Monday, Jan. 5, 2009

Hollywood’s Happy Holiday

By David Luhrssen
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Every screening I saw over the holidays—and I went to many in a desperate scramble to keep up with year-end Oscar bait—was packed. And big box office wasn’t just happening in Milwaukee. Over the four-day holiday weekend alone, American moviegoers spent $236 million on the top 10 movies. A nice flick about a friendly dog, Marley & Me, was number one with $50.7 million in sales. A good old-fashioned World War II thriller, Valkyrie, chalked up $29.5 million, despite Tom Cruise and his eye patch. Curiously, the nearly three-hour Curious Case of Benjamin Button earned $38.7 million. Maybe people wanted to see Brad Pitt undergo a backwards aging process. And maybe Benjamin Button served as a meditation on the deathless theme of growing old.

It’s good news for Hollywood, which continues to compensate for the gradual decline in ticket sales with creeping inflation in ticket prices. And stop to think: in a year when reality knocked Wall Street off its too-high pedestal, when Madison Avenue struggled to sell products no one needs and Detroit faced oblivion, Hollywood continued to hold its own in an increasingly fragmented entertainment market.

Another lesson: When the masses go the movies, they want to be entertained (and spiking entertainment with provocation a la The Dark Knight is a good thing). Dreary Sundance interpersonal melodramas or starchy celluloid position papers were hard put to find audiences in 2008, the year when the funny money party ended and the hangover began.

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