Filmgoers looking to laugh off tough times

When it comes to curing the economic blues, laughter still is the best medicine.

Moviegoers this weekend took a break from the drumbeat of layoffs and bankruptcies, heading to theaters to watch comedies such as Tyler Perry’s “Madea Goes to Jail,” the top-grossing film for the second week in a row.

“In down times like this, people want to be entertained, and they want to laugh,” said Steve Rothenberg, president of domestic distribution at Lionsgate, the studio that released “Madea.” “It’s no surprise that the only two films this year that have repeated their No. 1 rank in the weekly charts have been comedies.”


“Madea” garnered estimated receipts of $16.5 million over the weekend, bringing its two-week total to $64.9 million, according to box-office tracker Media by Numbers.

The other film that maintained its No. 1 rank in sales for more than a week this year was “Paul Blart: Mall Cop.” The lighthearted comedy from Sony/Columbia landed in the No. 6 spot with an estimated $5.6 million. The weekend brought its box-office total to $128.1 million over seven weeks.

Other funny flicks to hit the top-10 chart include “He’s Just Not That Into You,” a comedy of romantic errors from Warner Bros. that took in $5.9 million this weekend for the fifth spot, and “Confessions of a Shopaholic,” from Walt Disney Studios, which was ninth with $4.5 million. “Fired Up,” a spoof about two high school football players who crash a cheerleading camp, rounded out the comedy list at No. 10 overall with $3.8 million.

Although comedies took five of the top 10 spots, other genres also fared well this weekend.

“Slumdog Millionaire” continued to win over filmgoers. The Fox Searchlight movie about a pauper in Mumbai who attains fame during his appearance on a quiz show took third place with $12.2 million in ticket sales. Boosted by seven Academy Awards, including best picture, “Slumdog” went to a wider audience, appearing in 31% more theaters than in the previous week. In 16 weeks, it has accumulated $115.1 million in receipts.

Also in the top five was “Taken,” a thriller from Fox starring Liam Neeson that landed in fourth place. It scored $10 million, bringing its U.S. total to $107.9 million.

Audiences seeking an escape have bolstered the industry’s U.S. box-office revenue to $1.8 billion this year, up more than 17% from the same period last year. Some of that increase came from higher ticket prices, but much of the bump came from a 15.4% uptick in attendance, said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Media by Numbers.

Though the average ticket price is $7.29, the highest in history, not adjusted for inflation, movies are still considered a bargain compared with leisure travel, live concerts and amusement parks.

The reemergence of 3-D movies also is drawing filmgoers. Tickets for 3-D movies generally cost a few dollars more, but that didn’t deter fans who saw “Jonas Brothers: The 3-D Concert Experience.”

The Walt Disney Studios film premiered this weekend in second place, ringing up $12.7 million. It was the second- highest opening for a concert movie after “Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour,” another 3-D film from Disney, which opened last year with $31.1 million.

“It’s an experience above and beyond the norm,” said Chuck Viane, president of distribution for Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. “A 3-D movie may cost you more, but it also brings you to a place you haven’t been before.”

Several studios are banking on digital 3-D to help maintain this year’s box-office momentum. Disney, for example, has 15 3-D films in the works, including the planned November release of “A Christmas Carol,” directed by Robert Zemeckis. DreamWorks Animation Studios is releasing “Monsters vs. Aliens” this month. James Cameron’s “Avatar” from 20th Century Fox is scheduled to hit 3-D screens in December.

“If we keep going at this pace, we will be looking at an amazing year,” Dergarabedian said. “A $10-billion year for the box office is within reach. It’s just part of human nature to seek escape from reality when times are tough.”





Preliminary results in the U.S. and Canada, based on studio projections:

*--* Movie 3-day gross Total Weeks (studio) (millions) (millions) 1 Madea Goes to Jail (Lionsgate) $16.5 $64.9 2

2 Jonas Brothers: The 3-D Concert 12.7 12.7 1 Experience (Disney)

3 Slumdog Millionaire 12.2 115.1 16 (Fox Searchlight)

4 Taken (Fox) 10 107.9 5

5 He’s Just Not That Into You 5.9 78.5 4 (Warner Bros.)

6 Paul Blart: Mall Cop (Sony / 5.6 128.1 7 Columbia)

7 Coraline (Focus) 5.3 61.1 4

8 Street Fighter: Legend of Chun-Li 4.7 4.7 1 (Fox)

9 Confessions of a Shopaholic 4.5 33.7 3 (Disney)

10 Fired Up (Sony / Screen Gems) 3.8 10.1 2 *--*

Industry totals

*--* 3-day gross Change Year-to-date gross Change (in millions) from 2008 (in billions) from 2008 $108 +11.4% $1.8 +17.2% *--*

Source: Media by Numbers