Boxoffice: Youth in Revolt

Courtesy of New Line Cinema

The under-25 crowd is staying away from the multiplex in mass numbers as studios struggle to understand why.

The kids aren’t all right. A significant drop in the number of people younger than 25 going to the movies is sparking alarm across Hollywood, and it’s part of the reason why domestic box-office revenue has been down since before Christmas (the decline isn’t just about last year’s Avatar spike).

Box-office experts say the flight is a combination of movie choices, other distractions like video games and, of course, ticket prices. The average ticket cost rose from $7.85 in the third quarter to $8.01 in the fourth. The average in 2009 was $7.50.

Titles that should have drawn young moviegoers on opening weekend didn’t — including Tron: Legacy, The Green Hornet, Gulliver’s Travels and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

In fact, not one picture since mid-December has skewed young (Instead, Disney’s Thanksgiving release Tangled and Fox Searchlight’s Black Swan have fared the strongest with under-25s). “What’s truly been missing is a four-quadrant movie that would have played much younger,” a studio exec says. “For some reason, everything that worked turned out to be adult-oriented.”

Not surprisingly, concession sales are declining as a result. “Ask any exhibitor, and they’ll tell you the same: When you have so many adult movies, no one is buying popcorn and soda,” another distributor says.

Part of the issue could be how a studio thinks a film will play versus how it actually plays. Disney launched its viral marketing campaign for Tron more than two years ago in an effort to lure younger fanboys. The studio even hoped for a PG-rated family play. But on opening weekend, 61 percent of Legacy’s audience was older than 25. Since its Dec. 17 release, Tron has grossed $166.7 million domestically and $196 million overseas. That’s nothing to sneeze at, but those numbers don’t represent the kind of hit Disney was hoping for. But without a more youthful following, there’s only so high grosses can get.

Hornet has been softer. On opening weekend, 57 percent of the audience was over 25, despite Sony’s appeal to younger demos. But they simply aren’t familiar with the classic superhero figure, made famous on radio (a medium that’s ancient history to the Twitter generation). It has grossed $78.8 million at the domestic box office since its Jan. 14 release, and the pic has struggled overseas as well, grossing $61 million to date.

And the winter doldrums aren’t letting up. The most recent Jan. 28-30 weekend drew older eyeballs again, with 64 percent of the audiences for The Rite and The Mechanic over 25. Going into the weekend, Mechanic’s strongest quadrant was younger men, according to tracking. Not so. Missing from Rite were younger females, which explains why the film couldn’t match the opening of last summer’s The Last Exorcism, when 54 percent of the audience was under 25.

Still, a batch of potentially younger-skewing movies are raising hope, beginning with Screen Gems’ The Roommate on Feb. 4, Disney’s 3D animation Gnomeo and Juliet and Paramount’s 3D concert pic Justin Bieber: Never Say Never on Feb. 11, DreamWorks/Disney’s I Am Number Four on Feb. 18, Paramount’s Rango on March 3, and Sony’s Battle: Los Angeles and Disney’s Mars Needs Moms on March 11.

“Young people will start popping up in the next two weeks,” a veteran box-office observer says, “but it could take until summer for revenues to recover.”