- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 16, 2005

LOS ANGELES — The parking’s easy, and there are no lines at the concession stand. Most Americans would rather watch films at home than in theaters, according to an Associated Press-AOL poll.

At the same time, more than two-thirds say movie stars are poor role models and almost half say films are getting worse.

Hollywood is in the midst of its longest box-office slump in 20 years, and 2005 is shaping up as the worst year for movie attendance in nearly a decade if theater business continues at the same lackluster rate.

In the poll released yesterday, 73 percent of adults said they preferred watching movies at home on DVD, videotape or pay-per-view.

With 69 percent saying movie stars are poor role models, it might take more than a blockbuster or two to reverse Hollywood’s slide.

Australian star Russell Crowe’s recent arrest for throwing a phone at a hotel employee is the latest in a long line of unflattering incidents involving major movie stars. Christian Slater faces charges he grabbed a woman’s buttocks in a New York City grocery; Winona Ryder was convicted of shoplifting in 2002; and Hugh Grant was caught in a car with a prostitute in the mid-1990s.

Movie stars don’t set a good example, said Earl Ledbetter, a movie fan who lives in Ventura, Calif.

“They just don’t have the morals,” he said. “They marry and divorce, sleep around a lot.”

Just 22 percent said they would rather see films in a theater, according to the poll conducted by Ipsos for the Associated Press and AOL News. One-fourth said they had not been to a movie theater in the past year.

“It’s cheaper. You can go rent a movie for three bucks. By the time, you’re done at the movie theater with sodas and stuff, it’s 20 bucks,” said Mark Gil, 34, a mortgage broker in Central Square, N.Y.

Films are getting worse, according 47 percent of respondents in the AP-AOL poll. One-third said they were getting better.

“I don’t like movies as much as I used to,” said Tracy Drane, 38, a technology worker who lives outside Dallas. “I’m a fan of old musicals and old AMC channel stuff. I could watch movies without thinking I’m going to see people in bed together and a lot of cussing. It has gotten much worse.”

Many of this year’s big films — “Kingdom of Heaven,” “The Honeymooners,” “XXX: State of the Union,” Mr. Crowe’s “Cinderella Man” — have fizzled.

Those in the poll were most likely to be fond of comedies, followed by dramas and action-adventure movies.

Some in Hollywood think the slump — 16 straight weekends of declining revenue compared with last year — is a momentary blip caused by lackluster movies. They say the box office will rebound when better films arrive.

Others view the slide as a sign that theaters are losing ground to home-entertainment options, particularly DVDs available months after films debut in theaters.

But the poll found that people who use DVDs, watch pay-per-view movies on cable, download movies from the Internet and play computer games actually go to movies in theaters more than people at the same income levels who don’t use those technologies. That suggests the technology might be complementing rather than competing with theatergoing. Eight in 10 said they use DVD players at home.

Through last weekend, Hollywood’s domestic revenues totaled $3.85 billion, down 6.4 percent from 2004. Factoring in higher ticket prices, the number of people who have gone to theaters is down 9 percent, according to box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations.

If that pace holds through year’s end, admissions for 2005 would total 1.345 billion, the lowest since 1996.

The wild card from 2004 was Mel Gibson’s unexpected blockbuster, “The Passion of the Christ.” That film drew a huge Christian audience, many of them not regular moviegoers. Taking “The Passion” out of the mix, 2005 revenue would be up 2.9 percent over 2004, and ticket sales would be virtually unchanged.

Even if theater business continues to erode, DVD profits could more than compensate Hollywood, a movie’s theatrical run becoming something of an extended trailer for the home-video release.

DVD sales and rentals totaled $21.2 billion in 2004, more than double the domestic revenues at movie theaters, according to the Digital Entertainment Group.

The poll of 1,000 adults was taken June 13 to 15 and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.

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