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Ticket Sales Are Down At U.S. Theaters


This summer, three movies each it made over $1 billion worldwide. They were all sequels from major franchises: "Harry Potter," "Transformers" and "Pirates of the Caribbean." For the movie industry, generally, though, it's anything but high times. Attendance is down. DVD sales continued to drop sharply, and a high-profile project, the adaptation of Stephen King's "The Dark Tower," with big movie makers Ron Howard and Brian Grazer, was jettisoned by a studio, fearful of what it would cost.

Reporter Kim Masters covers the entertainment industry for The Hollywood Reporter. And she's here in our studios at NPR West to talk about the movie industry.

Morning, Kim.

KIM MASTERS: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Give us a break down of the summer box office so far. It's a time when studios count, traditionally, in the summer, on making a lot of money.

MASTERS: Okay, Renee. Well, what we're looking at is a paradox, because what's happened is this summer - after a sluggish beginning to the year - has really done great numbers at the box office. The problem is the pictures are doing those numbers, but fewer people are going to the movies, and that's a troubling trend, one of several troubling trends.

As you mentioned, DVD sales are way down. Three-D ticket prices are not impressing, at least in America. They're doing well overseas. But here, people are showing a marked preference for 2-D. People are arguing in the industry amongst themselves. Why? Is it because the movies are bad? Is it because the ticket prices are too high? Is it both?

So this is a very troubled time for the movie industry, even though box office for the summer is up.

MONTAGNE: Yes. As we just said, three movies made a billion dollars worldwide. I mean, how could that be?

MASTERS: Well, of course, these three movies, as you pointed out, are all sequels. And none of them is in their first bloom. Obviously, "Harry Potter" is finished. Shia LeBouef claims he will not make another "Transformers." "Pirates of the Caribbean," they'll probably squeeze out one more. But the studios are desperately looking for some new franchises to create that giant flood of money that these movies - expensive as they are - tend to generate.

MONTAGNE: Do they, the studios, have anything in the works to replace those aging franchises?

MASTERS: Well, what you've seen this summer is a bunch of a sort of reboots or re-introductions of superheroes: Thor, Captain America, Green Lantern. These are all attempts to launch a new franchise. Now, "Green Lantern" is one of the disasters of the summer - big loser for Warner Brothers. They are so eager to make this work. They are still - despite tens of millions of dollars of losses on that movie - talking about a sequel, just to see if they can't get it right.

The rest of them - "X-Men," "Thor," "Captain America" - they did fine - steady, but not great.

MONTAGNE: There have been some surprising bright spots at the box office. I'm thinking here of the comedy "Bridesmaids," which was an, I think, unexpected hit.

MASTERS: Yes, "Bridesmaids" and the biggest R-rated comedy of all time, "Hangover 2." So you are going to see a lot of those, I think, in the future, the studios especially probably trying to bring in the women. They're going to try and repeat that success. So you're looking at a world where the studios are dealing with men in tights and raunchy comedies.

MONTAGNE: And what, the odd movie like Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris," which was a huge success.

MASTERS: It was a huge success in relative terms. You notice there aren't a lot of smart movies for grown-ups to talk about this summer, Renee, and that's not surprising.

You know, I was talking to an executive at Warner Brothers, which made "Crazy, Stupid, Love" which is probably a movie for smart people. And he was saying how he had hoped after - you know, with the "Black Swan" did so well, and "King's Speech" did so well and "The Fighter" did so well - he was hoping there would be a bigger move toward these movies for grown-ups. But made "Crazy, Stupid, Love" didn't do that well. And he sort of...

(Soundbite of laughter)

MASTERS: He pleaded, he wants to take chances on these movies, but people need to go those movies. And people who are going to those movies tend to hang back and not go in the first weekend, and that doesn't help them.

MONTAGNE: Kim, thanks very much.

MASTERS: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Kim Masters hosts THE BUSINESS on member station KCRW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.