Pirates, Penguins and Potboilers Rule the Box Office

Blue Sky Studios/20th Century Fox
Diego, the saber-toothed tiger, and Sid the Sloth in the animated film “Ice Age: The Meltdown.”

By David M. Halbfinger
The New York Times
Published: January 2, 2007

LOS ANGELES, Jan. 1 — A year after Hollywood rediscovered weighty political and social issues in movies like "Syriana," "Crash" and "Brokeback Mountain," the box office story of 2006 was that moviegoers finally said, “Enough.”

Peter Mountain/Walt Disney Pictures
Johnny Depp in “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.”

They showed no appetite for a critique of their eating habits in "Fast Food Nation." They weren’t ready to fly along on "United 93" no matter how skilled its exposé of homeland insecurity. They didn’t care to see combat or suffer its after-effects in "Flags of Our Fathers." And even Leonardo DiCaprio couldn’t interest them in touring the ravaged Africa of "Blood Diamond."

While Al Gore's prophecies in "An Inconvenient Truth" produced a respectable $24 million for Paramount, it was the message-movie exception that proved the rule. The big money was to be made making people laugh, cry and squeeze their dates’ arms — not think.

“What worked was classic, get-away-from-it-all entertainment,” said Rob Moore, Paramount’s marketing and distribution chief. “What didn’t was things that were more challenging and esoteric.”

Comedy, animation and adventure, all with a PG-13 rating or tamer — and for young adults, R-rated horror flicks — were the escapist recipe for success.

Reminding moviegoers of what was on the news, and in an election year at that, only turned them off. (Unless it was on the news nine years ago, as in "The Queen".)

While Disney’s "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" set a new opening-weekend record and topped the box office tables with $423 million, the winner among studios was Sony Pictures, which said it would end the year with nearly $1.7 billion domestically — besting its own industry record — and $3.3 billion overseas.
http://www.nytimes.com/