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2008 Meltdown? Not for Movies

2008 Meltdown? Not for Movies

Scott Bowles, USA TODAY

LOS ANGELES — Nothing serves Hollywood better than a world on the brink.

Look at the year in film. War and a full-blown recession haven’t stopped moviegoers from plunking down $10 a ticket. Brisk business over the Christmas weekend pushed 2008 ticket sales to $9.5 billion — within striking distance of the record set last year of $9.6 billion.

Of course, rising ticket prices means that attendance remains relatively flat, and it could dip slightly from last year.

But given the economic climate, “you’d have to say that this has been a pretty good year. The movie business is a lot healthier than most industries,” says Gitesh Pandya of BoxOfficeGuru.com.

“It’s clichéd, but it’s true that movies do well when other things are going poorly,” Pandya says. “Movies are still relatively cheap compared to other forms of entertainment, and more importantly, they’re the best way for people to escape reality.”

That may explain why superheroes enjoyed unprecedented success at the cineplex. Comic-book adaptations raked in more than $1.2 billion this year — and that doesn’t include non-comic crime fighters such as Hancock, Indiana Jones and James Bond.

“The movies that are going to resonate most with people are the ones that reflect the times,” says Christopher Nolan, director of the Batman sequel The Dark Knight, the year’s biggest film at $530.9 million, the second-highest-grossing movie of all time.

“I think people want to see stories about good and evil,” he says, “and people trying to do the right thing.”

Whether audiences turn out in similar numbers next year, however, is in doubt. A strike by the Writers Guild this year rushed some movies into production or halted some pictures altogether.

On average, 600 movies hit theaters every year. Analysts and studio executives expect that number to drop 10% to 15% next year due to the strike.

“Normally the complaint is that we put out too many movies,” says Rob Moore, vice chairman of Paramount Pictures. “But with the writers going on strike, you’re going to see a real dropoff, especially in the last half of ’09.”

Moore says that will put more pressure on big movies to perform. “If you look at this Christmas, we had five big new movies, and they were very different,” he says. “If one movie didn’t do well, there were others to take up the slack. I think next year, you won’t have that safety net.”

A few movies have staked out Christmas Day 2009: Disney’s animated The Princess and the Frog, Alvin and the Chipmunks II, an untitled Hugh Grant-Sarah Jessica Parker comedy and an untitled comedy from writer/producer/director Nancy Meyers (Something’s Gotta Give).

Another question, even some executives admit, is the caliber of 2009’s movies.

Continued…