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Theaters' sales grow, setting another record

Wednesday, January 2, 2002

LOS ANGELES -- For Hollywood, 2001 was another year of record revenue, a time for the birth and rebirth of big film franchises and a period of soul-searching over violent action films after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Movie-ticket sales for 2001 will total an estimated $8.35 billion by the end of New Year's Eve, up from last year's record of $7.7 billion, according to box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations.

Factoring in an estimated 4 percent rise in average ticket prices, admissions were up about 5 percent, the first increase since 1998, said Paul Dergarabedian, Exhibitor Relations president.

Blockbusters such as "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," "Shrek" and "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" became instant franchises.

The next two years will bring parts two and three of "Harry Potter" and "Lord of the Rings," while "Harry Potter" could become an annual or near-annual franchise through all seven chapters of J.K. Rowling's fantasy series.

A "Shrek" sequel is in the works, along with another installment of the family espionage hit "Spy Kids." Other new films with followups planned include "The Fast and the Furious" and "Legally Blonde."

2001 saw its share of sequels, with "Rush Hour 2," "The Mummy Returns," "Jurassic Park III," "Dr. Dolittle 2" and "American Pie II." The industry's favorite serial killer returned in "Hannibal" after a 10-year absence since "The Silence of the Lambs."

Five top $200 million

A record five films topped the $200 million mark: "Harry Potter," "Shrek," "Monsters, Inc.", "Rush Hour 2" and "The Mummy Returns." "Lord of the Rings" could become the sixth film released in 2001 to hit that level.

Among the notable misses were "Scary Movie 2," which grossed less than half the $157 million the first film took in, and "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within," which bombed with a take of only $32 million.

Some major releases were postponed after the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, notably Arnold Schwarzenegger's terrorist-themed "Collateral Damage" and Tim Allen's "Big Trouble," a comedy whose plot includes a nuclear device on an airplane. Both films have been rescheduled for release in 2002.

Studio queasiness over how audiences would react to violent films after Sept. 11 has eased. In the months since then, violent movies such as "Training Day," "Don't Say a Word" and "Spy Game" performed well at the box office, softening worries about the action films and thrillers that are among Hollywood's mainstays.

"For a while there, you had to be concerned," said Nikki Rocco, head of distribution for Universal, which released "Spy Game." "Our job is to give audiences what they want, satisfying their needs. You had to sit back and ask, is this appropriate, because everybody's very depressed and we're at war. I think we've found everybody made the right decisions."


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