Here in Hollywood, the land of false-front movie sets and business-has-never-been-better studio spin doctors, summer ticket sales are being summed up with a single word: blockbuster.
Ticket revenue in North America for the period between the first weekend in May and Labor Day totaled $4.71 billion, a 10.2 percent increase over the same period last year, according to analyst projections. Attendance rose 6.6 percent, to about 573 million. Higher ticket prices contributed to the rest of the growth.
But behind that rosy picture lurk some darker realities.
Ticket sales rose in part because Hollywood crammed an unusually large number of big-budget movies into the summer, a period that typically accounts for 40 percent of box office revenue. Studios released 23 films that cost $75 million and up (sometimes way up), 53 percent more than in the same period last year.
(Read more: Hollywood's summer rebound, revenue up 10 percent)
The audience fragmented as a result, leaving films like "The Wolverine" and "The Hangover Part III" wobbling when they should have been slam dunks.
"Turbo" the animated snail was squished, taking in $80 million at North American theaters — one of the smallest totals in DreamWorks Animation history. (Only the unfortunately titled "Flushed Away" from 2006 did worse.)
"We're very pleased with the overall strength of the summer," said John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theater Owners, "but there was almost too much product. Some of these individual movies would have made more money if studios had spread them out a little more."
Mr. Fithian noted that the $4.71 billion in total summer ticket sales represents a new high-water mark for the industry, not accounting for inflation, and the growth comes after several years of largely flat sales or declines.
It is not surprising that more films sold more overall tickets, but the total does demonstrate a resilience for cinema as competition for consumer attention continues to spike.
(Read more: Blockbuster busts: Big summer flicks in peril)
"To keep the exhibition business alive, we have to give people a darn good reason to put down all their electronics and get in their cars and get into theaters, and this summer we did it," said Nikki Rocco, president of distribution at Universal Pictures, which printed money with "Despicable Me 2" and "Fast & Furious 6," both of which took in roughly $800 million worldwide.
Still, appearances can be deceiving. "Pacific Rim," for instance, has taken in more than $400 million worldwide — no small feat. The picture's price tag, however, made it an everyone-or-nothing enterprise. Legendary Entertainment and Warner Brothers spent about $330 million to make and market the film, which could end its run in the red since theater owners take roughly 50 percent of ticket revenue.
With the notable exception of Paramount, which released just two films, "Star Trek Into Darkness" and the surprisingly successful "World War Z," every studio suffered at least one major dud. In many cases, big hits were offset by big flops.