Hollywood loves a finale with a flourish, but it is ending the summer with a fizzle.
Having squandered much of the lead it had over 2011's ticket sales, the industry will end the summer season -- the business's most important -- on Labor Day weekend with about $4.3 billion in revenue, according to tracking firms Hollywood.com and Exhibitor Relations.
Though business will finish just a shade behind last season's $4.4 billion haul, the decline may be emblematic of larger problems facing Hollywood. "The percentages don't amount to much in terms of money," says Jeff Bock of Exhibitor Relations. "What's more disturbing is what's happening to attendance."
Take a decade ago, Bock says, when about 629 million tickets were sold in summer. This season, the firm estimates 529 million tickets will have been sold from the first Friday in May to the final day of the Labor Day weekend, Hollywood's summer season -- which accounts for about 40 percent of the yearly haul.
"That's 100 million fewer tickets," says Bock, who points out that rising ticket prices mask attendance drops. "That's a really troubling number for the industry if you look at it that way, which reflects how the movie business is really doing."
Analysts point to an arid August, when studios steered clear of any tent-pole openings.
Last summer saw 18 movies crack $100 million, according to Boxoffice mojo.com. This season, only 11 have joined the nine-digit club.
"We are definitely ending on a whimper instead of a bang," says Paul Dergarabedian, box-office president of Hollywood.com. "In the social media era, moviegoers aren't swayed nearly as much by marketing. They're swayed by talk on the Internet, the new water cooler."
Dergarabedian says the decline isn't necessarily a calamity.
"I like that audiences can't be fooled the way they once were," he says. "It forces the industry to come up with good stories. Hollywood can't rely on pretty faces anymore."
And analysts point out that while dominated by underperformers, summer 2012 had its standouts, including The Avengers ($618 million), Ted ($215 million) and The Dark Knight Rises ($423 million).
Although the season squandered much of the double-digit revenue lead 2012 had over the previous year, attendance overall remains up 4 percent, Hollywood.com says.
And with new installments of the James Bond and Twilight series out later this year, Bock says, "we can still turn around the fact that summer was a bummer."
After a 2011 that saw middling superheroes such as Green Lantern and Captain America, comic-book adaptations came back with a vengeance -- and Avengers -- this season.
The Avengers captured $618 million, the third-highest gross on record. Batman saga The Dark Knight Rises has done a solid $423 million and counting. Even scrawny Peter Parker, anchored by Andrew Garfield in
the franchise reboot The Amazing Spider-Man, snatched $258 million -- plenty to justify a sequel, already in the works.
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