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Family films outperform R-rated at box office

Scott Bowles USA Today

For the first time in two decades, PG-rated films outperformed R-rated films in theaters, even though Hollywood cranks out many more movies aimed at adults.

Last year, PG-rated films took in $2.3 billion in U.S. ticket sales, according to the National Association of Theatre Owners. R-rated movies, which require that anyone younger than 17 be accompanied by an adult, accounted for $2.1 billion.

PG-13-rated films remain the king of the industry, accounting for $4.4 billion last year, according to theater owners.

The figures were released Tuesday during the annual state-of-the-industry address at the ShoWest convention of theater owners in Las Vegas.

They testify to the growing strength of family filmgoers, says the owners’ association president, John Fithian.

“Diversity is great, but family films sell better than R-rated films,” Fithian says. “Sometimes it seems like Hollywood overlooks the middle of the country, which wants movies that everyone can enjoy.”

In 2004, five of the 10 top-grossing films were rated PG, including the year’s biggest film, “Shrek 2,” which took in $441.2 million.

But only four R-rated movies cracked last year’s top 25. The biggest was “The Passion of the Christ,” which took in $370.3 million.

Robert Bucksbaum, president of the industry tracking firm Reelsource and owner of two theaters, says the surge in PG films is a sign of a larger cultural shift.

“There are really two types of films: R-rated and non-R-rated,” he says. “Parents aren’t too worried about taking their kids to see a G, PG or PG-13 movie. But they aren’t going to take them to an R movie.”

Overall movie attendance declined slightly in 2004. Roughly 1.536 billion tickets were sold last year, compared to 1.57 billion in 2003 and 1.63 billion in 2002.

Meanwhile, ticket prices continue to climb, rising 3 percent to an average of $6.21 a ticket last year. As a result, U.S. theater revenues rose slightly, to $9.5 billion.

Fithian and new Motion Picture Association of America chief Dan Glickman said that despite the dip in ticket sales, it was the third straight year that revenues came in above $9 billion.

More people have gone to theaters during that stretch than in any three-year period since the late 1950s, when television was eroding movie audiences, they said.

Studios managed to hold down overall expenses last year, with their average outlay to make and market a movie coming in at $98 million, down 5 percent from 2003.

Production costs held steady at an average of $63.6 million a film, but marketing expenses fell 12 percent to a $34.4 million average.

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