Summer flicks chase 'gray dollar'

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From the industry that brought us "White Chicks"-a cross-dressing, cross-ethnic-switcheroo comedy littered with thongs and pantyhose jokes-comes a string of thought-provoking, sophisticated summer fare aimed at people who've outgrown acne and Ashlee Simpson.

Though Hollywood is hardly abandoning the heavy-moviegoing teen set, studio executives have learned, this year in particular, that the over-25 audience is increasingly viable. The number of older moviegoers increased this August compared to last year, according to proprietary research from Regal CineMedia, the in-house marketing and ad sales arm of the largest theater chain, Regal Cinemas. Adults age 18 to 49 made up 69% of the audience in August '04, up from 59% in '03 and adults age 25 to 49 increased to 49% of the total in August '04 from 42% in '03.

Movies such as Lion's Gate's "Fahrenheit 9/11" and "Open Water"; New Line's "The Notebook"; Universal's "The Bourne Supremacy"; Paramount's "The Manchurian Candidate"; Warner Bros.' "Troy"; and DreamWorks' "Collateral," moreover, showed that summer isn't just for mindless action thrillers and goofball comedies.

more patience

"We had a more diversified summer than usual," says Russell Schwartz, New Line's president-marketing. "That shows that we're all recognizing the power of the gray dollar." More than 50% of the movie's business happened mid-week, which points to an older fan, says Schwartz. Mid-week attendance usually hovers around 25% but can increase to as much as 40% in summer.

Marketing an adult-targeted movie takes more patience, Schwartz says, because the audience may be less inclined to show up opening weekend. The studio refreshed the "Notebook" campaign every three weeks to keep stoking interest and released the film on 2,200 rather than 3,000-plus screens to keep theaters relatively full and movie chains supportive. "We adjust our marketing and release plans with this audience in mind," he says.

The male-female split shifted from July to August, says Doug Pulick, Regal's VP-research. Audiences in July were evenly divided-male to female. In August, 55% of the Regal movie audience was female..

Older moviegoers can propel a film to a longer life. Where younger-skewing fare like "Exorcist: The Beginning" and "Alien vs. Predator" drop some 60% from week to week in box office receipts, films like "Collateral," "Open Water" and "Garden State" decrease at a significantly slower rate. "Collateral," "The Bourne Supremacy" and "The Manchurian Candidate" have maintained their top-10 status throughout most or all of August, according to Regal's statistics.

The fourth quarter, especially holiday time, has been considered prime real estate for serious movies, and studios often save their Oscar-caliber films for late in the year. But Universal Pictures parked its high-profile franchise "The Bourne Identity" and "The Bourne Supremacy," in summer, and released "Seabiscuit" last summer, even though a few years ago these movies would've been considered strictly fourth-quarter fare.

"The success of certain movies in this period has made it easier for studios to rethink the old strategy," says Adam Fogelson, Universal's president-marketing. "And the massive amounts of product being released has forced people to rethink it. The grown-up season is year-round now."

"The Bourne Supremacy," like its predecessor, based on a Robert Ludlum novel, opened in July with a whopping $52.5 million gross. Fogelson credits a broad audience but also said the over-25 moviegoer was "a substantial component" of the box office.

"It's a misperception that only people under 25 go to the movies," Fogelson said. "People over 30 go a lot, and we take that very seriously."

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