Box-Office Receipts Continue to Lag Last Year's Results - TheStreet

Box-Office Receipts Continue to Lag Last Year's Results

The summer of 2000 will likely be the first in three years that doesn't set an industry record.
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Not even megastar Jim Carrey could prevent another big year-over-year drop in preliminary box-office receipts over the past three days, an ominous sign as the industry heads into what is usually one of the highest-grossing weekends of the year.

Despite the fact that Carrey's gross-out comedy

Me, Myself & Irene

, which was released by

Fox Entertainment Group's

(FOX) - Get Report

film unit, grossed a solid $24.2 million to lead the pack, the total box-office figure came in at $107 million, down 20% from the $133.2 million over the same weekend last year.

The weak weekend marks the third consecutive one in which the box-office gross failed to match the previous year's performance. In fact, the previous two weekends fell short of year-ago numbers by 18% and 19% respectively, according to

The Hollywood Reporter

, an industry trade publication.

The weakness of the early summer period has also cut into the overall growth in box-office revenues for the year. Heading into June, overall grosses were about 10% higher in 2000 vs. 1999. Now that lead has dropped to 6%, said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracking firm

Exhibitor Relations

in Los Angeles.

The main driver of the shortfall is the fact that the industry is competing against a record summer that included the release of one of the biggest blockbusters of all time,

Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace

, over Memorial Day weekend, which not only created a lot of momentum for the industry but also delayed the release of several big releases last year, including the Adam Sandler comedy

Big Daddy

, Dergarabedian said. On the same weekend a year ago,

Big Daddy

opened to $41 million in box-office sales.

In fact, Dergarabedian noted that all five of the highest-grossing films over the same weekend in 1999 grossed more than $14 million. This year, only

Irene

and closely held

Dreamworks'

animated release

Chicken Run

, which grossed $17.2 million, topped that number.

The poor overall performance of the last several weeks raises the stakes for the Fourth of July, and this weekend may mark a breather for tough year-over-year comparisons.

Last year,

Wild Wild West

and

South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut

opened to solid but not spectacular numbers. This week, the big releases include two highly anticipated films:

Time Warner

(TWX)

unit

Warner Bros.'

The Perfect Storm

, a true-life adventure based on a best-selling book, and

Sony's

(SNE) - Get Report

The Patriot

, starring reliable box-office performer Mel Gibson. Toss in the family film

The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle

, which is being released by

Seagram

(VO) - Get Report

unit

Universal Studios

, and this weekend should surpass last year, Dergarabedian said.

This year's Fourth of July weekend is a day longer than last year's because July 4 falls on a Tuesday. Last year, it fell on a Sunday. That extra day should help prevent

Patriot

and

Storm

, both targeting a mostly male audience, from cutting into each other's performance.

"Time is on the side of these films," Dergarabedian said.

That said, the summer of 2000 will likely be the first in three years that doesn't set an industry record, he noted. Box-office receipts heading into this past weekend were only around 1% higher over last year in the period since Memorial Day, the traditional kickoff to the summer movie season. Beyond the staggering success of

Star Wars: Episode One

, the summer of 1999 got a huge boost at the end of July with the surprise success of the thrillers

The Blair Witch Project

and

The Sixth Sense

, which Dergarabedian said accounted for some $310 million by Labor Day.

"It is going to be hard to replicate that kind of success at the end of the summer," he said. While there are some promising films in the pipeline toward the end of summer, it is difficult to find one, let alone two, that will produce the kind of grosses that

Walt Disney's

(DIS) - Get Report

Sense

and privately held

Artisan Entertainment's

Blair Witch

netted.

"But then again," Dergabedian noted, "if you had asked me last year at this time, I wouldn't have been able to predict

Sixth Sense

either."