- The Washington Times - Monday, September 2, 2002

LOS ANGELES (AP) Hollywood delivered a nice blend of big, dumb popcorn flicks and smarter-than-average summer fare, adding up to an all-time revenue high but falling short of a ticket-sales record.
By Labor Day, domestic ticket sales will have totaled about $3.15 billion since Memorial Day weekend, surpassing the record of $3.06 billion set last summer, according to box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations.
Factoring in higher ticket prices, movie admissions this summer are likely to come in slightly lower than last year's 542 million and well below the modern record of 589 million set in 1999, said Paul Dergarabedian, Exhibitor Relations president.
Summer 1999 benefited from a late-season surge as "The Sixth Sense" and "The Blair Witch Project" hit theaters.
This summer was more typical, with ticket sales fading in late July and August as audiences moved on to other preoccupations.
"I truly believe it's cultural. Our world changes by the seasons," said Tom Sherak, a partner in Revolution Films, which produced the summer hit "XXX." "School is starting, the weather changes and you start staying in more. The leaves change, and you just go into a different mode that affects what you do for leisure time."
Topping the summer bill was "Spider-Man," which smashed opening-weekend box-office records in early May and hit No. 5 on the all-time list with $404 million domestically.
"Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones" grossed $300 million, the first installment of George Lucas' sci-fi franchise that failed to become the year's biggest hit.
Beyond "Spider-Man" and "Star Wars," lowbrow comedies and explosive action pictures led the way, among them "Austin Powers in Goldmember," "Men in Black II," "Scooby-Doo," "Mr. Deeds" and "XXX."
Smarter, edgier films also clicked with audiences, with "Signs," "Minority Report," "The Bourne Identity" and "The Sum of All Fears" offering a good mix of action and quality.
"Road to Perdition" was the summer's class act, a critical and commercial success.
"It was a pretty high-quality summer," Mr. Dergarabedian said.
On the downside, Eddie Murphy delivered the season's biggest bomb, the sci-fi comedy "The Adventures of Pluto Nash." Al Pacino starred in one of early summer's sleeper successes, "Insomnia," but he tanked later with the Hollywood satire "Simone."
"My Big Fat Greek Wedding" proved the most out-of-the-blue sleeper hit in years, an independent film shot on a tiny $5 million budget that opened in limited release in April and continues to gather steam nearly five months later. The film, about a Greek-American woman's raucous nuptials, has a shot at topping $100 million.
"I've been in this business for 15 years, and it's the most amazing film I've worked on," said Rob Schwartz, head of distribution for IFC Films, which released "My Big Fat Greek Wedding." "The thing is, you could substitute almost any ethnicity, and it works. It could be an Italian wedding, a Jewish wedding. It speaks to everyone."
"Spider-Man" paced distributor Sony to a record year. In August, Sony shot past the $1.27 billion the studio grossed domestically in 1997, the previous annual revenue record by a studio.
Sony's total stood at $1.32 billion last weekend, and it could climb to $1.6 billion or more with the studio's fall lineup, which includes Eddie Murphy's "I Spy," Jennifer Lopez's "Maid in Manhattan," and Adam Sandler's "Punch-Drunk Love" and the animated "Adam Sandler's 8 Crazy Nights."
The studio's summer hits included "Men in Black II," "XXX" and Mr. Sandler's "Mr. Deeds."
"We started off great with 'Spider-Man' and ended great with 'XXX,' and we had a lot of fun in between," said Jeff Blake, Sony head of distribution.
The studio's big disappointment was "Stuart Little 2," which took in just $60 million, compared with $140 million for the 1999 original. It was part of a wave of family films that performed poorly amid a glut of wholesome fare.
"I guess there was just so much family product in the marketplace and pictures that played to families, like 'Spider-Man,'" said Chuck Viane, head of distribution for Disney, which scored a family hit with "Lilo & Stitch" but had disappointing returns for "The Country Bears." "There was a streak of three or four weeks there where family films were underperforming, and we got caught up in that."

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