"I'm really concerned about how soft things are," a panicked and unnamed longtime studio executive told Nikki Finke about the depressed box office numbers that have hit Hollywood in the last two months. "I'm sitting here looking at grosses and I'm concerned for the industry. What's worrying me is where are those hardcore movie fans at this point?" Probably still seeing movies, actually. The better question is: where is everyone else? Why aren't you going to the movies?

Despite what many experts felt would be an easy road to nearly $20 million, the well-received remake of 'Footloose' earned just $16 million over the weekend -- putting it in runner-up position behind 'Real Steel,' which might not break $100 million domestically despite lofty costs. In fact, the last film to earn more than $100 million at the box office was released all the way back in August: 'The Help' cracked the barrier, meaning Hollywood hasn't seen a triple-digit grosser in over two months. All of which is to say: things could be better. Perhaps even the movies.

As Finke herself wrote, "I've been reporting how younger males - which used to be Hollywood's target audience - have been no longer consistently (and indiscriminately) going to the movies since August. [...] I say Hollywood should expect the worst when they release a succession of mostly dreadful pics. This weekend's total gross won't edge much over $80M - which is a whopping -35% from last year when 'Jackass 3D' opened to $50M. (I know what you're thinking: Who are the jackasses now?) This is not a good situation for the studios to be in as moviegoing enters the all-important holiday season."

It's not, but what Finke and her unnamed studio source fail to mention is that the seven films in the top-ten of the box office this weekend have fresh ratings on Rotten Tomatoes, with 'Moneyball,' '50/50,' 'The Ides of March,' 'Dolphin Tale' and 'The Lion King 3D' over 80 percent. Far from "mostly dreadful." Moreover, the weekly depreciations for these films have been scant: the only films to dip more than 40 percent over the weekend were 'Real Steel' (down just 40.1 percent, a testament to how the Hugh Jackman-led film is playing with families) and 'The Lion King 3D' (down just 41.1 percent despite losing 300 screens).

Adult audiences are finding 'The Ides of March,' 'Moneyball' and '50/50,' which should have been expected since adults aren't likely to run out on opening weekend to see a movie. In this case, the movies are actually good! (See also: 'Contagion' and 'Drive,' both of which had successful runs.) Even a massive disappointment like 'Warrior' was one of the best-reviewed movies of the year. Quality, for once, doesn't seem to be the problem.

So, where is the disconnect? Why have young audiences apparently tuned out? Check the programming. As prominent blogger David Poland wrote, "If you want to point at a single movie that really works for this audience since 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes,' be my guest. What was this, the biggest, most consistent audience supposed to go see? Couldn't sell them '30 Minutes or Less.' Okay, what else ya got? Retreads. 'Conan,' 'Final Destination 5,' 'Fright Night'... a shock-thriller-sell remake of a movie no one under 40 knows in 'Straw Dogs' (which would have done better sold as a thinking man's thriller). Did anyone really expect bigger numbers for a cancer dramedy ['50/50']... even a good one? [Jason] Statham's numbers are about right [for 'Killer Elite'], given a new distributor. $25m on 'ABduction' is a miracle and over $30m on 'Drive' is a downright hit. As noted earlier, 'Real Steel' went younger and succeeded in that goal."

What of 'Real Steel'? With $108 million worldwide already, and rollouts in more foreign territories to come -- plus no family films in the marketplace until Oct. 28 when 'Puss in Boots' rolls out -- the film should easily crest above $200 million worldwide before it shuffles out of the theater. Hardly a flop, but not necessarily the type of eye-popping number that gets people excited. Following a summer where even crap like 'Green Lantern' grossed over $50 million during its opening weekend, anything less than stratospheric bank is a failure. Which, if anything, is this fall's downfall: there hasn't been a breakout cultural phenomenon.

That could change on Friday with 'Paranormal Activity 3'; the second film in the franchise opened above $40 million, and 'PA3' is tracking to hit about $35 million. Or maybe it won't. Maybe the movie industry is at the start of a slump. Maybe you aren't going to the movies because you don't want to go to the movies. If that's the case, Hollywood likely has one simple question: when do you plan on going to the movies again?

Have at it, dear Moviefone readers. The comments await!

[Photo: Getty Images]





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