Americans bought 50 million fewer movie tickets in 2011 than the year before, continuing a downward slide for Hollywood that began in 2003. The anemic ticket sales — the lowest total in 16 years — more than offset yet another increase in average ticket prices, causing box-office revenue to fall for the second consecutive year. The numbers have some industry watchers wringing their hands, but they're not a portent of doom for the film industry. They're just a sign that movie fans have adapted to new technologies faster than the studios have.
Analysts offered several explanations for the disappointing box-office numbers, citing high ticket and concession prices, increased competition from video games (such as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, which generated more than $1 billion in sales in a little over two weeks) and an underwhelming and unoriginal slate of movies. But then, when the seven biggest hits were all sequels, it's easy to see why studios put the big dollars behind familiar fare.
A more interesting observation came from The Times' Ben Fritz and Amy Kaufman, who noted a trend that's developed over the last several years. Major studio releases often had strong opening weekends, then faded rapidly. That suggests that avid filmgoers may still be flocking to the multiplex for new releases, but casual fans — those who wait to hear what their friends recommend — aren't. Meanwhile, as the population ages, the percentage of young (and presumably more impulsive) ticket buyers has plummeted.