Summer movies make money despite fewer filled seats

DreamWorks No. 1 at season's end

Film

September 05, 2004|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

HOLLYWOOD - Call this the summer of our discontent: Movie studios made money, but movie-going in the United States was down for a second straight year. An angry ogre in Shrek 2, an angry filmmaker in Michael Moore and an angry scientist in Spider-Man 2 did more to shake up and shape up the summer than anything else. Most of the big guns wilted in the heat of competition with one major movie after another opening big, then fading fast.

And so the mantra became: "It's a global/DVD/pay-per-view world after all."

Come Labor Day, the box-office tracking firm Nielsen EDI projects, the summer domestic box office will have taken in about $3.9 billion, a 3.6 percent increase over last summer. Rival tracking firm Exhibitor Relations Co. estimates the figure will be a little over $4 billion, but that includes the April 30-May 2 weekend, which EDI does not include in its projection.

DreamWorks, which has had a slow start since its inception 10 years ago, ended the summer as No. 1, with 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros., Sony and Universal, in that order, joining it to make up the top five studios. The only other summer DreamWorks has come out on top was in 2000, when it had four solid performers: Gladiator, What Lies Beneath, Chicken Run and Road Trip.

While Shrek 2 ruled, Moore rocked the status quo on-screen and off. No one would have predicted that his scabrous jab at George W. Bush, Fahrenheit 9/11, would break records for a documentary - it has grossed $117.5 million domestically to date - and land among the top 10 films for the summer (it's currently in ninth place for summer and 11th for the year).

Admissions, however, as of late August, had dropped 1.8 percent from last summer, which was down 2.6 percent from the record summer of 2002, according to Exhibitor Relations. This means the number of people going to the movies in the summer has declined 4.3 percent in the past two years.

The last time attendance declined in consecutive summers was in 1995, '96 and '97.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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