16 January 2010

Box Office Record for 2009 Is SFX Not Attendance

If you can't recognize the sound from your open window, pumping up the volume of Entertainment Tonight or Access Hollywood will do the trick nicely, too. Yup, that's the sound of the Hollywood folks patting each other on the back (Ignore that noise the sounded like someone doubling over -- that was just Sony Pictures sucker-punching Sam Raimi.) over last year's record-breaking box office. For the first time -- and with just a little help from James Cameron's blue man movie Avatar -- movies have grossed more than $10 billion at the North American (US and Canada) box office. [link

Like so many of the economic analyses that have been hitting the fan lately, this one's just another numbers trick -- or a bad case of denial.  We can't believe the boys of Tinsel Town could manage to make so much money without knowing how count it.  Then again, a closer look at the numbers suggests that maybe they don't really want to. 

Check out the chart with us and you'll see: sure, total box office is the biggest number on the board, but force your peepers one column over to left and you'll see what your pocketbook's known for the past decade: the cost of a single movie ticket has risen pretty damn dramatically over the last ten years -- a 47% price hike, to be specific.  

We're thinking that $10 billion-plus box office isn't looking as grand. But we don't want to jump to conclusions, either.  To corroborate, let's check that second column on the chart -- Total Tickets Sold each year. Damn, dabbler, check that: more tickets were sold in 1999 than they were last year: 56 million, actually, if we were counting.  Maybe folks were just freaking over Y2K and splurged, who's to say? But in fact, of the 11 years on the chart, six of them have higher ticket sales than 2009, and attendance has remained relatively stable most of the time.  One could consider that decent news, except for the same period,  North America's movie-going population grew by 33 billion people. That's a lot of people who aren't in line buying popcorn. 

When you top of this slice of reality with the fact that 2009's DVD sales declined over $1 billion dollars from the year before [link], the truth of the matter ain't a friendly one.  The box office may look bigger, but only because our trips through the turnstile cost more every time.  Hollywood's blockbusters keep getting bigger and maybe even better -- but it's all-too-clear that just to maintain the status quo, they've got to be.  

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