NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

December 28, 2013

Hollywood poised for best-ever box-office year


Newburyport Daily News

---- — LOS ANGELES (AP) — Despite a string of summertime flops, Hollywood is expected to have a banner year at the domestic box office, coming in just shy of $11 billion, the largest annual take ever. But because of higher ticket prices, actual attendance at North American theaters remained flat after a decade of decline.

With the current domestic box-office tally nearly 1 percent ahead of last year at this time, 2013 could surpass 2012's overall haul of $10.8 billion by more than $100 million, according to box-office tracker Rentrak.

High-profile flops such as "The Lone Ranger," ''After Earth," ''R.I.P.D." and "Turbo" were offset by mega-hits like "Fast & Furious 6" and "Iron Man 3," which consistently filled theaters last summer.

More recently, Warner Bros.' space epic "Gravity" has earned $254 million domestically, Lionsgate's sci-fi sequel "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" has grossed $378 million and fantasy prequel "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" has brought in $150 million for Warner Bros.

A strong holiday slate is also boosting the year's box-office total. "There has virtually been every kind of genre of film available," said Rentrak box-office analyst Paul Dergarabedian. "You have blockbusters like 'Hobbit' and esoteric, challenging films like 'Nebraska,' 'Dallas Buyers Club' and 'Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.' All of these films get people to the movies."

But the National Association of Theater Owners projects that the actual number of tickets sold domestically in 2013 will remain about the same as last year's 1.36 billion. That's down from the all-time high of 1.57 billion admissions in 2002.

In 2011, the domestic box-office gross sunk to a 16-year low, dropping 3.5 percent from 2010 to $10.2 billion. But 2012 saw the industry rebound with a $10.8 billion total, thanks to hits like Disney's "The Avengers" and Warner Bros.' Batman finale "The Dark Knight Rises."

Both films screened in 3-D, a profit-boosting perk that saw a huge increase in popularity following 2009's "Avatar." But the public's appetite for the heightened technology has eased, leaving Hollywood to search for other ways to counter audience drain.

Entertainment available on countless portable devices continues to threaten multiplex attendance, as do advanced home theater systems and video-on-demand services offering original premium programming and feature films the same day as their theatrical release.

And with all of the bells and whistles now offered at theaters, movie-going is still one of the least expensive ways to be entertained, compared to concerts, sporting events and live theater, notes Richie Fay, Lionsgate's president of domestic distribution. (So far this year, the average cost of a movie ticket in North America has been $8.05, according to NATO.)