Commentary: Hollywood turnover

No movie stays on theater screens for very long

We live in a culture of instant gratification: instant-on appliances, fast food and, in some states, even day-of-registration voting. Hollywood is not immune, especially during the summer months, when moviegoers descend each weekend on the newest movie at the multiplex like a swarm of hungry locusts.

Audiences make their likes or dislikes known instantly. The result is that hit or miss, no movie stays on theater screens for very long.

The hits show more staying power, of course. "Iron Man," which led off the summer hit parade May 2, is only now making its exit. Having grossed more than $313 million domestically, this past weekend it dipped below 1,000 locations and $1 million in the weekend tally for the first time.

In fact, "Iron Man" is the only film to have spent eight weeks in the weekend top 10 this summer; fellow Paramount release "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," which is jousting with "Iron Man" for the summer's top spot with just more than $310 million to date, came close but dropped out after seven weeks.

Now eight weeks in the top 10 is nothing to sneeze at these days. In fact, as the summer progresses and more movies enter release, it becomes harder and harder to hold on to theaters.

But look at how the whole process has accelerated: In 1984, "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," the second film in the franchise, spent 12 weeks in the top 10. Five years later, "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" spent 10 weeks in the top 10. Today, eight weeks in the top 10 -- which generally requires that a movie is playing in at least 1,000 locations -- is a significant achievement.

By contrast, some of this summer's less successful movies had the theatrical half-life of a June lightning bug; one or two weekends and they fell off the radar. Mike Myers' "The Love Guru," which opened in fourth place on June 20, spent just two weeks in the top 10 and is limping out of theaters with just $31.4 million to its name. M. Night Shyamalan's "The Happening" opened far better -- on June 12, it bowed in third place with $30.5 million -- but with a 66% drop in its second weekend, it spent only three weeks in the top 10 and is wrapping up its run with just more than $63 million.

The competition might be Darwinian, but this summer's movies actually have shown more staying power than last summer's lineup.

Among 2008's May and June releases -- the jury's still out on "WALL-E" and "Wanted" -- there have been four other films to date that hung on in the top 10 for six weeks: "Kung Fu Panda" and the leggy trio of romantic comedies "Made of Honor," "What Happens in Vegas" and "Sex and the City."

Among last year's May and June openers, only "Knocked Up" lasted in the top 10 for eight weeks. "Spider-Man 3" led off the summer with a seven-week top-10 run, while the two other May blockbusters -- "Shrek the Third" and "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" -- enjoyed six weekends apiece in the top 10. Ultimately, one other film, "Ocean's Thirteen," hit the six-week top 10 benchmark.

So while five May-June movies lasted in the top 10 for six weeks or longer last year, at least six can claim that status so far in 2008.

At the same time, the profligate 2007 release slate was full of flop sweat: Among wide releases, "Delta Force," "Bug" and "Hostel: Part II" spent just two weeks each in the lower rungs of the top 10, while "Lucky You," "Gracie," "Nancy Drew," "I Know Who Killed Me" and "Who's Your Caddy" registered just one ill-fated week each in the top 10.

Clearly, the studios have been more selective about the movies they have treated to wide releases this summer; with just a couple of exceptions, those movies have prospered. Hollywood has gotten the message: If you're going to compete in the summer movie sweepstakes -- amid ultrawide releases, massive opening weekends and a quick rush to judgment rule -- only the strong will survive.