Hollywood's 2001 odyssey: record bucks, big franchises, fallout from terrorist attacks

Wednesday, January 2nd 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ For Hollywood, 2001 was a year of record revenue, a boom time for big film franchises, and a period of soul-searching over violent action films after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Movie-ticket sales for 2001 will total an estimated dlrs 8.35 billion by the end of New Year's Eve, up from last year's record of dlrs 7.7 billion, according to box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations.

Factoring in an estimated 4 percent rise in average ticket prices, admissions were up about 5 percent, the first increase since 1998, said Paul Dergarabedian, Exhibitor Relations president.

Blockbusters such as ``Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone,'' ``Shrek'' and ``The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring'' became instant franchises. The next two years will bring parts two and three of ``Harry Potter'' and ``Lord of the Rings,'' while ``Harry Potter'' could become an annual or near-annual franchise through all seven chapters of J.K. Rowling's fantasy series.

A ``Shrek'' sequel is in the works, along with another installment of the family espionage hit ``Spy Kids.'' Other new films with followups planned include ``The Fast and the Furious'' and ``Legally Blonde.''

2001 saw its share of sequels, with ``Rush Hour 2,'' ``The Mummy Returns,'' ``Jurassic Park III,'' ``Dr. Dolittle 2'' and ``American Pie II.'' The industry's favorite serial killer returned in ``Hannibal'' after a 10-year absence since ``The Silence of the Lambs.''

A record five films topped the dlrs 200 million mark: ``Harry Potter,'' ``Shrek,'' ``Monsters, Inc.'', ``Rush Hour 2'' and ``The Mummy Returns.'' ``Lord of the Rings'' could become the sixth film released in 2001 to hit that level.

Among the notable misses were ``Scary Movie 2,'' which grossed less than half the dlrs 157 million the first film took in, and ``Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within,'' which bombed with just dlrs 32 million.

Some major releases were postponed after the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, notably Arnold Schwarzenegger's terrorist-themed ``Collateral Damage'' and Tim Allen's ``Big Trouble,'' a comedy whose plot includes a nuclear device on an airplane. Both films have been rescheduled for release in 2002.

Studio queasiness over how audiences would react to violent films after Sept. 11 has eased. In the months since then, violent movies such as ``Training Day,'' ``Don't Say a Word'' and ``Spy Game'' performed well at the box office, softening worries about the action films and thrillers that are among Hollywood's mainstays.

``For a while there, you had to be concerned,'' said Nikki Rocco, head of distribution for Universal, which released ``Spy Game.'' ``Our job is to give audiences what they want, satisfying their needs. You had to sit back and ask, is this appropriate, because everybody's very depressed and we're at war. I think we've found everybody made the right decisions.''

Studios moved up release dates for two combat films that had been scheduled for 2002: ``Behind Enemy Lines'' and ``Black Hawk Down.''

Besides an all-time revenue year, the industry had a record summer on the strength of heavily promoted, widely distributed movies. Hollywood mastered the method of front-loading _ marketing films to ensure monster debuts and pack in as many viewers as possible in a movie's first few days.

A different box-office record seemed to fall almost every weekend, but few films had staying power. Movies such as ``Planet of the Apes,'' ``Pearl Harbor'' and ``Lara Croft: Tomb Raider'' opened huge, then nose-dived as grosses fell by 50 percent or more in subsequent weekends.

``People went to see things opening weekend, then migrated to the next big movie,'' said Dergarabedian. ``But regardless of how big those drops were, movies were making money so fast they were still big blockbusters. It's not a marathon to dlrs 200 million anymore. It's now a sprint.''

Only ``Shrek,'' ``Rush Hour 2'' and some smaller hits _ including ``The Others,'' ``The Princess Diaries,'' ``Memento'' and ``Legally Blonde'' _ held up well week after week.

Hollywood saved the biggest for last. ``Monsters, Inc.'' broke the record for best debut of an animated film in early November.

Opening the week before Thanksgiving, ``Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone'' destroyed most major box-office records, grossing dlrs 90.3 million in its first three days. The previous best was ``The Lost World: Jurassic Park'' at dlrs 72.1 million.

``Lord of the Rings'' swooped in a month later, topping dlrs 100 million in just over a week.

And Hollywood's outlook for 2002? Maybe even bigger.

The year will bring the next installments of ``Star Wars,'' ``Harry Potter,'' ``Lord of the Rings,'' ``Star Trek,'' ``Austin Powers,'' ``Men in Black,'' ``Stuart Little,'' ``Spy Kids'' and James Bond.