Summer box office is tepid as ‘Pelham,’ ‘Imagine’ fizzle

The summer box office has officially gone south.

As two new releases, “The Taking of Pelham 123" and “Imagine That,” failed to catch fire this weekend, total ticket sales in the U.S. and Canada for the summer movie season that started May 1 have slipped below the total for the same period in 2008.

Though the drop is less than 1%, according to data compiled by, that’s a significant change from the 17% rise seen during the first four months of 2009. This weekend’s box-office receipts were down 22% from the same weekend last year.

Several surprise hits like January’s “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” and event films scheduled earlier than usual, including April’s “Fast & Furious,” fueled theories that the recession was increasing moviegoing, but that no longer appears to be true. This summer’s slew of event films have proved a bit less popular than last year’s, especially when accounting for ticket price inflation.

Two movies expected to have huge openings, Paramount Pictures’ “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” and Warner Bros.’ “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” will be released in the next month, so it’s possible for the summer box office to again enter positive territory.

If it does, it will at best be a small rise and is sure to significantly drag down the year-to-date growth in domestic ticket sales, which currently stands at 11%.


Summer’s lack of sizzle was evident at this weekend’s box office, where returning films “The Hangover” and “Up” dominated again.

“The Hangover” dropped only 26%, the lowest such figure for any film this summer. Industry executives who closely follow the box office now expect Warner Bros.’ and Legendary Pictures’ R-rated comedy, which cost $35 million to produce and $40 million to market, to end up earning more than $200 million domestically.

“This takes word of mouth that’s extraordinary,” observed Jeff Goldstein, executive vice president of distribution for Warner Bros.

Disney’s “Up” dropped 31% on its third weekend and is declining at a slower pace than any Pixar animated feature since 2003’s “Finding Nemo.” If “Up” continues to perform as well as that picture, it could top $300 million in the U.S. and Canada by the end of its run.

“The Hangover” and “Up” will quite possibly remain No. 1 and No. 2 yet again next weekend, since neither of the new films opening Friday, Disney’s “The Proposal” and Sony Pictures’ “Year One,” are likely to have big openings.

“The Taking of Pelham 123,” which Sony Pictures co-financed with Relativity Media at a cost of just over $100 million, launched at $25 million.

Sixty-two percent of audiences were 30 and older, making “Pelham” the latest in a string of adult-targeted thrillers to start modestly this year. Stars Denzel Washington and John Travolta will have to draw bigger crowds overseas if the film is going to end up profitable.

Eddie Murphy’s appeal, meanwhile, proved virtually nonexistent this weekend as “Imagine That” opened to an anemic $5.7 million. Paramount’s family comedy, which cost $55 million to produce, stands as the summer’s second major flop alongside “Land of the Lost.”

In movie theaters overseas, “Terminator Salvation” is proving a solid performer despite its weak domestic ticket sales.

The fourth film in the sci-fi series grossed $46.1 million this weekend, thanks to very impressive launches in Japan and China of $10.7 million and $9 million, respectively. Its total foreign take after rolling out over the last three weeks is $165.5 million, compared with $113.8 million from four weeks in the U.S. and Canada.

Warner Bros. paid $60 million to financier Halcyon Co. for domestic rights and Sony paid just over $100 million to handle the movie internationally.





Sales in the U.S. and Canada:

*--* -- Movie 3-day gross Percentag Total Days in e change from -- (studio) (millions) Last (millions) release weekend 1 The Hangover $33.4 -26% $105.4 10 -- (Warner Bros./Legend ary) 2 Up $30.5 -31% $187.2 17 -- (Disney/Pixa r) 3 The Taking $25 n/a $25 3 of Pelham 123 -- (Sony/Relati vity) 4 Night at the $9.6 -34% $143.4 24 Museum: -- Battle of the Smithsonian -- (Fox) 5 Land of the $9.2 -51% $35 10 Lost (Universa l/Relativ ity) 6 Imagine That $5.7 n/a $5.7 3 -- (Paramount) 7 Star Trek $5.6 -33% $232 38 -- (Paramount/S pyglass) 8 Terminator $4.7 -43% $113.8 25 Salvation -- (Warner Bros./Halcyo n) 9 Angels & $4.2 -36% $123.3 31 Demons -- (Sony) 10 Drag Me to $3.9 -45% $35.1 17 Hell -- (Universal/G host House) *--*

Industry totals

*--* 3-day gross Change Year-to-date gross Change (in millions) from 2008 (in billions) from 2008 $140 -22% $4.6 +11% *--*

Note: A movie may be shown on more than one screen at each theater.

Sources: Times research and Box Office