Summer boxoffice in the home stretch

Paramount tops rankings, in part thanks to 'Iron Man 2'

Much as the baseball world takes stock of who's hot and who's not with its midseason All-Star game, Hollywood has a good sense of summer winners and losers once Independence Day is torn from the movie release calendar.

Warner Bros. and Fox have sipped from a glass half empty so far during the hottest boxoffice season of the year, while Paramount has tied one on from a cup that runneth over.

Par tops seasonal rankings by a comfortable margin, thanks to the Melrose Avenue studio's handling a lucrative DreamWorks Animation tentpole in addition to its own summer-launching of "Iron Man 2," a $309 million domestic grosser.

Top midsummer sluggers include Par with $634.5 million and a 29% market share, Disney with $402.8 million and an 18% share; and Sony with $248.5 million and 11% of the market.

"For four years running, Paramount has been the first studio to $1 billion," Par exec vp distribution Don Harris said. "When you take a look at the grosses for the summer, they got us to that point more quickly. But that consistency is more important than any level of gross in any particular period."

Rentrak data show Fox still topping year-to-date rankings thanks to the leggy run of December opener "Avatar," but that figure includes $82 million in Fox Searchlight grosses. On that basis, Fox has collected $1.11 billion this year for a 20% share, while Par has taken in $1.08 billion (19%).

Fox will hope this weekend's wide opener "Predators" marks a turnaround in its disappointing summer fortunes. The Adrien Brody starrer is a Robert Rodriguez-produced followup to two previous horror thrillers -- 1987's "Predator" and 1990's "Predator 2."

"The tracking tells us there is enormous appetite for a 'Predators' movie," Fox distribution boss Bruce Snyder said.

The studio's seasonal disappointments have included soft openings for a pair of actioners -- "The A-Team" and "Knight and Day" -- whose subsequent domestic cumes of $70.5 million and $49.5 million, respectively, have done little to turn exec frowns upside down.

Fingers are also crossed on the Fox lot for family laffer "Ramona and Beezus," which unspools July 23, and New Regency's comedy spoof "Vampires Suck," set for wide release on Aug .20.

Warners -- which topped summer and annual b.o. rankings last year -- also will aim for season-salvaging success from pics still to hit theaters. Two looming releases are particularly key: Christopher Nolan's Leonardo DiCaprio starrer "Inception" (July 16) and 3D family sequel "Cats & Dogs: Revenge of Kitty Galore" (July 30).

"Our summer is just beginning," Warners distribution topper Dan Fellman said.

Warners is especially hopeful about "Inception," and the early reviews have been auspicious. But the dreams-based thriller is a more cerebral affair than the typical summer popcorn pic, so it will be interesting to see whether a more challenging release can muster impressive support.

Disney execs must be congratulating themselves for buying Pixar back in 2006. The animation powerhouse's "Toy Story 3" -- the 15-year-old franchise's first 3D installment -- bowed June 18 en route to a $301.9 million haul through last weekend.

"We're looking at 'Toy Story 3' as a contender for the biggest film of the summer," Disney distribution maven Chuck Viane said. "I think we have the sea legs that suggest the others are going to have to work very hard to catch us."

But another one of the Mouse House's long-standing partners has been swinging and missing of late. Normally heavy-hitting producer Jerry Bruckheimer whiffed with pricey adventure fantasy "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" -- a wannabe franchise-starter that's fetched just $88.3 million to date -- and his Nicolas Cage starrer "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" is tracking softly enough for concern, considering its hefty production costs.

Sony has sizzled with a pair of solid summer hits. "The Karate Kid," which opened June 11, kicked up $154.6 million through last weekend, and ensemble comedy "Grown Ups," unspooled just two weeks later, quickly legging it to $84.6 million through its first 11 days.

"We're feeling good," Sony distribution president Rory Bruer said. " 'Karate Kid' will probably gross double what we expected, and 'Grown Ups" has had a terrific start."

Angelina Jolie starrer "Salt" -- a spy thriller set to unspool on July 23 -- numbers among Sony's big late-summer titles.

Minimajor Summit Entertainment muscled its way into the mix of seasonal rankings with last week's big opening for vampire romance "The Twilight saga: Eclipse," sitting fourth with a total $240.7 million and 11% share. Fox is fifth with $202.6 million -- including Searchlight grosses -- and a 9% share.

Universal sits sixth, toting $170.5 million in its theatrical beach bag for an 8% share, based on modest success with R-rated comedy "Get Him to the Greek," a $58 million domestic performer to date.

The studio's Russell Crowe starrer "Robin Hood" disappointed in topping out at $104 million domestically, though it did figure among a handful of industry releases to mark outsize foreign bows this summer. "Robin Hood" has grossed $303 million so far on a worldwide basis.

Intriguingly, Uni's late-season fortunes rest on a couple of releases well outside of its comfort zone in the studio's first animated feature for some time: 3D laugher "Despicable Me," which hits theaters starting Friday and Aug. 13 opener "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World," a comics-based action fantasy directed by Edgar Wright ("Shaun of the Dead").

Meantime, two pics have breached the $300 million threshold nine weeks into the industry's 18-week summer -- "Iron Man 2" and "TS3" -- while DWA's 3D animated feature "Shrek Forever After" was the only $200 million-plus performer with $232.7 million through July 5.

Those three top-grossing summer releases all were sequels, though the "Shrek" four-quel has been the least lucrative of that franchise's last three releases. Combined with a sub-$100 million domestic run by "Sex 2," there was some short-lived fear of a sequel-itis contagion until mighty "TS3" showed that familiarity still can breed moviegoer contentedness.

But Hollywood hasn't shrugged off the effects of its early season b.o. malaise completely. On an industrywide basis, grosses rung up since May 7 totaled $2.18 billion through July 5, or almost 9% less than during a similar portion of last summer.

Year to date, domestic b.o. is up 4% to $5.66 billion through July 5, but industry estimates put ticket-price inflation at about 6% since a year ago. So accounting for that, it's clear Hollywood has to rally significantly -- and soon -- if it's to post a yearly uptick in admissions.

Internationally, the summer boxoffice has been robust, despite World Cup distractions and a stronger dollar. Year to date, foreign b.o. is up an astounding 43% -- at $6.38 billion -- as emerging markets such as Russian and China continue to expand the overseas marketplace.

Fox was the top-grossing international distributor through June with $2 billion in first-half grosses, followed by Disney ($1.33 billion) and Warner Bros. ($1.15 billion).

Frank Segers contributed to this report.
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