YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

It's Alive! Horror Flicks Help Restore Pulse at Box Office

April 25, 2006|Claudia Eller and Lorenza Munoz | Times Staff Writers

After a frightening drought, Hollywood is finally scaring up some business at the box office.

On Monday, official tallies confirmed that the video game-based thriller "Silent Hill" led the weekend with $20.1 million in ticket sales, cementing the horror genre as a cornerstone of what is shaping up to be a turnaround year for the movie industry.

Together with a string of family-friendly hits and a slew of star-heavy films that start landing next month, these gory offerings are breathing new life into a business that some had left for dead. So far this year, domestic ticket sales are up 6.7% over 2005, with theater attendance rising 3.4%.

To be sure, those gains come after one of the worst years in moviegoing history, when attendance hit an eight-year low. Compared with the same period in 2004, when Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" had already grossed $365 million, this year's attendance is still lagging 4.8%.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday April 27, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 31 words Type of Material: Correction
Box office: A front-page article Tuesday about higher movie ticket sales said "Hostel 2" was one of the 25 top-grossing releases so far this year. The horror film's title is "Hostel."

But theater owners and studio chiefs say the improved numbers, combined with an upcoming summer slate loaded with crowd-pleasing comedies and family films along with lip-biting action thrillers and scary fare, are allowing them to breathe a bit easier.

"So far, so good," said Peter Brown, chief executive of AMC Theatres, the nation's second-largest circuit. With the last five weekends outpacing last year, he said, "there is no panic."

Paramount Pictures President Gail Berman sounded a similar note.

"When you give people something they want, guess what?" she said. "They come."

Last year, flagging box-office receipts prompted many to speculate that a cultural shift was underway, with consumers shunning the communal experience of a darkened theater in favor of other entertainment options.

The Internet, iPods, video games and other high-tech attractions are increasingly vying for Americans' attention and entertainment dollars. Sophisticated home theater systems offer a moviegoing experience free of pricey popcorn, seemingly endless ads and trailers, ringing cellphones and sticky floors. And moviegoers don't have to wait as long as they once did to see a film on DVD.

But this year's showing suggests that certain movies can still get people out of the house on a weekend night.

"Horror and family films are genres that people don't necessarily want to wait for the DVDs," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations Co.

Of this year's 25 top-grossing releases so far, about a quarter have been horror films, including "Hostel 2," "Underworld: Evolution," "Final Destination 3" and "When a Stranger Calls." Then there was "Scary Movie 4," a horror-comedy spoof that opened with a whopping $40.2 million and has grossed $68 million to date.

More than half of the 25 were family hits that included the animated sequel "Ice Age: The Meltdown," the remake of "The Pink Panther" and the dog-led adventure "Eight Below."

Next week, Hollywood starts rolling out its big guns for the summer season, with at least one major film premiering nearly every weekend into August.

May's weekends will see the opening of the Tom Cruise action sequel "M:i:III," the disaster remake "Poseidon," the adaptation of the bestselling novel "The Da Vinci Code," with Tom Hanks starring, as well as the animated "Over the Hedge" and the sci-fi sequel "X-Men: The Last Stand."

June marks the premieres of the computer-animated "Cars," the Jack Black comedy "Nacho Libre," the romantic comedy "The Break Up," starring Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn, and "Superman Returns" -- Hollywood's latest effort to revive the Man of Steel franchise.

In July, the Johnny Depp sequel "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" opens, as does "Miami Vice," based on the popular 1980s cop series.

"No one has seen the summer movies, yet there is tremendous anticipation pulsing within audiences already," said "Da Vinci Code" producer Brian Grazer.

All the while, Hollywood's release schedule is dotted with horror thrillers. In June, "The Omen" is resurrected. And growing Internet buzz has made August's "Snakes on a Plane" one of the summer's most anticipated offerings.

"Pirates" producer Jerry Bruckheimer believes that in the business of enticing audiences, success begets success. If enough releases in Hollywood's summer lineup catch the public's attention, he said, "hopefully people get back into the habit of going to the movies."

Summer is a crucial season for the movie business, when 40% of movie tickets are sold. Last summer was largely a disappointment, with studios releasing such costly flops as "Kingdom of Heaven" and "The Island." Summer box-office receipts fell 8.5% from 2004, and attendance plummeted 11.4%.

"I think what we learned last year was you can't sell bad movies. We can't fake people out with marketing, no matter how good it is," admitted Amy Pascal, movie chief at Sony Pictures, which released the costly duds "Bewitched" and "Stealth" last summer. This year, her prospects for the season are better with "Da Vinci Code."

Los Angeles Times Articles