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MediaCircus' Winners & Sinners: July 2001

Special Feature by Anthony Leong © Copyright 2001

Artwork courtesy of

Julia Roberts, Catherine Zeta-Jones, John Cusack, and Billy Crystal of America's Sweethearts

It seems that the slowing economy has finally caught up with Hollywood. After some terrific momentum in the first half of the year, ticket sales ran into a slump at what should ostensibly be one of the busiest times of the year. Falling shy of last year's total weekend take of $567 million, July's lackluster ticket sales have reduced the year-to-date box office totals to only a mere 4% above the same time last year. In comparison, prior to hitting July, the incremental increase was a more comfortable 10%, especially in light of the fact that the average theater admission had also gone up about $1 US in the same time-frame. So what happened to the days of milk and honey?

In addition to consumers being tight-fisted with their disposable income these days, industry pundits have pointed to lack of staying power for new releases. If you have been following box office tallies this year, you will probably have noticed that since the summer moviegoing season began in May, no film has been able to hold the top position for more than two weeks, and the only films that managed to stay on top for more than one weekend were "The Mummy Returns" and "Pearl Harbor". Unfortunately, this summer's crop of films are 'burning off' very quickly, generating little in the way of repeat business and seeing their grosses drop by 50% or more on subsequent weekends. Some of the biggest casualties of this year's 'burn off' include "Tomb Raider", "A.I.", "The Fast and the Furious", and, of course, "Pearl Harbor". In fact, the only films to show any 'legs' have been "Shrek" and "The Mummy Returns", which have been able to surpass the $200 million mark because of this.

Aki Ross, voiced by Ming-na, of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within

And this is not a new problem, as studios have been concerned about this problem for the last few years, which has become progressively worse with time. Over the past decade, the average playing life for films has shrunk, with virtually all demand for a film being met within the first few weeks of its release. For example, in 1990, opening week grosses accounted for 24% of total theatrical grosses, and now it is up to 37% (which is also a quick way for studio execs to estimate the final box office take of a film).

Blame for this phenomenon has been assigned to a glut of screens in the marketplace, the result of a building boom by the major exhibition chains, such as AMC Entertainment and the United Artists Theatre Group. This excess of exhibition outlets means that audiences don't have to wait for the long line-ups to subside before seeing the latest releases. This is being further compounded by the increasing practice of wide release patterns (a film is opened in 4,000 to 5,000 screens at once), which has resulted in the number of films exceeding 2,000 simultaneous playdates tripling between 1993 and 1997.

Despite the meager returns at the box office, the month of July offered up many surprisingly decent films that were able to overcome their respective handicaps and deliver a good time. For example, "Jurassic Park III" was able to overcome being 'another sequel', "America's Sweethearts" was able to surmount being 'another Julia Roberts romantic comedy', "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within" was able to ease the stigma of being 'another video-game-to-movie translation', and "Kiss of the Dragon" was able to provide a satisfactory answer to, 'is Jet Li still making movies?'. So without further ado, this month's winners:

Tim Roth and Mark Wahlberg of Planet of the Apes

Thankfully, the list of sinners this past month was short:

For the remainder of the 2001 summer moviegoing season, movie buffs can look forward to Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker paired with Chinese cinema 'It girl' Zhang Ziyi ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon") in "Rush Hour 2", Nicole Kidman ("Moulin Rouge") in the atmospheric gothic horror flick "The Others", Nicolas Cage and Penelope Cruz in the WW2 romance "Captain Corelli's Mandolin", horror-meister John Carpenter's "The Ghosts of Mars", Angelina Jolie's lips in "Original Sin", and über-slackers Jay and Silent Bob heading to Hollywood in Kevin Smith's "Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back". Will the box office bounce back during the close of the summer holiday season? Stay tuned...

Images courtesy of respective copyright holders. All rights reserved.

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