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Box Office Bomb: Hollywood Receipts Down 20% This Year

Mars may need moms, but theaters need audiences. Hollywood box office receipts for the first quarter are on track to be down more than 20 percent to $1.9 billion, according to Janney Capital Markets, paced by Disney’s “Mars Needs Moms,” which is pacing a whopping $63 million under expectations.

Along with “Mars”, Sony’s “Battle: Los Angeles,” Time Warner’s “Red Riding Hood” and the other key studio films — so-called Tent Poles — are underperforming their projections by $33 million, on average, according to Janney.

Hollywood
Hollywood

“The caliber of films were just not that great and the bad weather didn’t help either,” said Tony Wible, Janney Entertainment and Digital Media analyst. “The irony is that after no good movies in the first quarter, starting in April there will be almost one potential blockbuster released every week.”

This was expected to be a down quarter, with receipts falling 12 percent, according to Janney, but no one was expecting such a big miss, the analyst said. The weak start to the year puts that much more pressure on the upcoming slate to deliver.

Every weekend of the key movie season will see a potential $100 million-to-$200 million-plus film released. Among the highlights are Dimension Films’ “Scream 4,” opening mid-April, the next “Pirates” from Disney, Dreamworks’ “Kung Fu Panda 2” hitting theaters in May, and News Corp.’s “X-Men: First Class” and “Cars2” coming in June.

However, studios may have shot themselves in the foot by overloading the summer slate this year, leaving many quality movies unable to reach their potential as movie-goers move on to the next big thing, Wible said. The onus may end up being on smaller films to exceed expectations in order for studios to meet their numbers, he said.

And then, of course, there’s the quality of the films. “Mars Needs Moms,” “Red Riding Hood” and “Battle Los Angles” all got less than 40 percent positive reviews, according to web site RottenTomatoes.com, which aggregates professional reviews to calculate a standard numerical ranking of films. Below 60 percent positive reviews, makes the movie “rotten,” according to the site.

Barclays defended Disney after the “Moms” flop in a bullish note Wednesday. “The animated movie has underperformed expectations and cost an estimated $175 million to produce and market,” wrote Anthony DiClemente, Internet and media analyst. “However, the outlook for the remainder of the year is more favorable as comparisons ease. We are also encouraged by the release of “Pirates of the Caribbean 4” and “Cars 2” in theatres and by the release of “Tangled” and “Tron: Legacy” on DVD.”

If Disney is any barometer for the industry, critics and viewers better have a taste for sequels if studios are going to rebound from this dismal start to the year.

Interestingly enough, they'd better have a healthy appetite for popcorn as well, in order for the theater companies to make their numbers. Toward the end of their note, the folks at Janney point out that corn and sugar prices are up 85 percent and 55 percent over last year, respectively. They warn that could put a dent in concession margins for Cinemark and RegalEntertainment Group . For the last decade, those margins have run at an eye-popping 85 percent.

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Trader disclosure: On March 23, 2011, the following stocks and commodities mentioned or intended to be mentioned on CNBC’s "Fast Money" were owned by the "Fast Money" traders; Tim Seymour is long (AAPL); Tim Seymour is long (BAC); Tim Seymour is long (SBUX); Tim Seymour is long (TM); Tim Seymour’s firm is long (ANTO); Tim Seymour’s firm is long (NEM); Guy Adami owns (AGU); Guy Adami owns (C); Guy Adami owns (GS); Guy Adami owns (INTC); Guy Adami owns (BTU); Guy Adami owns (NUE); Guy Adami owns (MSFT); Steve Cortes is long (TM); Steve Cortes is long (GS); Steve Cortes is long (CSX); Steve Cortes is long (SDY); Steve Cortes is long (SO); Steve Cortes is long Crude Oil; Steve Cortes is short (F); Steve Cortes is short (BAC); Steve Cortes is short (UNP); Steve Cortes is short (SPY); Steve Cortes is short (DBA); Steve Cortes is short Natural Gas; Steve Cortes is short Wheat; Steve Cortes is short Soybeans; Steve Cortes is short Corn; Steve Cortes is short CAD/USD; Steve Cortes is short EUR/USD; Pete Najarian is long (AAPL); Pete Najarian is long (AAPL) call spreads; Pete Najarian is long (BAC) calls

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