Riding on the back of a rousing Superman revival, Hollywood has hit the steady road to recovery this summer. But will it go all the way?
After an alarmingly lukewarm 2005, American movies have begun to woo the audience back to the multiplexes thanks to an eclectic slew of blockbusters – The Da Vinci Code, The Break-Up, Superman Returns, The Devil Wears Prada and Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Man's Chest.
According to a survey conducted sometime last year, young American men had watched 20-odd percent fewer films in 2005 than they had done in 2003. In real terms, that translated into a five percent drop in box-office receipts in 2005. But the situation is limping back to normal slowly but steadily as Superman Returns soars and Pirates 2 sets sail.
A still from Superman Returns
Sharon Waxman, writing in
The New York Times
, said: "Movie attendance was up about 1.65 percent to 699 million for the first 25 weeks (of 2006) after a sharp decline the year before."
"Through the first 25 weeks of the year," she surmised, "domestic box-office revenue – helped by a boost in ticket prices – was up nearly 5 per cent to $4.6 billion though it still trailed 2004…"
You do not need to crack The Da Vinci Code to tell that the principal competition that Hollywood faces today comes from video games, home entertainment systems and the Internet. So, understandably, the US movie industry has gone right back to a tried and tested formula: unleash big films to maximise box-office returns.
The US domestic audience has responded by returning to the multiplexes in large numbers, reinforcing the belief that watching star-studded, VFX-laden movies where they principally belong – in a darkened theatre – still remains the centrepiece of the American leisure experience. The year 2005 was an aberration.
Superman Returns, a $210 million production starring newcomer Brandon Routh and the young Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane, mopped up a neat $84 million in the first six days of its run. Though that was way behind what Spiderman 2 had grossed during the corresponding period in 2004 – $152 million – the strong opening taken by Superman Returns points to a summer of relative plenty.
The release of Pirates 2 this week has further bolstered the growing optimism. Starring Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley, this sequel is an action-packed fun film designed to enliven a dull summer. As one critic said on television on Friday, "The actors have fun, you have fun and the popcorn tastes much better."
Interestingly, Hollywood's 2006 summer has been characterised by a much wider spread of genres than usual. The Devil Wears Prada, featuring Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway, collected nearly $30 million in the first three days, a great opening for a chick flick. The Da Vinci Code, an adult-oriented entertainer, grossed $210 million at the domestic box office. The Jennifer Aniston-Vince Vaughn romantic comedy also found ready takers all across the US.
Add to that films Mission: Impossible 3, Superman Returns and, now, Pirates of the Caribbean 2, and the picture is complete. The New York Times report cited above quoted a functionary of the online research firm OTX Entertainment thus: "The good news is the bleeding has stopped from last year. But it hasn't rebounded to the levels of two years ago."
There is some way to go yet, but Hollywood is indeed on the move once again.