Blockbusters Preceded Box Office Records

"It's the same thing in politics," he says. "We care more about the campaign advisers fighting with each other or their ad buys, rather than the candidates' farm policies."

For fans of box-office grosses, dazzling records keep coming — especially with New York City movie ticket prices crossing the $10 threshold, and federal statistics showing the cost of non-sports entertainment easily outpacing inflation. Nationally, the average movie ticket price in 2001 was $5.66, according to the MPAA.

This summer, with two blockbusters already in theaters and a highly anticipated slate of coming attractions that includes "Minority Report," "XXX," "Insomnia," "Scooby Doo," and new films in the Austin Powers, Men in Black and Stuart Little series, many are predicting a record-breaking summer at the box office.

Dergarabedian, for one, believes this season's revenues will exceed last summer's $3.06 billion record for the 15-week period from Memorial Day to Labor Day weekends — with successive hits feeding a positive buzz.

"The numbers when they come out, if they're huge, people talk about them," Dergarabedian says. "A big film just automatically has this glow that's attached to it and people automatically key off of that."

Star Wars: Box-Office Gold

The weekend performance of "Attack of the Clones" is another sign of a big summer, he says. The fact that "Clones'" Saturday gross receipts topped Thursday's opening-day figure — in contrast to 1999's "Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace" — indicates strong viewer word-of-mouth and a major hit.

"Even in this competitive marketplace, with 'Spider-Man' so clearly dominating the box office for the past few weeks, this shows that ['Star Wars' creator George] Lucas and the 'Star Wars' franchise are still very much alive and very relevant," Dergarabedian says.

Clones has a high standard to meet. "Gone With The Wind" sold the most tickets upon its 1939 release and numerous theatrical re-releases, but the original 1977 "Star Wars" is second. In fact, all four prior "Star Wars" films are listed among the top 20 for both all-time ticket sales and non-adjusted domestic grosses — a more commonly publicized list.

Boosted by inflation, that more ubiquitous list tilts toward newer releases, perhaps helping fuel the modern attention paid to box office grosses.


Some believe box office grosses entered the cultural mainstream after the debuts of Entertainment Tonight and similar shows, which reported them in the 1980s. Gradually, better technology allowed tracking companies to gather box office numbers more instantaneously, and the mainstream press picked them up.

"That started to happen, I would say, about eight to 10 years ago … because the numbers were available and the media likes to present things in terms of a horse race," says Harold Vogel, author of Entertainment Industry Economics, and head of Vogel Capital Management, a New York venture capital firm.

Others see roots of the box-office gross fascination in the mid-1970s, as films like 1975's "Jaws" and 1977's "Star Wars" ushered in the age of the modern-style, mega-marketed, multimedia blockbuster.

"Movies used to be their own business," Kaplan says. "Now they're part of a synergistic conglomerate where things that are in movies are also in books and toys and music and popular video games."

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