Hoping to catch the movie "Twilight" at a theater near you when it opens next weekend? It might be wise to buy those tickets now.
Hundreds of showings nationwide have already sold out, according to online tickets sales site Fandango.com. The demand is setting box office expectations sky high for the adaptation of the first book in Stephenie Meyer's teen vampire romance series. The series has already sold more than 10 million copies, according to Bookscan.
"Twilight's" solid pre-opening sales, coupled with other surprisingly strong box office debuts, suggest that, despite the economic downturn, Americans are still plunking down their hard-earned cash to go to the movies.
Two weeks ago, "Madagascar 2" raked in $63 million its first weekend, and has continued to build on that solid opening box office, climbing to more than $100 million and counting. And last weekend, the hotly anticipated "Quantum of Solace" triggered a $70 million take -- the best opening yet for a Bond film, topping 2006's "Casino Royale" by 74 percent, according to Variety.
"People always look to the movies for a great escape," said Rick Butler, chief operating officer of Fandango.com. "There's nothing like a slew of good films to get moviegoers to the theater. And with a lineup like 'Madagascar 2,' 'Quantum' and 'Twilight,' we're looking at a lot of diverse choices for moviegoers this month, and what looks like a healthy November for the box office."
So what's driving ticket sales? "It's twofold," said BoxOfficeMojo.com president Brandon Gray. "First, you've got a solid lineup of films coming up, movies that audiences can get excited about. Because let's face it, if they're not interested in what's playing, they're not going to go."
"But also," Gray said, "while ticket prices have gone up, movies remain one of the cheapest entertainment events available. Especially when people need that escape to get their minds off things. Historically, during the Depression in the '30s and '40s, the movie business was booming. And 2002 is the modern peak for ticket sales, and that's just after 9/11."
So it seems, even though Americans are cutting back on eating out and traveling, movie ticket sales are expected to continue on their upward trajectory.
"Regardless of the recession that we're obviously in now, the box office is booming as people still want to escape and have fun at the multiplexes," said BoxOfficeGuru analyst Gitesh Pandya. "The right movies will always sell. In fact, I see last weekend's Top 2 movies grossing more than the entire Top 20 from a year ago, which shows that people are still opening their wallets and heading to the box office."
BoxOfficeMojo's Gray seconds that assessment.
"We're coming out of the highest-grossing fall since 2003," said Gray, who predicts a solid holiday season box office. "It's a 21 percent improvement over 2007, which means, yes, people are still going to the movies. This season is off to a good start with 'Madagascar' and 'Quantum' and 'Twilight' is expected to do a lot better than anyone would have thought six months ago."