One of the chapters in my book addresses the myth that fewer people are going to the movies. In fact, attendance has been relatively stable for the last few years, and with the exception of 2005, domestic grosses have increased steadily if incrementally for some time. This doesn’t mean that all sectors of film production are doing equally well, and in fact, the indie film market is in crisis mode, as Mark Gill and others have discussed. So far there are some conflicting numbers about 2008. John Horn of the LA Times sees a slight decrease in attendance in 2008 (paired with a narrow increase in total grosses), but he also points out that summer totals are actually slightly higher than last year.
Significantly, a number of people are citing high gas prices as a reason for the unexpectedly high box office totals this year. Anne Thompson sees higher gas prices as part of a “perfect storm” driving people back into theaters [pardon the unintentional pun]. But Paul Dergarabedian also cites high gas prices as a factor in the box office success of Get Smart last week in this LA Times article. I think there’s probably some truth to that speculation, especially given that families may be cutting back on vacations, although I’d imagine that in my case, gas prices have actually depressed my moviegoing habit. That and the fact that I’d have to drive an hour up to Raleigh to see anything that doesn’t have a fast-food tie-in.
Obviously I’m not convinced that gas prices are the primary factor here, but I’ve been intrigued to see that issue mentioned by a number of observers.
Update: While this Time article doesn’t directly make the correlation between gas prices and box office, it more or less predicts that box office would be higher than expected this summer, as does this MSNBC article from March. It’s worth noting, of course, that both publications belong to media conglomerates that also make movies. The Morning Call also has an article citing Dergarabedian on this connection.