After Bummer Summer, The Thrall of Fall

September 5, 2011

We made it through another action-driven, sequel/remake crazy summer at the multiplex but while we audience members survived, Hollywood is gasping for air.

2011 continued the steep, downward trajectory of summer movie ticket sales. This summer, 543 million tickets were sold–down again for the ninth straight year and down over 100 million from the 650 million tickets that were sold in 2002.  At the same time that ticket sales have plunged, the DVD business has also crashed through the floorboards, and production costs have skyrocketed. Sales down, costs up. That’s a deadly mix so don’t be deceived when you hear about box office grosses.

Bottom line for the studios: the summer of 2011 was a big disappointment.

And I’ll make a prediction right now: summer 2012 ticket sales will be worse. Much worse. Summer 2011 included four blockbuster sequels: Harry Potter, Transformers, Pirates of The Caribbean, and Hangover. Taken together, those four films grossed about $1.2 billion (about 150 million tickets at an average of $8 per ticket), accounting for almost 30% of all ticket sales in summer 2011. There is absolutely nothing on the horizon for summer 2012 to even come close to matching those results. The tag line on the Harry Potter may turn out to be very prophetic indeed.

In addition, Hollywood so over-saturated the marketplace with 3D films this summer that audiences rebelled and shunned most of them. As recently as 2007, there were no 3D film releases. In 201o, there were 7. This year, there have been 27 so far with 12 more planned for release before year’s end.

Harry Potter and Transformers in 3D, fine.

Mars Needs Moms, Kung Fu Panda 2, and the Glee Concert Movie? Not so much.

Audiences have caught on to the fact that Hollywood sees the jacked up prices of 3D movies as another cash cow. We’re the cows and they get the cash.

Now for the good news: we’re coming into fall when almost 90% of the quality films each year are crammed into a three month release window between October 1 and December 31.

But wait. To quote Al Pacino in Godfather 3: “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!”

The release schedule for September and October still looks an awful lot like summer. Continuing its remake mania, Hollywood is releasing the following remakes in the next six weeks: The 3 Musketeers, The Thing, Footloose, and Straw Dogs. I for one am sure glad to know there’s going to be an another 3 Musketeers film so it can fill in all the details that the other 29 film versions and 7 television series overlooked.

Looking at the rest of the release schedule for September and October, a couple of films look very promising (Moneyball with Brad Pitt and Anonymous, a look at the controversy about Shakespeare’s identity), and there are always surprises, but it feels like we may have to wait for November and December for the real quality films to appear.

The agony and the ecstasy about this release pattern is that while we can look forward to some quality releases in the last two months of the year, they get so bunched together that many wonderful films get lost in the shuffle each year. When so many adult-oriented films fail to find an identity when thrown out there at the same time, Hollywood, in a weird self-fulfilling prophecy, then declares that adults in Acts 2 and 3 of life really don’t care about going to movies anymore.

Yeah, I know. Believe me, I know. How about spacing those movies out more during the first 8 months of the year so adults can get back into the habit of seeing quality films on a regular basis again, right?

Anyway, despite all this, I always celebrate this time of the year and I invite you to join me in looking forward to some quality moments at the movies.

Coming Wednesday: A major announcement about………



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