Copyright 2001 www.variety.com

[ December 25th 2001 ]

Box office is the measure of success weekend by weekend, but studio reputations are made with market share. For Warner Bros., it's been a banner year on both counts. Distrib finished tops in weekend B.O. for 11 frames, and Warners will take the domestic market share crown for 2001 - its first victory since 1993.

Disney, which was last year's top grosser and a frequent frontrunner, will finish no better than third this year. Through Dec. 16, Warners took in $1.11 billion from a total of 30 pics including two dozen 2001 releases to date. That repped a first-place 15% market share; Universal was in second place with 12%.

At year's end, Warners had Jim Carrey starrer "The Majestic" in theaters, plus "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" and "Ocean's Eleven" still going strong. In fact, Warners is gunning for Sony's record $1.259 billion of 1997. "Warner Bros. has a shot at the all-time number," says Dan Marks, exec veep at B.O. tracker ACNielsen EDI. "To do that, 'Harry Potter' will have to rev up for the holiday period - which it should."

Warners distrib topper Dan Fellman agrees - with a caveat. "As we get closer to the Christmas holidays, you'll get an indication of how well the existing movies held," he notes. Fellman credits a strong '01 release sked by production heads Alan Horn and Lorenzo DiBonaventura. "Our organization is only as good as the product that we sell," the distribution vet demurs.

Industrywide, it's a lock that '01 will set another new B.O. record, though it's less likely the year will manage to break the all-time admissions mark. There's still some suspense over whether this year will break the $8 billion mark in annual B.O. That would be a first, but it's likely receipts will have to climb even considerably higher if '01 is to break the 1998 admissions record of 1.44 billion tickets sold.

That's because the average ticket cost only $4.59 in '97 but should shake out somewhere around $5.60 when things are calculated at year's end. "If we exceed $8 billion for 2001 and the uptick in ticket prices is relatively modest, then we have a chance of breaking the 1998 admissions record," EDI's Marks says. "The $8 billion looks likely, and in any even we'll likely beat last year's 1.39 billion admissions." Industry B.O. totaled $7.46 billion in 2000, according to EDI data.

Execs at U, which nipped at the Mouse's heels down to the wire in last year's domestic market share race, were feeling good about their finishing a strong second once again. Distrib grossed $914.1 million domestically through Dec. 16 to No. 3 Disney's $854.2 (11.4%). "I'm extraordinarily pleased with the year we've had," U distrib boss Nikki Rocco says. "And on an average per-film, we're higher than (Warners)." Indeed, U's 22 pics -including 16 new releases - repped $41.5 million per title, roughly 13% higher than Warners average gross.

Meanwhile, it must be noted that B.O. isn't the only ingredient of theatrical success. It's also nice to turn a profit, and too often majors' feature divisions manage to do that only after getting ancillary income from homevid and TV distribution.

"The issue for us is not about market share, and we are consistently profitably on an annual basis," Paramount vice chairman Rob Friedman says. "Our focus is on profitability and making the movies that we believe are ready to be made and that we can focus our attention on --not only in their making but in their marketing." A fourth-place finish is most likely for Par this year. Distrib grossed $795 million through Dec. 16 - repping almost an 11% market share - courtesy of 16 pics, including 13 new releases that featured some surprisingly strong perfs.

Teen romancer "Save the Last Dance," which exceeded expectations both creatively and commercially, grossed a total of $89 million, and modestly budgeted suspenser "Along Came a Spider" delivered a highly profitable $74 million domestically. Such singles and doubles added to Par's home-run profitability from occasional tentpole releases like "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" ($131.2 million).

Sony marketing and distrib topper Jeff Blake also finds solace in the bottom line after a year in which the distrib ranks only mid-pack in market share. "We didn't have any of the high-profile blockbusters, but most of our pictures were profitable," Blake observes.

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