Box Office Booms In Bust Economy Business is booming at the nation's movie theaters. Revenue and ticket sales are each up about 10 percent over the first quarter of last year. Box office records have been smashed. Why are movies doing so well while so many people are doing so poorly?
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Box Office Booms In Bust Economy

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Box Office Booms In Bust Economy

Box Office Booms In Bust Economy

Box Office Booms In Bust Economy

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Business is booming at the nation's movie theaters. Revenue and ticket sales are each up about 10 percent over the first quarter of last year. Box office records have been smashed. Why are movies doing so well while so many people are doing so poorly?

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

A lot of people are burning fewer calories by sitting in movie theaters these days. Movie revenue and ticket sales are each up about 10 percent over this time last year. Box office records have been smashed and the latest installment in the "Fast and Furious" car crash franchise scored the biggest April opening of all time.

Nate DiMeo has some answers on why, when so many Americans are doing so poorly, movies are doing so well.

NATE DIMEO: It has to be escapism, right? People are worried about their jobs, tired of bad news. They want to forget about their troubles for a couple of hours. I mean, how else do you explain "Paul Blart: Mall Cop"?

(Soundbite of movie, "Paul Blart: Mall Cop")

Mr. KEVIN JAMES (Actor): (as Paul Blart) You're going to pull up, lift it forward, placing your right hand on your away hip thusly, giving the illusion that you have a gun. Of course, we both know you don't.

DIMEO: "Paul Blart" came out of nowhere. Jeff Bach is a box office analyst for the industry research firm Exhibitor Relations.

Mr. JEFF BACH (Box Office Analyst, Exhibitor Relations): It out grossed every comedy that was released in 2008. Talking about Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, Adam Sandler, Seth Rogan - these are the Hollywood heavyweights. And Kevin James' "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" out grosses all those films. I mean, it's remarkable.

DIMEO: And other movies, "Watchmen" and "Monsters vs. Aliens," the latest Tyler Perry "Madea" movie have done extremely well too, and all during a time when so many Americans are cutting back on spending. Patrick Corcoran of the National Association of Theater Owners says we shouldn't been surprised.

Mr. PATRICK CORCORAN (National Association of Theater Owners): We've seen over the years that the movie theater industry is recession resistant. In the last seven recession years since 1965, box office and admissions have both gone up in five of those.

DIMEO: He says he buys into the escapism explanation up to a point, and he will gladly tell you that movies are the cheapest form of entertainment outside the home, pointing to rising concert and sports ticket prices, to data on bowling and amusement parks and laser tag.

But he says there's something structural going on too. For the past two decades, there have basically been three movie seasons. There's the summer, when the fun, popcorn blockbusters come out; the holidays, when the Oscar aspirants come out; and right now, when the studios dump all their leftover junk.

But Corcoran says that seems to be changing.

Mr. CORCORAN: For years, we've been suggesting to our partners in distribution that any month in the year can be a big month for movies in the theater.

DIMEO: He says the studios have made some good decisions this year. Moving movies like "Watchmen" and the latest in the "Fast and Furious" franchise away from the crowded summer slate, and giving them and the theater owners a chance to make big money.

Mr. CORCORAN: And I think we're seeing that. This is the first billion-dollar January we've ever had.

DIMEO: Industry analyst Jeff Bach says that's great, don't get him wrong, but the box office tape doesn't tell the whole story. It turns out Raisinets aren't recession resistant.

Mr. BACH: The big studios right now are reaping the benefits. The theater owners are actually - the concessions where they make most of their money are down over 15 percent.

DIMEO: He says so far people will pay to escape but they're not willing to get shaken down at the popcorn counter. But we shouldn't worry about the theater owners. He says there's a decent chance the industry might break the $10 billion mark for the first time this year. That's a lot of ticket buyers with Milk Duds squirreled away in their pants.

For NPR News, I'm Nate DiMeo.

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