Just two months into 2012, the year-to-date box office in North America is up some 17% from the comparable period last year ---a nice bump. According to Rentrak, the boxoffice for the year-to-date through Feb. 26 is $1.522 billion, compared with $1.296 billion in 2011 -- an increase of some $226 million.
Sony’s “The Vow,” from Screen Gems, is the top-grossing film so far with $104.4 million to date, followed by Universal’s “Safe House” with $99.4 million and Warner Bros.’ “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island” with $77.7 million – all three of which coincidentally opened on Feb. 10.
But the picture may not be as rosy as it appears.
What really boosted all these “up” weekends through Feb. 26 was 25 wide releases, compared with just 17 in 2011 during the same period. This year boasts eight more wide releases in the marketplace to date than last year, a marked 47% increase. With that many more films being released, if the boxoffice wasn’t up this year, the industry really would be in trouble.
This differentiation between the years and the higher number of films released in 2012 benefits exhibitors slightly more than it does distributors. More films in the marketplace has translated to higher attendance (as compared with 2011 so far) and more bodies in the seats, which generally translates to higher sales of popcorn and other concession sales, which go directly to exhibitors.
For distributors though, those eight extra films means eight more costly marketing campaigns and shorter stays in theaters for films that don’t perform, as theaters push out the older underperformers more quickly in order to make way for fresh meat.
The flip side for distribs is that those eight extra films do mean a larger box office pie for all. And as international markets expand, as more theaters are being built and opening around the globe, distributors have a large pipeline to fill.
Also good news: this early increase in box office and attendance primes the crucial moviegoing habit for audiences, which will hopefully spill over to films coming down the pike.
At the end of the first quarter, the picture of how this year stacks up against last year will become clearer. By then the number of wide releases will even out: by the end of the first quarter there will have been 34 wide releases in 2012, compared to 32 in 2011, as a lot of films were pushed into the market late in the first quarter of 2011.
Then we can compare apples to apples.