies, and dumped the movies they didn't know how to market into the fallow period between January and April. But the distributors are finally catching on that people want to see enjoyable movies year-round. This fall, for instance, adult dramas seeking awards have jostled with popcorn movies seeking mass audiences. As a result, October and November have seen such $100-million-plus earners as 'New Moon,' '2012' (pictured, above), 'Couples Retreat,' 'The Blind Side,' and 'Paranormal Activity.' Compare that to last fall, when there were only three movies that earned more than $100 million: 'Twilight,' 'Quantum of Solace' and 'Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa.'
• Escapism sells. One reason people have been going to the movies all year instead of just seasonally is that there have been crowd-pleasing escapist movies all year. Of the top 10 features so far this year, only one ('The Hangover,' pictured, below left) is not sci-fi, fantasy or horror.
• Originality pays. Sure, we saw plenty of sequels, threequels, prequels, remakes and reboots this year. But of the top 50 grossing movies released so far in 2009, 27 are not extensions of earlier movies, comic books or TV shows. That includes such hits as 'Up,' 'The Hangover,' 'The Proposal,' 'Paul Blart: Mall Cop,' 'Taken,' '2012' and 'Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.' At the same time, such retreads as 'Saw VI,' 'The Stepfather,' 'Fame,' 'Astro Boy,' 'Crank: High Voltage,' 'Dragonball: Evolution' and 'Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li' all sold less than $30 million worth of tickets.
• 3-D or not 3-D? The jury is still out on whether 3-D revenues are worth the expense to producers and to theaters that have to retrofit their projection systems to accommodate 3-D. Still, this year did see the release of an unprecedented number of 3-D movies, which meant an average of $3 extra for each 3-D ticket. The likely success of 'Avatar' will only further cement the trend, and we can certainly expect even more 3-D movies next year. Plus, it's a technology that you still have to go to the theater to enjoy; it's not available at home -- yet.
• Movies are still a cheap night out. Even in this economy, people still want to go out for entertainment. You may think you're paying a fortune for popcorn, drinks, candy, tickets and parking, but you're getting off easy compared to the cost of, say, a concert or a sporting event. As long as they keep putting out movies you want to see, and as long as you can't see them at home yet, and as long as they don't charge you an arm and a leg to see them, you'll likely keep going to the movies.