Hollywood's Summer Movie Season Breaks Records

This summer's movie season was the highest-grossing year in history, with box-office receipts totalling more than $4 billion.

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ALEX COHEN, host:

You may have had a slight case of deja vu at your local cineplex this summer. More pirates, another Spider-Man, attractive guys in designer suits knocking over a bunch of casinos - again. But all of those sequels and even a few original films added up to over $4 billion in box office receipts, which is an all-time record.

Here now to chat about that is NPR's Kim Masters.

Welcome, Kim.

KIM MASTERS: Thanks for having me.

COHEN: Kim, it's kind of surprising when you think about it; there is not really all that much that's new from Hollywood this summer, but there is this huge money. What's going on?

MASTERS: Well, apparently people had a very hearty appetite to see a lot of these sequels. They really went in droves to "Spider-Man 3," "Pirates of the Caribbean 3," "Shrek the Third."

COHEN: Third time's the charm.

MASTERS: "Harry Potter" whatever it was. Yeah. I will say it's a little bit of a Barry Bonds record, because it's not the biggest ticket sales. It's the biggest gross. But you know, asterisks now. It's not the greatest number of ticket sales.

COHEN: It seems like it wasn't all that long ago when everyone was saying that the movie theater experience was dead, that everyone's going to buy their, you know, flat screen TVs and get their movies on demand and their HD DVDs. But people are still going to the theater, it would seem.

MASTERS: Yes, I would say if that is going to happen one day, we certainly are not close to that day at this point as far as we can tell. It's hard to say in the digital world. But there was a phenomenon where people rushed out to see "Spider-Man 3" and gave it these enormous opening numbers.

And a lot of these frontloaded movies at the beginning of the summer, "Spider-Man," "Shrek," "Pirates," they opened enormously and then they burned out incredibly quickly, but they got to huge numbers, you know. "Pirates" took the summer with $959 million. "Spider-Man" is not far behind, I guess, with $890 million. "Shrek," 738. And that's not even counting "Transformers" and "Harry Potter." I can't even keep these movies straight in my head.

COHEN: And these numbers are international box office receipts.

MASTERS: Yes. Foreign was very, very important this summer. The domestic numbers, you know, on these movies, I really feel like if you look at some of these numbers, you know, they're not that huge, considering certainly how much those studios spent on the movies.

And clearly, I don't know anyone who loved "Spider-Man" or loved "Pirates"; people didn't go and see it again and again, you know? But they went and they all - they rushed in, and they made the numbers go up big enough. It's interesting though, I will say, if you look at something like "Pirates," the number one movie of the summer, there's this sort of discussion going on as to how much money Disney will actually make, because it cost over $300 million.

The profit participations of the stars and the director are enormous, so you're looking at the movie that grossed almost $1 billion and still having a conversation about the profitability. So you have to wonder at what point do the returns diminish to the point where you're saying if everyone of these has to be bigger and better than the last one, what the heck are we doing?

COHEN: Which brings me to, with the success of all these number threes, is 2008 going to be the year of "Pirate of the Caribbean" part four and "Spider-Man 4" and how many sequels can we take?

MASTERS: Well, they won't get there that quickly but they are talking about fours. And I think people are wondering if they're just talking, if they're really going to do it, if it's another "Spider-Man," would they have Tobey Maguire and Sam Raimi, the director, back at the cost that these people will impose? I think these are very good, scary, scary questions for the studios.

COHEN: NPR's Kim Masters, always an original, never rehashed. Thank you so much.

MASTERS: Thank you.

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