Monday, September 6, 2004
Los Angeles Summer at movie theaters was a true underdog story for Michael Moore and a gang of dodgeball dimwits, who helped propel Hollywood to another season of record revenue, though the number of moviegoers fell slightly.
Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" became the first documentary to top the $100 million mark, while Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn's goofy comedy "Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story" was another surprise $100 million hit.
Teamed with such familiar favorites as "Shrek," "Spider-Man" and "Harry Potter" sequels, "Fahrenheit 9/11" and "Dodgeball" helped lift the industry to an all-time summer haul of just under $4 billion from the first weekend in May through the Labor Day weekend, according to box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations.
That's up 3 percent from the previous record of $3.9 billion set last summer.
But like summer 2003, higher admission prices meant fewer tickets were sold. Exhibitor Relations estimates moviegoers bought 637.8 million tickets domestically this past summer, down 0.76 percent from 2003.
"What this summer on balance taught us, I think, is people were reasonably satisfied," said Marc Shmuger, vice chairman at Universal Pictures, which had hits with "The Bourne Supremacy" and "Van Helsing" and a flop with "Thunderbirds." "I don't think they were extraordinarily satisfied, but you know what? At the end of the day, reasonably satisfied's not a terrible report card."
The sequels "Shrek 2," "Spider-Man 2" and "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" took the win, place and show spots at the box office, with other follow-ups such as "The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement" performing well.
"Shrek 2," reuniting the voice cast of Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz and Eddie Murphy, raced past 2003's smash "Finding Nemo" to become the top-grossing animated movie ever at $436.7 million.
"Spider-Man 2," a reunion for director Sam Raimi and stars Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst and James Franco, came up short of the $404 million gross of the 2002 original, but the sequel still made a fortune at $370 million. It should finish a bit ahead of "The Passion of the Christ" as the year's No. 2 hit so far.
Likewise, "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" fell shy of the box-office spells weaved by its two predecessors, but the movie's $247 million gross bodes well for the franchise, whose next installment is due out next year.
Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" was unlike any other summer hit. Its $118 million domestic total was six times that of the previous record holder among feature-length documentaries, Moore's "Bowling for Columbine."
An alternately humorous and horrifying diatribe against President Bush and his actions regarding the 9-11 attacks, "Fahrenheit 9/11" blends Moore's cheeky wit with sobering images from Iraq and interviews with those affected by the war.
"We said from the get-go 'Fahrenheit' was not just informative but also broadly entertaining," said Tom Ortenberg, president of Lions Gate Films, one of the film's distributors. "We've always felt it was the combination of those two things that made it connect with audiences across the country."
Summer regular Will Smith scored another success with "I, Robot," which joined Dennis Quaid's "The Day After Tomorrow," Brad Pitt's "Troy" and M. Night Shyamalan's "The Village" to round out the season's $100 million hit parade.
Other solid earners included Tom Cruise's "Collateral," Will Ferrell's "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy" and the teary sleeper "The Notebook."