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Summer box office trends

”Superbad,” ”The Bourne Ultimatum,” and ”Hairspray” have helped drive a potentially record-breaking season

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Give it up for the misfits! As Hollywood nears the end of its summer box office blitz, it’s the odd ducks — like the boys of Superbad, Hairspray‘s zaftig Tracy Turnblad, and the entire Simpsons clan — who’ve helped give the movie business the boost it needed to make this sweltering season a potential record breaker. The business has now posted six straight weeks of year-to-year gains, culminating in Superbad‘s better-than-expected $33 million opening, which outpaced Judd Apatow’s previous summer bow (Knocked Up) and blew away Nicole Kidman’s The Invasion, which stalled at $6 million.

Chalk it up to smart counterprogramming: Not only did the well-reviewed raunchfest arrive during the usually barren mid-August stretch, it also appealed to the industry’s rabid Gen-Y fans. Says Sony Pictures vice chairman Jeff Blake, ”It’s a sign of some real clout by this group [that] their brothers and sisters in Generation X were really never able to generate.” That clout — not to mention the star power of Zac Efron — has also helped Hairspray hang on nicely after five weeks. It just crossed the $100 million mark, a significant milestone in the hard-to-gauge musical genre. The Bourne Ultimatum, meanwhile, notched the best-ever August opening ($70 million) and proved that not all threequels have to be mind-numbing, F/X-laden spectacles. It’s now poised for a $200 million-plus gross.

At this rate, the industry, which is seeing the highest attendance since 2004, is ready to fete a summer that will likely exceed a whopping $4.1 billion (up from $3.9 billion in ’06). Says Fox distribution president Bruce Snyder, ”Every year we look for constant growth in a mature business. It doesn’t seem right, but we’re not very smart.”