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Domestic Box Office 2011: Fewest Tickets Sold Since 1995, But Dont Blame It on Sequels

Daniel Radcliffe, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
Daniel Radcliffe in the biggest domestic hit of 2011: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

In 2011, Hollywood movies should earn the major studios $10.2 billion at the North American box office. That's down 3.5 percent from 2010, according to Hollywood.com. An estimated 1.28 billion tickets have been sold this year, which represents a 4.4 percent decline from 2010 and the lowest figure since 1995, the year of the talking pig Babe and Mel Gibson's Braveheart, when admissions totaled 1.26 billion.

Among the suggested reasons for the downturn there are some that make perfect sense and some that are ludicrous. The weak U.S. economy matched with high ticket prices is almost undeniably keeping people away from movie houses. In fact, that has happened in the past, most notably during the height of the Great Depression in the early 1930s, when the majority of the big Hollywood studios posted heavy losses. Indeed, several almost went bankrupt.

The fact that movies nowadays can be watched on DVD or VOD about three months after they're released in theaters is another good reason for people to refuse to pay $12 or $15 or $18 for a movie ticket. That may also help to explain why kiddie flicks – or “family movies” – have, relatively speaking, fared poorly this year (e.g., Happy Feet Two, Arthur Christmas, The Muppets, and, to some extent, Kung Fu Panda 2). How many families can afford $100 weekends at the movies when parents, guardians, or what-have-you can rent a title for less than one-tenth of that amount and show it to an audience of four or five – or ten?

Now, to say that North Americans have grown tired of sequels is pretty absurd. The top seven domestic releases this year are all sequels:

Those seven movies combined have so far brought in $1.9 billion – or nearly 20 percent of the year's total take. And the current hit at American and Canadian movie theaters is none other than Brad Bird/Tom Cruise/Jeremy Renner/Paula Patton's Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol. As clearly indicated by its title, that's the fourth installment in Cruise's Mission: Impossible decade-long franchise.

As for the availability of new gadgets keeping people busy at home staring at their iPads and iPods … Well, does that mean only North Americans have access to those? Business overseas has remained quite strong. This year, for instance, as per Screen International Paramount became the first Hollywood studio ever to pass the $3 billion mark abroad.

One Warner Bros. general sales manager has placed some of the blame for the domestic downturn on more “gaming and social-networking opportunities.” But wait. Wasn't “gaming,” Twitter, Facebook, etc. all very much available when Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes came out in late 2009? That Warner Bros. release starring Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law fared much better domestically than the current sequel, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.

It would be interesting to discover why some troubled European economies such as France and Germany continue to generate solid box office revenues in US dollars despite not only the eurozone economic turmoil, but also a devaluation of the euro itself in the last five months.

In France, for instance, the top two movies of 2011 are Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano's socially conscious comedy-drama The Intouchables / The Intouchables, starring François Cluzet and Omar Sy, and the Dany Boon/Benoît Poelvoorde comedy Rien à déclarer / Nothing to Declare. Those two titles have a combined gross of nearly $200 million according to the Box Office Mojo chart. France's top two movies of 2010, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 and Shrek Forever After earned less than $100 million.

Perhaps the French don't have access to video games, Facebook, or Apple products?

Daniel Radcliffe/Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 picture: Jaap Buitendijk / Warner Bros.

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5 Comments to Domestic Box Office 2011: Fewest Tickets Sold Since 1995, But Dont Blame It on Sequels

  1. editor

    Went over that article about five times… Unbelievable.
    The year has been corrected. Thank you!

  2. TomH

    “In 2001, Hollywood movies should earn the major studios $10.2 billion at the North American box office. That's down 3.5% from 2010,”

    Um, I think you mean 2011, not 2001. :)

  3. Jill Kennedy

    It's definitely not a problem of want - it's a problem of vision. There is seriously not much that people want to see out there. Hollywood is stuck in a world of playing it safe (under-performing sequels, adaptations from other media) and trying to please the entire world with every movie they make (the 4 quadrant strategy). You can't please everyone - but Hollywood keeps trying and failing. Hollywood is simply out of visionaries. They've all gone to Silicon Valley and the world of tech.


  4. zac


    “A Game of Shadows” opened at 3,703 theaters. MI4 at 425. True, costlier IMAX theaters, but 425 all the same. MI4 expanded to its current 3,448 theaters only last Wednesday. No wonder “A Game of Shadows” has made more money to date. But not for very much longer.

    As of Tuesday, “A Game of Shadows” was less than $11m ahead of MI4. It'll be way behind MI4 by next Monday. Tuesday's per-theater averages: MI4 $2,788, GoS $1,975. Even taking IMAX into consideration, that's quite a gap.

  5. GAR

    Um, excuse me, but Sherlock Holmes has still made more money domestically than MI4. Why is MI4 touted as the saviour of the box office during this season? The holiday isn't over yet, and so it remains to be seen how everything will turn out. Based on sales so far this week of SH, it should be right about where SH1 was at the end of the 2009 holiday season, and is yet to be released in half as many more countries internationally. I have found the reporting of these films over the past two weeks to be a bit lopsided, first with sheer panic that SH “underperformed” compared to SH1, with no consideration of the timing of the releases.
    So, to recap…….MI4 still behind SH2 in domestic BO. It might catch up this weekend, given that almost 1/3 of it's gross comes from the added IMAX intake. But then again, that remains to be seen, don't it?