Hollywood loves breaking box-office records, yet studio executives aren’t griping that their 2008 lineup will fall a bit shy of the all-time high set a year earlier.
With the overall economy in the pits, movie moguls are just glad to have weathered the year with faithful audiences that continued to crowd into theaters.
“Last year was the record of all time. The economy’s tough. Things are bad out there, and I think if we can have another record-breaking year or close to it, I figure we’ll all be happy,” says Dan Fellman, head of distribution for Warner Bros., which released the year’s biggest hit with “The Dark Knight” ($531 million).
When final figures are in, 2008 domestic revenues are expected to come in just shy of 2007’s record of $9.7 billion, according to box-office tracker Media By Numbers.
Factoring in higher admission prices, the actual number of tickets sold in 2008 is running 5 percent behind last year’s, when admissions totaled 1.4 billion.
Hollywood historically survives recessions better than many businesses because movies remain relatively cheap compared with sporting events, live theater and other forms of entertainment.
With a $158.4 million debut, the Batman sequel “The Dark Knight” shattered the record for best opening weekend and has put Heath Ledger on track for a possible posthumous Academy Award as the maniacal villain the Joker.
“Iron Man” was the superhero runner-up with a $318.3 million haul. Old-school hero Harrison Ford cracked his whip again as “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” followed closely with $317 million.
Among other smashes: Sony’s Will Smith adventure “Hancock” and James Bond thriller “Quantum of Solace”; Universal’s action tale “Wanted”; and a rush of animated comedies led by the Disney-Pixar charmer “WALL-E.”
While young males remained Hollywood’s core audience, girls and women flocked to theaters for the big-screen version of “Sex and the City,” the vampire romance “Twilight,” the musical “Mamma Mia!” and Disney’s “Hannah Montana” concert flick.
Qualitywise, the summer blockbusters came in a cut above the usual lineup of silly action and lowbrow comedy. Critics liked “Iron Man” and adored “WALL-E” and “The Dark Knight,” the latter heading toward Jan. 22 Oscar nominations with best-picture buzz.
The 2008 lineup showed that hit movies do not “have to be a mindless concept,” says Rob Moore, vice chairman of Paramount, whose 2008 successes included the comedy “Tropic Thunder,” featuring fresh and wildly different performances from “Iron Man” star Robert Downey Jr. and Tom Cruise.
“If you tell a compelling story, you can get an audience to show up,” Moore says.
With a huge Christmas weekend, Hollywood continued to serve up must-see movies, from the family dog tale “Marley & Me” to a surge of awards contenders such as “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “Doubt,” “Revolutionary Road” and “Gran Torino.”
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.