Pair takes Paramount to top of the heap

Amid a superheated season, 'Shrek' and 'Transformers' help the studio bully its way to a market-share victory

Fantasy was kind to Paramount Pictures this summer. With the help of a green ogre and his equally chartreuse wife as well as an army of battling alien robots, the Melrose Avenue studio underwent a reversal of fortune.

Last summer, Paramount, in the midst of an executive makeover, was relegated to the middle of the pack in terms of studio market share, placing fourth overall. Its top-grossing film was DreamWorks Animation's "Over the Hedge," which collected $155 million.

But this summer, Paramount shot to the top of the pack, taking a commanding lead by selling $727.3 million worth of tickets at the boxoffice. With DWA's "Shrek the Third" (the second-highest-grossing film of the summer with $320.7 million) and the DreamWorks/Paramount co-production "Transformers" (third overall with $310.6 million), Paramount was the only studio with two $300 million-plus winners, which handily put it in the lead.

Universal Pictures also experienced something of a boxoffice resurgence — even if its pricey comedy "Evan Almighty" came up short. Universal moved from sixth to second in the market-share race, and it did it the hard way: It fielded no $300 million megahits, but by summer's end, its critically applauded spy saga "The Bourne Ultimatum" inched beyond the $200 million line, and it sported two solid $100 million-plus movies in the comedies "Knocked Up" and "I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry."

Even though Walt Disney Studios took a carbon-copy approach to summer '07, again releasing a new "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie as well as an animated feature from Pixar Animation Studios, its boxoffice tally was about $200 million less than the previous summer as it slipped from first to third in market share. The reason was simple: "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" ($308.7 million) just wasn't as buoyant as "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" (which had grossed $414 million by the end of last summer), and "Ratatouille" ($201.2 million), though the critics' darling, didn't prove as much of a high-octane boxoffice draw as "Cars" ($242 million).

Warner Bros. Pictures, on the other hand, improved its standing, moving from fifth last summer to fourth this time around because its featured tentpoles stood higher than those it erected in 2006. Last year, its "Superman Returns," stood just below the $200 million mark as the season came to an end, while such titles as "Poseidon" and "Lady in the Water" tanked. This summer, Warners had a lot more luck with its fifth Harry Potter movie, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" ($286.8 million) — only the second film in the franchise to be released during the summer months — as well as "Ocean's Thirteen," which took in $117 million domestically.

Leading off the summer with the record-setting "Spider-Man 3" (the summer's top-grossing movie with $336.5 million), Sony Pictures started strong. But it suffered through a string of underperformers until the August release of the teen comedy "Superbad," which is on its way to crossing into $100 million territory. Still, Sony couldn't match last summer — when its "The Da Vinci Code" unlocked $217.5 million and the comedies "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby" and "Click" each posted numbers in the $100 million range — and so the Culver City-based studio slipped from second to fifth in the market-share standings.

Similarly, 20th Century Fox couldn't match its 2006 winnings, when its biggest film, "X-Men: The Last Stand," grossed $234.3 million. This summer, the studio's most popular title was "The Simpsons Movie," which has collected $178.5 million. But Fox could lay claim to two more films in the $100 million-plus fraternity, "Live Free or Die Hard" and "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer," as it downshifted from third to sixth place overall.

In terms of market-share ranking, New Line Cinema might not have significantly improved its position; it was eighth last summer but moved to seventh this year. But its batting average improved dramatically. Last summer, New Line went to bat three times, but its top-grossing movie, "Snakes on a Plane," grossed just $31.6 million. This summer, it released only two movies, but "Hairspray" and "Rush Hour 3" both hit it into the $100 million stands, and as a result the studio's cumulative ticket sales increased by nearly $190 million.

Although again at the bottom of the pack, MGM, which is more of a distributor than a producer these days, also saw its overall performance improve. Last summer, the studio's biggest-grossing release, "Clerks II," attracted $24 million. This summer, MGM distributed two horror hits for the Weinstein Co. — the PG-13 "1408" ($71.1 million) and the Labor Day weekend breakout opener "Halloween" — that scared up significantly more business.