Depp, Potter in 3-D Lead Hollywood Push for $11 Billion Year at Box Office

Jack Sparrow and Harry Potter in 3-D may lead to record movie-ticket sales for Hollywood studios and reverse last year’s 5.2 percent drop in attendance at the domestic box office.

Sales this year will likely reach $11 billion in the U.S. and Canada, surpassing the $10.6 billion mark set in 2009, box- office analysts and executives said. Studios are distributing a stronger slate, including at least 27 releases in 3-D, the most ever, they said.

Hollywood is looking to reclaim audiences after 2010 ended with almost two months of shrinking sales and attendance. Holiday fare, which included Warner Bros.’ “Yogi Bear” and Walt Disney Co.’s “Tron: Legacy,” failed to attract larger audiences. Higher ticket prices helped counter the drop, including the premium consumers paid to see 3-D movies.

“It’s all about content,” said Dan Fellman, president of domestic distribution at Time Warner Inc.’s Warner Bros., maker of the “Harry Potter” movies. “2011 gives us the opportunity to reach the $11 billion mark.”

Driving the forecasts are sequels to some of Hollywood’s most popular film series, including “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” set for release by Disney in May.

The first three “Pirates” movies, featuring Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow, generated $1.04 billion in sales in the U.S. and Canada for Burbank, California-based Disney, and $2.68 billion worldwide, according to researcher Box Office Mojo.

Along with the last “Harry Potter” film, Warner Bros. will release “Green Lantern,” with Ryan Reynolds as the D.C. Comics character, in 3-D. Viacom Inc.’s Paramount Pictures plans a third “Transformers” movie and Summit Entertainment LLC will come out with “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1,” the fourth picture based on the Stephenie Meyer books.

‘Hangover Sequel’

Warner Bros., based in Burbank, California, also will include a sequel to the 2009 comedy hit “The Hangover.” The original, made for about $35 million, generated $467.5 million globally, according to Box Office Mojo, based in Sherman Oaks, California.

The sales justified a sequel to the movie featuring Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms, Fellman said. “The Hangover 2,” filming in Thailand, also features the return of boxer Mike Tyson and will include a cameo by former President Bill Clinton.

“These are franchises that can sell $750 million to $1 billion worldwide,” said Jeff Bock, an analyst for box-office researcher Exhibitor Relations Co., based in Los Angeles. “If everything goes according to plan and all of these films retain their audiences, there will be record sales.”

3-D Prices

Attendance probably will rise as much as 4 percent to 1.4 billion tickets from an estimated 1.35 billion in 2010, said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Hollywood.com’s box-office division. That would put sales at or above $11 billion, versus last year’s $10.57 billion, he said.

Bock said attendance may rise as much as 10 percent, with sales increasing to as much as $12 billion.

Three-dimensional films have added to box-office totals without bringing more people to theaters, said Brandon Gray, president of Box Office Mojo. He estimates U.S. consumers paid an extra $600 million, or about $3 per ticket, for 3-D movies.

“It’s simply more money from fewer people,” Gray said. “It doesn’t draw crowds. It just seems to enhance movies that people want to see anyway.”

Films released during the just-ended holiday season drew 18 percent fewer viewers and generated 13 percent less revenue than 2009 entries that included “Avatar,” according to Hollywood.com.

Surprising Audiences

In addition to “Avatar,” the top-grossing movie of all time with $2.78 billion in worldwide sales, according to Box Office Mojo, studios reached a box-office record in 2009 with films including “The Blind Side” from Warner Bros., and “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” and “Star Trek,” both from Los Angeles-based Paramount. Attendance rose 5.9 percent to 1.42 billion tickets sold, according to Hollywood.com.

The most difficult challenge, Gray said, will be for studios to surprise audiences as they did in 2009 with “The Hangover” or “District 9,” a science-fiction thriller from Tokyo-based Sony Corp.’s film division.

Of the top 10 films last year, seven were sequels or remakes, according to Box Office Mojo’s rankings. At least nine summer 2011 releases will be sequels or remakes.

“I think there is a general sequel fatigue, but people see them anyway because there’s not much going on,” Gray said. “The question is, will there be other movies to compensate?”

To contact the reporter on this story: Michael White in Los Angeles at mwhite8@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Anthony Palazzo at apalazzo@bloomberg.net.

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