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Box Office: Batman was a blockbuster but did 2008 bomb?

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Darkknightbale_l

With January now upon us, the obligatory rehashings of the 2008 box office have started to be hashed out, and, well, the news is mixed. Happy new year, Hollywood! Variety, for example, trumpets the studios’ collective ability to avoid the brunt of the recession, but a deeper read reveals that ticket sales actually declined. In other words, fewer people spent more money to visit their local multiplex. Now, that doesn’t sound too good.

Figures vary a bit depending on your source, but a fair tally from

tracking firm Nielsen EDI holds that domestic grosses amounted to

an all-time high of approximately $9.8 billion last year, up about 2 percent from 2007 and

up 7 percent from 2006. Which is laudable. Meanwhile, however, 2008 was definitely a loser as far as admissions were concerned. According to tracking firm Media By Numbers, the average domestic ticket price exceeded $7 for the first time ever (making it easier for studios to set the aforementioned gross-revenue record), while attendance dropped about 5 percent. Recession-proof? Really?

Let’s be honest here: It wasn’t a particularly great year at the box office. To which I say: So be it. You’ve got a lot of company with, uh, the rest of the economy, Hollywood.

Yes, overseas revenues continued to rise: In 2008, a total of $9.9 billion was spent on movies outside of the U.S. and Canada, up 4 percent from 2007. But, I wonder, at what cost? Grosses may increase but fewer

and fewer moderately budgeted dramas (which rarely play well globally) are likely to get made.

Yes, The Dark Knight was a big winner, scoring the best opening weekend of

all time, becoming the second $500 million domestic grosser ever, and

winding up as the fourth movie in history to cross the $1 billion mark

worldwide. But our friends over at E! Online make a good point when they note that, looking at pure return on investment, something like Twilight

(which nearly quintupled its $37 mil production budget in banking more

than $175 mil domestically) was a more impressive success than The Dark Knight

(which cost possibly well in excess of $200 mil to make and market). It

looks great when there are a lot of big grossers on the calendar, sure,

but profitability definitely matters.

That’s why the year’s less-expected/less-heralded/less-flashy box office successes like Cloverfield, the Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana concert film, the dog flicks Beverly Hills Chihuahua and Marley and Me, Get Smart, Twilight, Sex and the City, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Mamma Mia!, Role Models, 21, What Happens in Vegas, 27 Dresses, Baby Mama, and (lest we forget the film that looked like a question mark back when it was greenlit) Iron Man,

all deserve applause. They helped bolster the industry during tough

economic times — and they kept from suffering the same fate as major

flops like Speed Racer, The Love Guru, Meet Dave, and The Spirit, or expensive underachievers like The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, The Incredible Hulk, and The Mummy 3.

Suggested New Year’s resolution: Bring ticket prices and movie-making costs down, already! In this tough economic climate, doing that makes even more sense than ever — especially when, as 2008 showed, cheaper films can get the job done just fine.

Yes, overseas revenues continued to rise: In 2008, a total of $9.9 billion was spent on movies outside of the U.S. and Canada, up 4 percent from 2007. But, I wonder, at what cost? Grosses may increase but fewerand fewer moderately budgeted dramas (which rarely play well globally) are likely to get made.

Yes, The Dark Knight was a big winner, scoring the best opening weekend ofall time, becoming the second $500 million domestic grosser ever, andwinding up as the fourth movie in history to cross the $1 billion markworldwide. But our friends over at E! Online make a good point when they note that, looking at pure return on investment, something like Twilight(which nearly quintupled its $37 mil production budget in banking morethan $175 mil domestically) was a more impressive success than The Dark Knight(which cost possibly well in excess of $200 mil to make and market). Itlooks great when there are a lot of big grossers on the calendar, sure,but profitability definitely matters.

That’s why the year’s less-expected/less-heralded/less-flashy box office successes like Cloverfield, the Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana concert film, the dog flicks Beverly Hills Chihuahua and Marley and Me, Get Smart, Twilight, Sex and the City, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Mamma Mia!, Role Models, 21, What Happens in Vegas, 27 Dresses, Baby Mama, and (lest we forget the film that looked like a question mark back when it was greenlit) Iron Man,all deserve applause. They helped bolster the industry during tougheconomic times — and they kept from suffering the same fate as majorflops like Speed Racer, The Love Guru, Meet Dave, and The Spirit, or expensive underachievers like The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, The Incredible Hulk, and The Mummy 3.

Suggested New Year’s resolution: Bring ticket prices and movie-making costs down, already! In this tough economic climate, doing that makes even more sense than ever — especially when, as 2008 showed, cheaper films can get the job done just fine.