Summer's box office champ: Paramount

Studio's $771 million haul gives it a 20% share

We have a winner: With two weekends to go in the boxoffice season, Paramount enjoys a prohibitive lead in the summer market share derby.

Par's seasonal mojo also has powered the studio ahead of the domestic pack in year-to-date share rankings. On the summer, Par sits No. 1 with $771 million and a 20% share; on the year, it tops all distributors with $1.22 billion and a 17% slice of the pie.

Disney sits second on the summer chart with $604 million and a 16% share. With that kind of spread between the top two distributors -- neither of whom will open movies during the next two weekends -- it's clear Par will capture seasonal bragging rights.

Notably, Par has staked its year-to-date lead on the fewest film releases by any major studio, at nine. Five of its pics were released since the May 7 start of the summer boxoffice season.

"Even though Paramount is making and releasing fewer movies than the studio has historically, Paramount is in the big movie business and has really enjoyed a nice ride," Par exec vp distribution Don Harris said Tuesday. "We've been fortunate to have averaged north of $100 million per title for three years running."

Ringing up an average of $135 million in U.S. and Canadian coin per film, Par is the only distributor to post a nine-digit average this year. Its execs use such stats in tubthumping the studio to talent agents.

Or as one wag on the Melrose Avenue lot quipped recently, "When Paramount makes movies, they make big-ass movies."

The studio built its summer lead early, with season-launching "Iron Man 2" its biggest-grossing summer title at $312.1 million. Its second top seasonal grosser -- DreamWorks Animation-produced "Shrek Forever After" -- has fetched a nifty $237.7 million since bowing May 21.

Par's front-loaded summer success is a reflection of its tentpole philosophy, as pricey event pics tend to populate the season's earliest months. Other distributors -- Sony and Fox among them -- tend to cite pic profitability as their primary arbiter of success, noting that lower-grossing films can produce outsized profit margins. Distributor-for-hire deals are another variable in measuring studio performance, as such arrangements can pump up market share while producing only a single-digit percentage of pic revenue for the distributing studio.

Elsewhere among the seasonal rankings, Sony sits third with $589 million and a 15% share, while Warner Bros. -- which captured the boxoffice flag last summer -- is fourth with $483 million and a 13% share.

Sony nabbed its bronze medal with a summer slate led by a remake of "The Karate Kid," which has rung up $175.5 million since unspooling June 11. Warners fell back in the summer pack after the disappointing run of May 27 opener "Sex and the City 2" ($95.3 million) and the utter implosion of "Jonah Hex," which registered just $10.5 million after hitting theaters June 18.

Warners still sits second in year-to-date rankings -- with $1.18 billion and an near 17% share -- and could overtake Par by year's end on the strength of tentpoles yet to bow including Nov. 19 opener "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I."

Universal -- which tied with Warners for the most summer releases, at seven -- ranks fifth in the seasonal rankings ($465 million; 12% share), with the $231 million rung up by its 3D animated comedy "Despicable Me" since July 9 representing a big feather in its summer cap. Summit, whose June 30 tentpole "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse" has collected $297.2 million, stands sixth ($364 million; 9%).

Fox was ranked seventh through last weekend ($310 million; 8%), but the Pico Boulevard studio will close summer with two wide releases that are expected to do solid business. A special edition of winter blockbuster "Avatar" hits theaters Friday, and the studio's action thriller "Machete" is generating decent interest in advance of its debut during the season-ending Labor Day frame.

In positions eight through 10 of the summer market share rankings: Lionsgate, $118 million, 3%; Fox Searchlight, $29 million, 1%; and Focus Features, $26 million, 1%.
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