The box office dive of 2005 -- Joshua Rich looks at why film fans stayed away last year and whether they'll come back in 2006

By Joshua Rich
January 06, 2006 at 05:00 AM EST

Box office finger-pointing is so 2005, so we’ll try to refrain. Regardless of blame, however, there is no denying that the domestic theatrical movie business last year, well, sucked. And although certain late releases (like The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; Brokeback Mountain; and the surprisingly slow-starting King Kong) seem poised to reap riches in the new year, the final numbers underscore the sad truth that 2005 left little for Hollywood execs (or even Kong) to beat their chests about. With the slump confirmed, let’s review the lowlights — and a few glimmers of hope.

? With a cumulative box office gross of $8,945,298,267, the year ultimately finished down a huge 5.18 percent from 2004 — the largest year-to-year decline since 1985, according to Exhibitor Relations. (Remember: Bottom-line minders always expect annual increases, so any drop is bad news.)

? That grand total is the first yearly sum to come in under $9 billion since movies earned $8.35 billion back in 2001.

? Tickets sold in 2005: 1,410,930,326. Now, 1.4 billion may sound like a lot of viewers, but the fact is, 7.13 percent fewer people went to the movies than in 2004 (see graph). Attendance hasn’t been this low since 1997.

? Okay, there was some good news. Every Hollywood studio can boast of at least one $100 million grosser, with Fox taking the cake for distributing the No. 1 movie, Lucasfilm’s Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith, which made $380.3 million during the notoriously sluggish summer.

? Thanks to Revenge of the Sith and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, 2005 became the first year in which two movies earned more than $100 million on their three-day opening weekends.

? Wedding Crashers passed There’s Something About Mary to become the top R-rated comedy in two decades (if not ever, depending on how you classify Beverly Hills Cop), earning $209.2 million. What’s more, it was the only movie among the year’s top five based on an original idea.

? PG-13 movies dominated, with 14 filling the top 25 (versus six PGs, three Rs, and two Gs).

? 2005 marked the first time in three years that seven movies earned over $200 million…then again, it was also the first year in nearly a decade in which only 17 movies topped $100 million. (In 2004, 24 films achieved the feat.)

? It was a so-so year for art-house releases, but two indie labels enjoyed top 25 hits: Lionsgate’s Saw II earned $86.8 million, while Warner Independent Pictures’ March of the Penguins made $77.4 million. Times may have been bad, but at least we had those cute little fellas around to make us smile.

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