Hollywood's party isn't over

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A weak economy? The movie business will have none of it. The hot days of August have steamed up studios' summer films.

For the summer through August 5, the movie business is up 7% over last year in box office revenue to $2.206 billion, according to AC Nielsen EDI, which measures movie financial data. It is also 4% higher than 1999, the best summer movie season ever.

"Traditionally cheap entertainment is recession-proof," said Tom Borys, president of AC Nielsen EDI. "It has been an enormous hot streak."

Universal Studios' "American Pie 2" will add to the total pie of big summer sequel hits, which include "Jurassic Park 3," "Planet of the Apes" and "Rush Hour 2."

Movie marketing experts have been concerned that "Pie," an R-rated film, would have problems because it's teen-targeted-studios are now more carefully marketing teen films, considering congressional concerns over advertising to under-17 movie-goers.

Craig Murray, president of Craig Murray Productions, a Burbank, Calif.-based entertainment ad agency, said it was smart for the studio to start advertising early, especially before its "R" rating was delivered. "They went out early with ads that said `film not yet rated,"' he said. "By doing that you can run in more dayparts." Studio executives, however, say the tactic is common in the industry.

Unfortunately, other upcoming movies might not reach the similar revenue heights. This includes Paramount Pictures' "Rat Race" and Miramax Films' "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back." According to the HSX Research, the research division of game site Hollywood Stock Exchange, "Rat Race" is on course to post $52.8 million box office revenue total over four weeks. "Jay and Silent Bob" is estimated to hit a slightly more modest $56 million in box office receipts after four weeks.

SEQUEL SUMMER

In the last three weeks, a trio of big sequel movies blasted their way into U.S. movie-goers consciousness. "Jurassic Park 3" posted $50.7 million in box office revenue its opening weekend; "Planet of the Apes," grabbed $68.5 million; and "Rush Hour 2" came in with $67.4 million. "Usually August is a dumping ground for movies," said Mr. Murray. "This rewrites all the rules."

While movie marketing departments are key to getting the film "opened," the other half of the equation is a movie's "playability." This includes word-of-mouth marketing and other factors that help sell the movie beyond the traditional tactics of film marketing. This summer, few movies have had playability. "Nobody-except for [Dreamworks'] `Shrek'-has had a playable movie this year," said another movie marketing executive. "They open fast and then fade."

Movie marketing executives say fewer movies opening now through Labor Day look like they'll be blockbusters. But all this is planned. "This is typically a winding down of the season," said Mr. Borys. "I expect the business will contract. School kicks in soon and that forces down box office revenues."

The best of the lot appears to be Universal's older-skewing romantic World War II film, "Captain Corelli's Mandolin," which has a good chance at succeeding with women.

One movie marketing executive said film tracking data coming from the National Research Group, Los Angeles, has the movie posting a 10% "first choice" rating number among older women. "That's good," said the marketing executive. By comparison, "American Pie 2" posted a whopping 20% rating as "first choice" for among all movie-goers.

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