Hollywood eyes hotter late summer box offices

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With the July 4 holiday weekend over, the second half of the summer movie season is set to begin. And studios hope to boost sluggish box office sales with a slew of horror, thriller, sci-fi and action movies.

The first half, from the Memorial Day weekend through the start of the July 4 holiday period, was disappointing. According to AC Nielsen EDI, box office revenue fell 6% through June 25 to $774 million. Those figures don't count the big releases of the past weekend, "The Patriot" and "The Perfect Storm."

The success of last summer's blockbuster, "Star Wars: Episode One," is partly to blame. The event movie eventually pulled in a whopping $782 million in worldwide box office revenue.


But other factors are also at work. Several of this summer's big releases -- including "Me, Myself & Irene," "Shaft" and "The Patriot" -- carry R ratings, blocking the core teen filmgoing audience.

"The interesting story is the R-rated movies," said Peter Graves, a theatrical marketing consultant. "Perhaps part of the reason box office is down is because the audience for the summer is built on the availability on young audiences."

Several other films opening in the coming weeks, including "X-Men," "The Hollow Man" and "What Lies Beneath," don't carry R ratings and will try to reverse the trend. "Scary Movie," though R-rated, is also expected to draw big audiences.

Theatrical marketing analysts expect those flicks to produce healthy box office results, each pulling in $60 million to $100 million in their first four weekends. The biggest draw is expected to be "X-Men," based on the popular comic book series. Analysts expect the movie to pull in at least $100 million in its first month.


Initial "X-Men" ads are aimed at young men, who are most familiar with the comic book. But at least one studio marketing executive found fault in that strategy.

"This could hurt its box office results for those who don't know anything about `X-Men,' " the executive said. TV spots on the air now use quick cuts of action footage along with images of Patrick Stewart as Professor X and Ian McKellen as the evil Magneto.

With a steely, metallic-looking `X-Men' logo, Fox Filmed Entertainment, the marketer of the movie, seems to be looking to establish the film as the first in a series.

"It looks like they are trying to create another `Ghostbusters' or `Terminator' logo," said Chris Pula, a consultant and veteran theatrical marketing executive.


"Scary Movie" from Dimension Films, a unit of Miramax Films, is a parody of the "Scream" series, also produced by Dimension. Much of the marketing is built around that association, and industry executives expect the film to do well. Sony Film Entertainment's "The Hollow Man," which stars Kevin Bacon, is another teen-scream flick. But analysts note that past attempts to revive the "Invisible Man" concept have flopped.

DreamWorks Pictures' "What Lies Beneath" is about a professor investigating a ghostly murder, and the only wide release targeted to the demo most studios avoid in the summer. "We are the only film targeting women," said Terry Press, head of marketing at DreamWorks.

Ms. Press said the studio also is using a "concept" marketing approach to promote the film. Outdoor and print ads don't use images of stars Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer. Instead, they show a woman's hand draped over the edge of a bathtub with the tagline "He was the perfect husband until his one mistake followed them home."

"It looks like `Fatal Attraction' again," Mr. Pula said, "but they need to tell me why I should see it."

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