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Hollywood hopes summer movies strengthen box office

Scott Bowles USA Today

Hollywood could use a hero at the box office right now.

A month before the arrival of the first juggernaut summer movie, “Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith” (May 19), 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 percent behind last year’s revenue, according to industry tracker Nielsen EDI.

More troubling: Ticket sales lagged last year’s pace for the eighth straight weekend, the longest losing streak since an 11-week drought starting in July 2000.

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 dvdfile.com, 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.”

“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.”

Summer typically accounts for 40 percent of movie ticket sales.

“It’s as crowded a summer schedule as I can remember,” Chuck Viane, Disney’s head of distribution, says of this year’s offerings. “If we can deliver then – and I believe the entire summer has a lot of potential – I think we’re going to be fine.”

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