Hollywood Booms In January


Despite the deepening recession, Hollywood is bucking the trend and actually breaking records on the upside.

This January the domestic box office topped $1 Billion for the first time ever, up 19 percent from last January's $867.2 million.

And while higher ticket prices did help boost the box office, the real boost came from more attendance: ticket sales grew 16 percent this January over last year.

January is traditionally a weak time at the box office as kids head back to school, but this year Americans are looking for an escape and the films delivered. Clint Eastwood's "Gran Torino" from Warner Bros. (TWX) rolled out slowly, bringing in a total of $110 million. Sony/Columbia's (SNE) comedy "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" was a surprise hit, bringing in $83 million. And this past weekend Fox's kidnapping drama "Taken" brought in nearly $25 million, the second-best movie opening Super Bowl weekend ever.

Movies seem to be benefiting from the downturn, offering an affordable escape from the bad news. Yes, people complain about over-priced popcorn and increasingly expensive tickets, but movies are far more affordable than concerts or sporting events.

And the Academy Award nominations Jan. 22 seem to be giving the selected films a boost. "Slumdog Millionaire" brought in $7.7 million this past weekend after its 10 Oscar nominations shined a spotlight on its rags-to-riches drama. And even though "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’s box office performance had slowed dramatically, its 13 nominations helped drive $3.6 million of box office business this past weekend.

The fact that Hollywood is able to thrive through this rough economic period is even more reason why Hollywood should focus on making movies and not on labor conflict. With the Screen Actors Guild and the AMPTP (the producers association) sitting down for negotiations Tuesday, it seems like things are finally moving in the right direction.

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