On the record

‘Rings’ Leads Charge to Record Movie Box Office
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Spiders, clones, hobbits and one “Big Fat Greek Wedding” all add up to a big fat box office for Hollywood movie studios in 2002.
With widely anticipated epic “Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” debuting nationwide on Wednesday to sold-out theaters, box office watchers are predicting a record year of more than $9.1 billion in domestic movie theater ticket sales for all of 2002, up over 10 percent from last year.
“It truly is a ‘wow’ year. Sometimes we get carried away, but this year it’s different,” said Dan Marks, executive vice president at box office tracker AC Nielsen/EDI.
Marks said there has been only a small 3 percent to 4 percent hike in ticket prices, meaning the major portion of the box office rise comes from increased admissions.
But he, like others, said the box office has been powered by a long list of solid performances this year, ranging from the likes of “Spider-Man” with its $404 million domestic haul to the surprise indie hit of the year, comedy “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” with $215 million at domestic box offices.
Through this past Sunday, the box office from U.S. and Canadian theaters stood at $8.45 billion, up over 12 percent from $7.52 billion at the same time last year, according to AC Nielsen.
Marks expects the domestic total will top $9.1 billion with “Two Towers” playing strong on its first day, and major movies such as the “Catch Me if You Can,” “Gangs of New York” and “Two Weeks Notice” still set for release.
The industry’s other major box office tracker Exhibitor Relations Inc. estimates full year box office at roughly $9.2 billion. It puts year-to-date ticket sales at $8.7 billion compared with last year’s $7.7 billion.
The two services calculate numbers differently, depending on the number of days or weekends figured into the year with AC Nielsen reporting a 2001 final total at $8.15 billion and Exhibitor Relations calling it $8.35 billion.
Exhibitor Relations projects average ticket sales price up 3.5 percent to $5.85 on the year with admissions rising 6.4 percent to 1.57 billion by the time the holiday season ends.
AC Nielsen said the current market share leader is clearly Sony Corp.’s Columbia Pictures — the “Spider-Man” studio — with $1.5 billion at domestic box offices.
The Walt Disney Co.’s Buena Vista unit is in the No. 2 spot with $1.14 billion followed by News Corp. Ltd.’s 20th Century Fox with $1.02 billion led by “Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones” and AOL Time Warner’s Warner Bros. in the No. 4 slot with $980 million.
But those figures will change with Warner putting out Sandra Bullock, Hugh Grant romantic comedy “Two Weeks Notice” on Friday and AOL unit New Line Cinema pumping out “Two Towers” today.
Disney unit Miramax Films hits theaters with “Gangs,” an Oscar-caliber movie starring Leonard DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz and Daniel Day Lewis, on Friday and kids movie “Pinocchio,” starring Roberto Benigni, on Dec. 25.
“This looks like a huge Christmas with all the new movies out there,” said Art Levitt, chief executive of online ticket seller
He said the site’s advance sales for “Two Towers” have surpassed any other movie at the same point with over 100,000 tickets sold so far. “Two Towers” purchases are comprising 97 percent of’s total sales.
Rick King, spokesman for the AMC Entertainment Inc.’s nationwide theater chain, said the movie’s advance sales were over twice what they were last year for the first installment, and fans lined up to get into debut screenings after midnight.
The film is the second in the series of three movies based on the classic novels of J.R.R. Tolkien about the struggle between good and evil, hobbits and orcs, in the fictional land of Middle-earth. The first, “Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” racked up $860 million at worldwide box offices.