The summer box office is an unforgiving battlefield. This year, the pre-season war cry was more aggressive than ever: 2007 would be the summer to beat all summers. Major worldwide releases such as Spider-Man 3, Shrek The Third, Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End and Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix ensured the international calendar was brimming with blockbuster product on a virtually weekly basis. But are too many blockbusters being released to take advantage of the market' Just how many films can a family see in one summer'
As of July 29, 12 weeks into the 17-week season, the US studios are breathing a sigh of relief. The six majors have certainly generated a record-breaking summer to date, taking $5.9bn at the worldwide box office - up 21% on the same period in 2006, 32% on 2005 and 17% on 2004.
Internationally, the major franchises have clocked up big numbers: Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End has taken $644.5m after 10 weeks; Spider-Man 3 is on $552.9m after 13 weeks; Shrek The Third at $398.6m after 11 weeks; and Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix is on a staggering $454m after just three weeks.
David Kornblum, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures International's vice-president of international theatrical distribution, suggests blockbuster bunching has had a positive impact on the international market.
"Rather than cannibalising each other, you have each film feeding on the other, regenerating the culture of film-going," he says.
Veronika Kwan-Rubinek, Warner Bros Pictures International's president of distribution, agrees: "The big question has really been, how many blockbusters can people see back-to-back'"
The answer seems to be a lot, in the international market at least. Most of the major hits have so far generated bigger numbers outside North America - Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End owes 67% of its total $951.3m takings to the international market, while Spider-Man 3 and Ocean's Thirteen can attribute 62% and 58% respectively. This may come as a surprise, particularly in Europe, where weather conditions have been unstable.
Box office defies weather forecast
Months of heavy rain in the UK and northern Europe and blistering heat in southern Europe have been an issue; the DVD market is thriving in the UK with retailers and online rental outfits reporting a surge in business this summer.
But Kwan-Rubinek suggests there is no evidence extreme weather has affected the theatrical business in any meaningful way. "Typically, you want to see your film taking 10%-20% of international gross from the UK, and Harry Potter has taken 17% while Ocean's Thirteen has taken 16%. Films such as Shrek and Spider-Man are also in that range," she says.
However, Andrew Cripps, president of Paramount Pictures International, argues the unseasonal rain has affected performance: "The weather has had a positive effect in the UK - it's up 12% year-on-year. And Germany has benefited as well.
"But last summer was an anomaly because of the football World Cup in the middle of June, which really depressed box office in a number of territories."
However, Cripps believes distributors may have missed a trick and there is room in the market for even more titles. "The female crowd has probably been under-served this summer," he admits. "Films such as Hairspray and Ratatouille seem to have been playing to women but there hasn't really been a film that's come out and played strongly to the female segment. Had there been some great counter-programming, another film could have fit in and done very well."
The Italian box office is enjoying an impressive summer, as sweltering audiences seek out air-conditioned multiplexes. In a territory which typically shuts down its cinemas during the summer months, Warner Bros took a chance and opened Harry Potter virtually day-and-date worldwide on June 11, including in Italy where it took a record-breaking $2.8m on its first day and $10.9m through its first weekend. To date, the film has taken $20.7m in Italy.
Disney's Kornblum says: "Potter sent a message to distributors that if you have the right movie, it could deliver (in Italy). That release saw a dovetailing of a highly anticipated fifth film in the franchise with the release of the seventh and final book."
With five weeks left in the summer season, has the box office already reached its peak'
"In a word, no," says Paul Hanneman, co-president of international theatrical distribution at Fox International. "There's still a lot of potential to make money here. We still haven't released The Simpsons Movie in six of the major 15 markets. And then you've got more anticipated sequels such as The Bourne Ultimatum and Rush Hour 3 to look out for. There's still a lot of potential."