PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- Average movie ticket prices are hovering around $8 in the U.S. this summer, and never has a summer movie audience paid so much for so little.
The average $7.96 audiences are paying for tickets is actually down from $8.13 last year, but flat compared with 2012's price and up from $6.21 a decade ago. Meanwhile, through the first six months of the year, the movie industry is on pace for its eighth box office downturn in the past decade thanks to a nearly lifeless summer movie slate of sequels and retreads.
Since 2004, the biggest film of the summer has typically brought in $400 million or more in the U.S. -- hitting a lull with Sony's Spider-Man 3 ($336.5 million) in 2007 and peaking with Disney's The Avengers ($623 million) in 2012. That big-ticket savior may not be coming this summer. This season's biggest film, Fox's X-Men: Days Of Future Past was the first film to break $200 million and sat just above it at $220 million going into last weekend. Sony's The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Warner Brothers' Godzilla and Disney's Maleficent all failed to crack $200 million a month after their release, while only eight films total broke $100 million. By this time last year, four films -- (Iron Man 3, Fast & Furious 6, Star Trek Into Darkness and Man of Steel -- had made more than $200 million.
By this time last summer, six of the seven top-grossing films of the season had already been released (Despicable Me 2 opened on July 3). From No. 7 World War Z ($202.3 million) to No. 1 Iron Man 3 ($409 million), all cleared that $200 million mark that this year's films not featuring X-Men are struggling to reach.
BoxOfficeMojo notes that this not only puts the movie industry behind last year's $10.6 billion pace, but nearly 13% off it. Hopes are high for Paramount's latest Transformers sequel after this weekend's nine-figure performance, but there are few blockbusters left in the pipeline after the Fourth of July. Disney's Guardians Of The Galaxy is uncharted comic book territory, while Paramount's latest Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot follows a 2007 Warner Brothers installment that made just $54 million in theaters.
Industry folks point to Warner Brothers' The Hobbit and Lions Gate's Hunger Games franchises as the great hope of 2014, but the latest films in those series don't release until after summer and won't do much to rejuvenate a season that's supposed to be Hollywood's biggest seller. So what's gone wrong? Basically, it's too many films aimed at too many people.
In the summer of 1994, there were only 80 films released. Last summer, studios dumped 232 movies into theaters seeking maximum revenue. That same year, only seven of the Top 20 movies of the year fell into the PG-13 category, with five more rated G or PG. Last year a dozen of the Top 20 movies were rated PG-13, with six rated PG.
That younger, broader audience is being charged more, too. The average movie ticket has nearly doubled from $4.14 in 1993 to $8.13 just last year. That's more than $2 ahead of the rate of inflation and is a poor disguise for the the ticket prices of around $20 fans have shelled out for 3-D and IMAX showings in certain markets. It also does a bad job of hiding the fact that, despite box office receipts jumping to $10.9 billion from $5.1 billion during that span, the number of people actually going to the movies is dwindling.
Sure, the 1.34 billion tickets sold last year looks great compared with the 1.24 billion sold in 1993. But the number of movie tickets sold in the U.S. has slid steeply since peaking at 1.58 billion. Last year's total is roughly the same as the amount of tickets theaters sold in 1996.