Katrina may affect box office

September 05, 2005|By Greg Hernandez | Greg Hernandez,LOS ANGELES DAILY NEWS

As if The Island and Stealth weren't big enough box-office disasters, Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath will likely further hurt the already slumping 2005 domestic box office, experts said Thursday.

In addition to theaters either destroyed or under water in the New Orleans area and other Gulf Coast states, more people are likely to be glued to their television screens over the weekend, absorbing the real-life drama as it continues to unfold.

"Labor Day is generally the weakest of the holiday weekends to begin with and obviously in the South and the Gulf region, we should see some depressed sales at movie theaters," said Gitesh Pandya, editor of Box OfficeGuru.com. "Between the aftermath of Katrina and the rising gasoline prices, people will find better things to do with their money."

Year-to-date movie attendance is already down 12 percent compared with 2004, and overall revenue is down by 9 percent.

While audiences have embraced such hits as Wedding Crashers, The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, far more releases were largely ignored by moviegoers.

On only three weekends during the entire summer have ticket sales surpassed 2004 levels, and there has been much debate over whether it is a short-term situation or the beginning of a long-term trend.

"We're in a box-office malaise anyway so this situation may exacerbate that a bit," said box-office analyst Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations Co. "It hurts any time there will be a certain amount of screens out of commission."

The widest new Labor Day weekend release is 20th Century Fox's Transporter 2, scheduled to be in 3,303 locations. A studio source said Thursday that at least 35 of those theaters will not be open due to the hurricane.

"We think we have it down to a minimum, but there also might be places where the theaters are open but deliveries can't be made," said the source.

Chains with theaters in the Gulf region are waiting to assess the full damage, including the AMC chain, which has five theaters in New Orleans with a combined 68 screens.

Said AMC chain spokeswoman Melanie Bell: "Only time will tell."

Due to the Labor Day holiday, box office results for this weekend will appear tomorrow.

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