Summer boxoffice beats weak economy

Industrywide domestic grosses down 1% from a year ago

It's officially OK for Hollywood distribution executives to exhale.

Individual studio performances aside, the industry has managed to overcome broad presummer fears that the seasonal boxoffice would mark a big decline from the record summer grosses of a year ago. In final Nielsen EDI data released Tuesday, the summer's $4.13 billion in industrywide domestic grosses represented a modest downtick of less than 1% from year-ago tallies.

Ticket-price inflation of almost 5% since last summer means seasonal admissions dropped by less than 6%. Summer ticket sales totaled 577.1 million admissions, down from 609.2 million tickets sold during summer 2007.

The level of jubilation over the successful boxoffice season will vary lot to lot, depending on studios' respective marketshare rankings. The Hollywood Reporter reported Friday that Warner Bros. won domestic bragging rights with a summer haul of $985.8 million.

"Needless to say, we're thrilled with the performance of our films," Warners distribution president Dan Fellman said.

The studio's phenom of a Batman sequel "The Dark Knight" was, by far, the summer's top-grossing release with $504.8 million in domestic coin through Labor Day, the last day of the boxoffice season.

Another superhero action film -- "Iron Man," from Paramount and Marvel Studios -- was the second-biggest grosser at $317.8 million. Steven Spielberg's "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" from Paramount and Lucasfilm was third with $315.8 million.

The top two domestic performers also topped summer's worldwide film rankings, with global hauls of $921.8 million for the Batman sequel and $782 million for the Indy installment. DreamWorks Animation's Paramount-distributed "Kung Fu Panda" outmuscled "Iron Man" for the third rung in worldwide rankings -- at $598.7 million vs. $569.8 million in global coin -- though notably "Iron Man" has yet to open in Japan.

Movie-theater operators seemed pleased as Hawaiian Punch with the way the popcorn-movie season went this year.

"A broad mix of movies, smart marketing, intelligent scheduling and the least expensive, most reliable form of out-of-the-home entertainment remain the keys to a healthy theatrical marketplace," said John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theatre Owners. "And this summer, we got it all."

NATO tracks average ticket prices in the U.S., and the data are used to adjust for price fluctuations in making year-over-year seasonal admissions comparisons.

The industry group won't have data on third-quarter 2008 ticket prices until October, but NATO spokesman Patrick Corcoran said he expects prevailing economic conditions may produce flat quarter-to-quarter pricing. So THR calculated admissions for the latest summer using NATO's average for second-quarter ticket prices of $7.16.

Summer 2007 admissions were calculated using an average ticket price of $6.83. The NATO figure represents a median of last year's second-quarter and third-quarter average ticket prices.

Comparing the two summers on that basis, ticket prices marked a 12-month rise of 4.8%.

EDI data show 45 wide releases unspooled this summer, or nine fewer than in the previous May-through-Labor Day span. A total 12 films grossed $100 million or more -- five fewer than during summer '07.

"With fewer blockbusters this year, we made up the difference with the second-highest-grossing film ever," Fithian said. "Audiences were looking for entertainment this summer, and they found and awful lot of it at the movie theater."

Hy Hollinger contributed to this report.
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