Finally, a hot summer at the movies. After three years of declining sales, the box office has surged ahead of last year, thanks to a blistering season.
Oh, and a guy in a pirate costume. It's hard to overestimate the effect of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
, analysts and studio execs say. The Johnny Depp adventure has seized $358.5 million in U.S. ticket sales so far, and helped propel overall summer ticket sales above $2.84 billion, 6% ahead of last year.
And though it's unlikely Pirates
will eclipse Titanic
's record of $600 million at the box office, it should sail past $400 million, making it one of the five biggest movies ever.
"A movie like that becomes bigger than itself," says Rory Bruer, distribution chief for Sony Pictures. Competing studios reported that moviegoers who could not get into sold-out Pirates
theaters bought tickets for their films.
Despite the box-office rebound, there were still duds. Horror movies scared up pittances. Little films stayed small. And some costly pictures promised more than they could deliver.
"This summer has proven that less can be more," says Gitesh Pandya of boxofficeguru .com. "Movies that market themselves everywhere can turn audiences off. People want movies to speak for themselves."
Here, USA TODAY offers a summer box-office report card: Animation draws families Grade:
Parents and theater owners have been calling for more family-friendly movies for years, and Hollywood finally delivered in the form of cartoons. No fewer than a dozen are scheduled for this year.
And most are paying off, if not with the dividends of a Finding Nemo
or Shrek 2
. Take a look at the top 10 movies of 2006, and three are animated features. Cars has been the third-biggest film of summer and the year, raking in $234.8 million. And Monster House
shocked industry execs by handily beating Lady in the Water
in their opening weekends with $23 million.
Despite their often juvenile themes, animated movies are resonating at the box office with adults because they're not "parent punishers," says Don Harris, a vice president with Paramount.
"The really big movies draw families," he says. "And animation works because it's delivering on two levels: visually for the kids and story-wise with humor that works for adults."