Less money, mo’ problems: slump plagues Hollywood

Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s … a rising box office slump!

Yes, that’s right, these past few months marked the continuation of the summer box office slump. Over the past year, Hollywood has suffered a continuous loss in admissions sold to theaters. Despite several predicted blockbusters that opened during the summer months, fewer and fewer people are spending their time in an actual theater.

This past summer alone saw a 19-week slump, lifted briefly by the release of “Fantastic Four,” the story of four unwilling superheroes who stop the evil Dr. Doom.

The movie exceeded expectations when it opened at number one on the box office charts, grossing over $56 million in its first weekend. Its gross for the weekend was better than the same weekend’s totals in 2004.

Aside from this weekend reprieve, the rest of the summer continued in the slump despite the release of several much-anticipated movies.

The sixth and final Star Wars film opened in May and, despite the fact that it broke several records including the single day record previously held by “Shrek II,” it was still not enough to break the slump that has taken over Hollywood.

Other highly anticipated films, including Steven Spielberg’s “War of the Worlds” and “Batman Begins,” did not make enough money to equal the movies released during the same weekends in 2004.

As for the specific figures, revenues have been down 6.4 percent from 2004, according to an article on msnbc.com, dated June 29. In addition, admissions themselves are down 9.2 percent.

The biggest question on everyone’s mind is why audiences are not going to theaters.

One explanation is the DVD phenomenon and the fact that movies are available for purchase very soon after they leave the theaters. There is such a short span of time, that people are more prone to wait for the movie to be out on DVD or video, a cheaper way of seeing it, rather than paying the money to go to the theaters.

Another problem is that admission prices have risen too much over the past year and people simply do not want to pay so much. Prices are often upwards of $6.50 for matinees and up to $8 for shows after 6 p.m.

But what may be the biggest issue is the lack of originality in movies lately. So many films these days are remakes, sequels or former television shows.

According to Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations, a company that estimates ticket sale accounts, Hollywood seems to be trying to build on a previous concept that worked in previous years, rather than creating new and exciting ideas for movies. In an article for CNN Money online in May, Dergarabedian said that declines in audience levels has continued since 2002.

Films such as “House of Wax,” “Herbie: Fully Loaded” and “Bewitched” were made to recapture the magic they had on first release. Unfortunately, their box office results did not quite measure up to the hype.

For example, although the original “Herbie” movie managed to gross over $51 million in 1969, subsequent films grossed less, until the 2005 Lindsay Lohan film made only a little over $17 million a few weeks after its release on June 22.

In addition, according to the article on msnbc.com, movies are lacking the surprise and excitement of such hits as “Passion of the Christ” and “Fahrenheit 9/11” and audiences are not interested enough in the offerings this year.

But perhaps the problems of Hollywood can best be explained through a list comprised by Jeff Vice of the “Deseret Morning News” on June 26. I don’t think I could say it any better than through his Top 10 List of Lame Hollywood Excuses for the Box Office Slump. In descending order, they are:

10. The studios haven’t promoted their movies enough through TV advertisements.

9. Would-be audiences are still at home, trying to figure out what happened on that confusing “Lost” finale.

8. The studios haven’t promoted their movies enough through fast-food tie-ins.

7. Audiences are waiting until August, when they can beat the heat in theaters.

6. Industry-wide “Movies: Now Ben Affleck-free” campaign failed to generate business.

5. People didn’t have nearly enough sequels, prequels, remakes and horror movies to choose from.

4. A year later, audiences are still washing the taste of “White Chicks” out of their mouths.

3. People are just too upset about the Brad Pitt-Jennifer Aniston breakup to venture out.

2. Audiences figured out they could watch TV at home instead.

1. The media haven’t been reporting enough news on the Tom Cruise-Katie Holmes romance.

All in all, there are many reasons why people are not seeing movies in the theaters. All we can do is sit back on our couches in front of the television and hope that the next crop of movies are original Hollywood productions and not mere copycats.