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Big Brands Break Box Office Records

Monday, 13 Apr 2009 | 3:25 PM ET
Photo by Mick

This weekend's boffo box office sends Hollywood a message about what strategy to take and gives moviegoers a hint about what kind of films they can expect at their local multiplex.

Bottom line: movie going does seem to be recession resistant. And proven brands prove huge at the box office. Moviegoers aren't looking for new ideas, they're looking for familiarity, escapism and entertainment, and they don't care if films are redundant or derivative.

This was the biggest Easter weekend ever; so far this year the box office is up about 13 percent. Higher ticket prices are not the source of growth, admissions are up 12 percent this year. The spring is traditionally a weak time for movies, making this performance all the more striking. If this kind of numbers hold up this summer, a key movie going season, the biz could prove not just recession-resistant, but counter-cyclical, providing a bright spot to media conglomerates.

Disney's Hannah Montana led the charge, bringing in a much higher-than expected $34 million for the weekend. Fears that Miley Cyrus' risqué Vanity Fair photo shoot would hurt the brand were entirely unfounded. Tween girls turned out in droves. The film's audience was 79 percent female, with the majority of the audience age 2 to 17. This just the latest hit from Disney's 16 year old goldmine. Last year Cyrus' 3-D concert movie brought in $65 million in a limited run, and she also stars in a TV show and produces albums.

Meanwhile Universal's "Fast and Furious" topped the international box office, bringing the film's global total to over $200 million. At this rate, the film is well on its way to outperform the three other films in the franchise, and early in its run.

Studios must be taking note that R ratings are proving risky: only one of the top ten movies so far this year has been rated "R." Two R-rated comedies released this month have fallen flat, disappointing expectations. "Observe and Report" from Warner Bros. brought in just $11 million its opening weekend despite the draw of star Seth Rogan. And R-Rated "Adventureland" from Miramax, which opened two weekends ago, has brought in just $11 million so far. PG-13 seems to be the sweet spot

Still, this coming weekend expect R-Rated sequel Crank:High Voltage to deliver huge numbers from teen boys. It's a proven franchise with a relatively low budget. It may not be a mega-blockbuster, that's nearly impossible with an R rating, but the budget is small enough that the fan base should guarantee Lionsgate a strong return on investment.

Questions? Comments? MediaMoney@cnbc.com

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  • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.