I like movies!

Hollywood could use a hero at the box office right now.
More than a month before the arrival of juggernaut summer movies óStar Wars III: Revenge of the Sith (May 19), War of the Worlds (June 29) ó the film industry finds itself in the worst ticket sales slump in nearly five years.
Domestic ticket sales stand at$2.1 billion for 2005, about 4% behind last year’s revenue, according to industry tracker Nielsen EDI. More troubling: Sales lagged last year’s pace for the seventh straight weekend, the longest losing streak since an 11-week drought starting in July 2000.
And with ticket prices expected to rise to an average of $6.40 this year, the attendance drop is even more dramatic.
Studio executives point to a lack of Passion to account for the slump.
“We’re down because we had The Passion of the Christ last year,” says Rob Friedman, vice chairman of Paramount Pictures. “When you lose a movie that made nearly $400 million, your numbers are going to be a little off.”
But other analysts say the absence of the film is just part of the problem.
“Ticket sales have hit a flat economic period,” says Dan Ramer, editor of, which examines box-office and home video trends. “Part of that may be due to more people purchasing DVD players and installing home theaters. But clearly a contributing factor is also the product, the films themselves.”
The weakness is showing with small films in particular. Last weekend, for instance, 13 films took in more than $1 million. The same time last year, 18 films crossed that mark, EDI says.
“There just isn’t the depth we had last year,” says Paul Dergarabedian of box office tracker Exhibitor Relations. “People aren’t responding yet to what Hollywood has to offer. The pressure is really building for the summer.”
John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theatre Owners, says exhibitors are feeling the pinch and waiting for an unexpected hit such as Passion or National Treasure. “Every year you get a surprise movie or two that’s stronger than anyone thought,” he says. “We haven’t had that surprise yet.”
A few films have eclipsed expectations. Hitch has raked in more than $173 million and is the year’s biggest film. The Pacifier became a surprise $100 million movie last weekend.
But executives concede that the summer, which typically accounts for 40% of movie sales, will have to be especially strong if box office is to rebound.
“It’s as crowded a summer schedule as I can remember,” says Chuck Viane, Disney’s head of distribution. Disney’s “summer” starts April 29 with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. “If we can deliver then √≥ and I believe the entire summer has a lot of potential √≥ I think we’re going to be fine.”