From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Madeleine Brand.

In California, Harry Potter's magic is working again. "The Half-Blood Prince," that's the sixth Harry Potter movie, opened this Wednesday with the best first-day ticket numbers of the series. It made more than $58 million on its first day.

(Soundbite of film, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince")

Mr. MICHAEL GAMBON (Actor): (As Professor Albus Dumbledore) You're the chosen one, Harry.

Ms. EMMA WATSON (Actress): (As Hermione Granger) You have to realize who you are.

Mr. GAMBON: (As Professor Albus Dumbledore) Without you would leave the fate of our world to chance.

BRAND: Wow, the boy wizard is an exception to the rule this summer. While the season started strong with movies like "Up," "Star Trek" and the latest "Transformers," this season is cooling down, and it's only July.

John Horn covers the movie industry for the Los Angeles Times. He's written about this trend. And I'm just wondering, we're in July, how badly are the box-office numbers doing?

Mr. JOHN HORN (Movie Reporter, Los Angeles Times): It's not that they're doing badly, it's that they're not doing nearly as well as they were at the beginning of the year. There are a lot of movies in the spring that did exceptionally well: "Paul Blart," "Taken," would be two good examples.

At a certain point, according to some estimates, the box office was running about 17 percent ahead of what it was a year ago, and now it's about 11 percent. So, it has cooled off dramatically.

BRAND: I thought the conventional wisdom has been that during a recession, people go to the movies. So, why aren't they?

Mr. HORN: Well, they are, they just aren't going as much as they did at the beginning of the year. And I think what's really changed is they're not going just out of habit anymore. I think the audience is asking a lot more of movies than they have in recent years. So, you look at a movie like Eddie Murphy's "Imagine That" or Will Ferrell's "Land of the Lost," I mean, those are movies that maybe three or four or five years ago might've worked. Let's go see the new Eddie Murphy family comedy.

And now, you have what the business calls complete concept rejection, where the movies don't even open. They don't even get any business on a Friday. So, I think the audience is becoming a little bit more picky and they're much more interested in what their friends are recommending than what critics are recommending.

BRAND: John, talk about marketing movies these days and what's changed, because it seems that marketing failed, almost, with "Bruno" because you couldn't walk two feet without seeing a "Bruno" ad, and yet, it's not doing as well as its backers had hoped.

Mr. HORN: The movie business is driven by two concepts. One is marketability, how much an audience is aware of a known franchise, you know, it's the next John Grisham book, it's the next Harry Potter movie, it's Spiderman. Do you know what it is before you go in? And the second one is playability, whether or not audiences come out of a theater recommending the movie to their friends, or that they enjoy seeing it.

And "Bruno" had a lot of marketability. I mean, "Borat" was a successful film. I think people knew who Sacha Baron Cohen was. And yet, when the movie opened on Friday, it was very obvious from looking at the numbers, that people came out of that movie, if not in the middle of it, and started texting or twittering their friends and telling them that it wasn't any good.

So, from Friday to Saturday, "Bruno" fell off 40 percent, which is just unheard of. So, what that says is that people came out of that movie and told their friends not to go see it. So, when movies are not recommended by their friends, they fall faster than they've ever fallen.

BRAND: So, John, that really puts a lot of pressure on movie studios, right?

Mr. HORN: Well, it puts pressure on them to make good movies, which seems like a strange idea. But as, you know, as little as two years ago, the studios, even if they had a turkey, they would know that they could maybe get two weeks of business before the stink really caught up to the film, and now they have 12 hours.

People will come out of a theater so quickly and share their opinions so fast. And that word will spread so virally, so quickly everywhere, that if a movie is bad, the audience will know it Friday night and the movie will be dead by Saturday.

BRAND: John Horn is a movie reporter for the Los Angeles Times. Thank you.

Mr. HORN: Thank you.

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