News

Fewer people are paying to see movies, and who can blame them?

Robert W. Butler
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

Hollywood kept its head above water in 2010.

Sort of.

Looked at numerically, you might at first conclude that the movie biz had a good year.

According to www.the-numbers.com, which tracks box office data, Hollywood sold $10.2 billion in domestic tickets over the last 12 months.

That's a bit less than the $10.65 billion sold in 2009, but still impressive enough to make 2010 the second-best year ever for ticket income.

Good news, eh?

Maybe not. You see, there's rot beneath the glitz. Ticket income may look OK. But when you study attendance numbers, it's a whole new story.

Last year 1.3 billion tickets were sold, way down from the 1.58 billion sold in 2002. In fact, the just-ended year had the worst attendance since the 1.26 billion sold in 1996.

Attendance was down 5.4 percent compared to 2009. That's the biggest drop in five years. More income, fewer customers.

I was never good at economics, but that means fewer people are paying more for the pleasure of going to the movies.

It's a shrinking audience, not exactly a blueprint for continuing success.

And here's an even grimmer thought: The box office performed as well as it did thanks to the extra bucks generated by 3-D films. Theaters typically charge $3 more to see a 3-D movie. So far, moviegoers have been willing to cough up the extra dollars.

I'm not sure they're going to keep doing it.

I'm amazed that a family of four can even afford to go see a movie, much less a 3-D one. We're talking (conservatively) $30 in tickets. Give each family member $6 for concessions (not that $6 will buy much nowadays) and you have a $50-plus night at the theater — $60-plus for 3-D.

How many movies are worth that sort of investment?

And how many of us are willing to spend those premium dollars week after week on 3-D movies when no 3-D film seen last year came even close to the visual innovation and comfortable watchability of 2009's "Avatar"? What happens when the "wow" factor becomes the "meh" factor?

3-D alone can't save bad movies. Yeah, earlier in the year we flocked to see "Clash of the Titans" with its miserable post-production conversion to 3-D. But as the weeks went by we got picky. Check out the crash-and-burn runs of "Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore," "Legends of the Guardians" and, most recently, "Gulliver's Travels."

So, is this the end of Hollywood?

Hardly. Because even while domestic attendance is sinking, the popularity of American films overseas is on the rise. Foreign numbers increased last year, with the worldwide gross expected to top 2009's record $29.9 billion.

The rest of the world loves American movies — providing, of course, that those movies are big, colorful, action-packed and simplistic.

So while I've been basking in the glory of end-of-year releases like "The King's Speech" and "True Grit," I must keep reminding myself that movies that relish the English language are not necessarily going to be popular elsewhere, that the elements that make a movie worthwhile in my eyes may have only limited value on the worldwide market.

Or, as a colleague recently reminded me, "Explosions go 'boom' in any language."

Guess I'd better get used to it.

Music


Books


Film


Recent
Books

How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.

Film

From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?

Music

The 50 Best Songs of 2007

Journey back 13 years to a stellar year for Rihanna, M.I.A., Arcade Fire, and Kanye West. From hip-hop to indie rock and everywhere in between, PopMatters picks the best 50 songs of 2007.

Music

'Modern' Is the Pinnacle of Post-Comeback Buzzcocks' Records

Presented as part of the new Buzzcocks' box-set, Sell You Everything, Modern showed a band that wasn't interested in just repeating itself or playing to nostalgia.

Music

​Nearly 50 and Nearly Unplugged: 'ChangesNowBowie' Is a Glimpse Into a Brilliant Mind

Nine tracks, recorded by the BBC in 1996 show David Bowie in a relaxed and playful mood. ChangesNowBowie is a glimpse into a brilliant mind.

Music

Reaching for the Sky: An Interview with Singer-Songwriter Bruce Sudano

How did Bruce Sudano become a superhero? PopMatters has the answer as Sudano celebrates the release of Spirals and reflects on his career from Brooklyn Dreams to Broadway.

Music

Inventions Conjure Mystery and Hope with the Intensely Creative 'Continuous Portrait'

Instrumental duo Matthew Robert Cooper (Eluvium) and Mark T. Smith (Explosions in the Sky) release their first album in five years as Inventions. Continuous Portrait is both sonically thrilling and oddly soothing.

Music

Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch Are 'Live at the Village Vanguard' to Raise Money for Musicians

Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch release a live recording from a 2018 show to raise money for a good cause: other jazz musicians.

Music

Lady Gaga's 'Chromatica' Hides Its True Intentions Behind Dancefloor Exuberance

Lady Gaga's Chromatica is the most lively and consistent record she's made since Born This Way, embracing everything great about her dance-pop early days and giving it a fresh twist.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Street Art As Sprayed Solidarity: Global Corona Graffiti

COVID-19-related street art functions as a vehicle for political critique and social engagement. It offers a form of global solidarity in a time of crisis.

Music

Gretchen Peters Honors Mickey Newbury With "The Sailor" and New Album (premiere + interview)

Gretchen Peters' latest album, The Night You Wrote That Song: The Songs of Mickey Newbury, celebrates one of American songwriting's most underappreciated artists. Hear Peters' new single "The Sailor" as she talks about her latest project.

Music

Okkyung Lee Goes From Classical to Noise on the Stellar 'Yeo-Neun'

Cellist Okkyung Lee walks a fine line between classical and noise on the splendid, minimalist excursion Yeo-Neun.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.