×

Brutal Box Office: Even Justin Bieber Can't Beat Avatar

It's been a brutal winter for the box office — year to date box office sales are down 23.8 percent and attendance is off 25 percent, according to Hollywood.com.

Much of January's declines are due to the weather — there's no doubt that blizzards across the Midwest and east kept moviegoers home. Some very tough comparisons to last year, when Fox's "Avatar" delivered week after week didn't help.

Justin Bieber
Gabriel Bouys | AFP | Getty Images
Justin Bieber

Can this weekend's offerings turn that downward trend around?

Hollywood's betting on big stars and a movie targeting every demographic. For teen and tween girls (and their patient parents) Paramount's releasing "Never Say Never," the 3-D Justin Bieber concert documentary.

For adults, Sony's counting on Adam Sandler — he's delivered 10 hits in 13 years — and Jennifer Anniston, who are staring in romantic comedy "Just Go with It." For teen boys, and the moviegoers of all ages who appreciate a good battle, "The Eagle" is from Universal's Focus features . Working in its favor: it's based on a popular kids action battle, and it stars Channing Tatum. For little kids and their families, Disney's got "Gnomeo and Juliet."

But even milder weather and this broad assortment of films won't be able to turn the box office around. Blame it on "Avatar" which held up remarkably well after launching in December, plus a number of surprise hits, like "Dear John" and "Valentine's Day." So this weekend, even if Bieber and Sandler deliver big audiences, the total box office will likely fall from last year. A year ago this coming weekend Fox's Avatar Grossed $23.6 million, nearly two months after it opened!

But a weak first quarter for Hollywood doesn't mean the box office is doomed. Last year the first quarter delivered huge numbers then the performance trailed off. This year we're likely to see the exact opposite. Analysts say they expect the box office to remain lower until we hit the second quarter. Then we'll see a much stronger slate than last year, and could very well end the year with a bigger box office than 2010, thanks in part to 50 percent more 3-D movies, which command a $2 to $3 premium per ticket.

Questions? Comments? MediaMoney@cnbc.com