Hollywood's studios have some good news as the summer movie season kicks into high gear: Business is up.
The movie industry is on track to beat last year's box-office record. The
FOR THE RECORD
Summer blockbusters: A May 27 Section A article about the summer box-office season referred to Greg Foster as the chief executive of Imax Corp. Foster is senior executive vice president of Imax Corp. and CEO of Imax Entertainment.
Box office revenue is up 3.3% so far this year compared with the same period in 2013, and that's a strong sign given that ticket sales have generally been trending lower for the last decade. Audiences have thinned out amid heightened competition from video games, TV and other forms of entertainment.
But Tinseltown's saving grace has been the blockbuster, and this year's there has been no shortage of them. "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," "
"Every week there's something big," said Dan Fellman, president of domestic distribution for
But it's not just the big-budget movies driving returns; there's been a shift in strategy too.
Hollywood is getting better at spacing out its offerings. Just like airlines try to no longer fly half-empty planes, studios are trying to reduce congestion on the release schedule to help clear the runway for their best prospects.
"We just ran into a perfect storm of way too many movies," DreamWorks Animation Chief Executive Jeffrey Katzenberg said at the time.
He predicted the studio's results would improve this year and next when movies such as "How to Train Your Dragon 2" will face less head-to-head competition.
Studios are also releasing big films in months not usually considered box-office prime time. One notable example was Warner Bros.' decision to release
"You can open a movie any time in the year, with a couple exceptions, and reach near blockbuster levels," said Greg Foster, chief executive of Imax Corp.
Americans have bought $4.01 billion worth of movie tickets so far this year, up from $3.88 billion during the same period in 2013. The number of tickets sold in the first three months of the year was up 5.2% from the same period last year.
Now, Hollywood analysts are waiting to see if this year's slate of big movies will eclipse the $10.9 billion the industry raked in all of last year.
Although studios are releasing fewer movies, they are relying more than ever on big returns from blockbusters. This category, also referred to as tent pole movies, also helps studios make up for some of their smaller-budgeted films that are typically less profitable.
There is no denying that summer films put the most cash in Hollywood's coffers.
The season has consistently delivered studios about 40% of annual grosses for the year. The industry raked in $4.752 billion in ticket sales last May through August, fueled by such hits as
Beyond blockbusters like "X-Men," there have been some surprises so far this year. Universal Pictures' "Neighbors," a raunchy comedy that stars
This bodes well for other R-rated comedies that could make a strong showing this summer. Among them is
Hollywood is also banking on DreamWorks Animation's "How to Train Your Dragon 2," the sequel to the 2010 original that brought in $218 million domestically. Paramount Pictures'
Another one to watch is Disney's "Maleficent," the
"We will see fewer families going to the movie this year than last year because last year we had more to offer them," said Elizabeth Frank, chief content and programming officer at theater chain
Not every movie takes off, though. Over the next three months, the big-budget science-fiction movies "Edge of Tomorrow" and "Jupiter Ascending" appear to be headed for trouble, according to industry observers. They are also keeping their eyes on the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" reboot set for August release.
But overall, the summer lineup looks varied enough to make for a big season, said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Rentrak.