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Why Is Domestic Box Office Down? Pundits Offer Unconvincing Explanations

War Horse Jeremy Irvine. Domestic box office down even for Steven SpielbergWar Horse with Jeremy Irvine. In spite of a strong start, Steven Spielberg’s World War I drama War Horse trotted at a much slower pace over the 2012 New Year’s weekend. A few Academy Award nominations in key categories will likely boost the film’s box office, but it remains to be seen whether this $66 million tale of a young, angelic-looking Englishman (Jeremy Irvine) and his thoroughbred horse Joey will end up in the black after its worldwide run. Director Spielberg hasn’t been all that lucky at the domestic box office this year, as The Adventures of Tintin has been underperforming as well.

Why is the 2011 domestic box office down?

(See previous post: “MI4: Tom Cruise to Save Domestic Box Office? + Two Steven Spielberg Underperformers.”) In 2011, Hollywood movies earned the major studios an estimated $10.2 billion at the U.S. and Canada box office. That’s down 3.5 percent from 2010, according to

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 several that make perfect sense and several that utterly inane.

The U.S. economy at fault

The weak U.S. economy + high film-ticket prices combo 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, with a few of them almost going bankrupt.

Besides, movies nowadays can be watched on DVD or VOD about three months after they’re released in theaters. That’s 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?

North American moviegoers tired of sequels?

On the other hand, the claim that American and Canadian moviegoers have grown tired of sequels is patently absurd.

The top seven domestic releases this year are all sequels. These seven movies combined have so far brought in $1.9 billion – or nearly 20 percent of the year’s total domestic take.

And the current hit at American and Canadian movie theaters is none other than Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol a.k.a. MI4. As clearly indicated by its abbreviated title, that’s the fourth installment in Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible 15-year franchise.

The Intouchables trailer with François Cluzet and Omar Sy. An “inspirational” comedy-drama about two radically different men – a wealthy, white tetraplegic (Cluzet) and his black caretaker (Sy) – who must learn to both get along and get out of scrapes, The Intouchables has become one of the biggest box office hits in French cinema history. Written and directed by Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano, The Intouchables was inspired by the true story of French businessman Philippe Pozzo di Borgo and his French-Algerian caregiver Abdel Sellou, who were depicted in Jean-Pierre Devillers and Isabelle Cottenceau’s 2003 TV documentary À la vie, à la mort.

Gadgets & gaming + social networks to blame?

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 outside North America (not adjusted for inflation/currency fluctuations).

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 fared – possibly much – better domestically than its sequel, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, which is still in theaters.

Strong eurozone box office despite structural economic weaknesses

It would be interesting to discover why some troubled European economies such as France and Germany continue to generate solid box office revenues in U.S. 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 Éric Toledano’s socially conscious comedy-drama The Intouchables / Intouchables, starring François Cluzet and Omar Sy.
  • Dany Boon’s late 2010 comedy Nothing to Declare / Rien à déclarer, toplining Boon, Benoît Poelvoorde, and Karin Viard.

These two titles have a combined gross of nearly $200 million according to the Box Office Mojo chart.

For comparison’s sake, France’s top two movies of 2010, David Yates’ Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 and Mike Mitchell’s Shrek Forever After, earned less than $100 million combined.

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

See also: “BD1 Box Office: ‘Tis the Season for Interspecies Breeding But Breaking Dawn Part 1 Trailing Previous Twilight Sequels.”

Jeremy Irvine War Horse image: David Appleby / DreamWorks.

The Intouchables trailer with François Cluzet and Omar Sy: Quad Productions.

“Why Is Domestic Box Office Down? Pundits Offer Unconvincing Explanations” last updated July 2018.

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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.

nikki -

That’s why I don’t like 3D movies. They make tickets much more expensive so that people frequent less the theatres but instead buy one ticket for a 3D blockbuster.
Another reason IMO is that many movies come on DVD too short after their release in theatre, many wait to see the movie until its DVD release.

I don’t know for the US but in Europe and especially certain countries like Greece, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Portugal, also Belgium the financial and economic bad circumstances caused a lack of trust in the system with social uncertitude as a consequence. People know they have to pay more to get less and are spending their money more carefully and justified. The last few months were terrible for Europe and the Eurozone compared to the first months of this year. It shocked people and opened their eyes for the catastrophe that’s looking around the corner.
Horeca, clothing industries and also cultural activities already feel the crisis.
That’s why I think that Breaking Dawn is the most successful movie of the Saga. Perhaps BO won’t beat the other 3 movies, but people went ‘en masse’ to theatres in these changed times. The bank crisis in 2008 didn’t impact social life so much, this crisis does.
Better than compare on a superficial way BO numbers, I think it’s important to have a broad view on the social backgrounds that change almost from month to month.
From that POV, Breaking Dawn was extremely successful, wether critics like it or not.

Thomas -

Hollywood should listen to what people want. I am 49 years old with a wife and a 15 year old son. I remember too many times when we thought about going to the movies, but ended up not going because there was nothing playing that attracted us. There were also a few times where we walked out of a film early on because it contained pointless graphic violence or displayed casual drug use or gay perversions that had absolutely nothing to do with the story. It is bad enough the schools don’t lift a finger to stop the drug culture there; we don’t need Hollywood perverting our children by portraying drugs as a matter of fact part of every day living. This happened in the opening scenes of Grandma’s Boy, right after I had lectured my son to stay away from anyone or anything that might influence him to do drugs. He is having a hard time finding friends that are not wrapped up in smoking pot.
I blame Hollywood for their own demise. I know I am not the only one that feels this way. We have friends that simply do not go to the movies anymore because there is no way to really know what perversions are in a movie until you see it. Reviewers accept these perversions as normal these days, this was not always the case. When I was young it was a rare thing to see drugs, perverts, profanity, graphic violence, or back-talking children in a film. Now it is almost a given that at least one of these is in the next film you will see. Americans are tired of it. The novelty of blood flying all over the screen is worn out, contrary to what the Hollywood experts claim. I don’t know about you, but I am getting more and more sensitive to this stuff. People do get desensitized to this stuff at first, but I find my aversion growing every time I am exposed to it. The next problem is that Hollywood has run out of creative thinking. All too much I can watch a film for 10 minutes and predict with stunning accuracy exactly what will happen over the next 90 minutes. There are a few exceptions. Add to all this the poor quality of the movie theaters. Their screens are small, the commercials and previews are too long. And I have to now pay a hefty price tag $15-18 for the privilege. We have been enjoying watching old movies on cable that we DVR and play back at our leisure, and it’s no big loss if the movie is not for us. Also, older films are generally better than the new stuff. Hollywood should be making a killing right now. With all the technology available there is no end to what they could do, yet they replay the same old story lines adding more and more perversions. Boring.


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