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Summertime moviegoing takes a dip

Published: Thursday, Sept. 6 2012 4:30 p.m. MDT

Tadanobu Asano, left, and Taylor Kitsch in "Battleship."

Universal Pictures

This summer's movie season was considered underwhelming by the Hollywood community, with ticket sales dropping by 3 to 4 percent from last summer, depending on which trade publication or statistical-tracking website you believe (the numbers listed below are from Box Office Mojo at boxofficemojo.com).

True, “The Avengers” was a record-breaker and now tops the year’s moneymakers, and “Ted” was a surprisingly robust breakout comedy for an R-rated picture. In fact, eight of the year’s top 10 titles so far opened during the summer months, which, according to Hollywood Standard Time, is the period between the first of May and Labor Day weekend.

Attendance was down for the summer and so were box-office dollars — which, in this day and age of surcharge fees for 3-D, IMAX and D-Box showings, are not the same thing.

Part of the blame goes to 3-D admissions, which were down 17 percent domestically compared to summer 2011, a clear indication that some moviegoers have decided that it isn’t worth paying extra to watch a movie through those special glasses. (Although foreign audiences continue to love 3-D.)

But it’s apparent that people were doing other things over the summer, like watching the Olympics, having fun in the sun and perhaps even reading books. Or choosing the competition — all the usual electronic media suspects, ranging from your smartphone to the flat screen in your living room, which tend to be a lot cheaper and more convenient than going out to a theater (if not as aesthetically pleasing).

Some Hollywood insiders have suggested that the Aurora, Colo., tragedy — those shootings at a midnight premiere showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” — might have contributed to audience hesitations. But that seems unlikely, since “The Dark Knight Rises” is the No. 2 movie of the summer — and of the year so far — behind the unstoppable juggernaut that was “The Avengers.”

It could be as simple as the ripple effect sometimes caused by bad movies. Just as a good movie can motivate you to return to the theater, a bad movie — or two, or three — can steer you away from the movie listings for a while as you find yourself spending time and entertainment dollars elsewhere.

“Battleship,” “Total Recall,” “That’s My Boy,” “Rock of Ages,” “The Watch” and “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” were among the summer movies that performed well below expectations.

“Battleship” found redemption overseas, however.

The international movie market is taking on more and more importance as a revenue center for Hollywood product, especially as a way to ramp up the take for movies that disappoint domestically — that is, in North America, which includes box-office tallies in both the United States and Canada.

In worldwide terms, “Battleship” was a huge hit, although the other five listed above were still flops. However, foreign ticket sales did bolster a number of other stateside disappointments, such as “Dark Shadows” and “The Dictator.”

Of course, what measures a flop against a hit has a lot to do with each film’s budget. A movie that cost $250 million to produce, such as the widely (and unjustly in my view) vilified “John Carter,” would have to reach “Avengers”-level numbers just to go in the black. Although “John Carter” stalled at $73 million domestically, it has crossed the $200 million mark internationally — but that’s still not enough. It would need to earn at least double its budget to approach the break-even point, and that’s not going to happen. Even with home-video sales.

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