Hollywood is having its hottest summer ever, fueled by nearly $400 million from "Star Wars The Phantom Menace" and five other films that have blown past the coveted $100 million mark domestically.
Since mid-May, the summer box office stands at more than $1.6 billion, up 7 percent over last year, according to Reel Source Inc., which charts box-office returns.
Especially striking is that the studios have released about a dozen fewer films this summer than last meaning that the average per-film gross is considerably higher than in 1998.
"This should be another record year without a doubt," said Robert Bucksbaum, president of Reel Source. "There is so much diversity in the marketplace. The first part of the summer was comedy or sci-fi for the teens. Now there are more films coming out for adults and young adults. It's become a summer for everybody."
Among the major hits is Twentieth Century Fox's "Star Wars" sequel, which could end up grossing more than $450 million by the end of the season. Others are the unstoppable Adam Sandler and his comedy "Big Daddy" for Sony Entertainment Pictures, at nearly $140 million, and Universal Studios' "The Mummy," at more than $150 million. New Line Cinema's "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me" has grossed nearly $200 million, while Walt Disney Co. returned to animation success with "Tarzan," which has swung into the theaters with nearly $140 million.
Even Warner Bros.' disappointing "Wild Wild West," with a bloated budget believed to be in excess of $150 million, looks likely to break the $100 million mark. So far, it is at $85 million.
At mid-summer, certain trends have surfaced.
Gone are action films like last year's "Godzilla," Sony's disappointing big-budget yarn, and Warner's "The Avengers."
Replacing them are teen-oriented films, especially gross-out comedies like "South Park," which has generated more than $45 million for Paramount Pictures but cost less that $10 million to make.
Teen power could play a big role in the success of one micro-budgeted independent film. Artisan's teen-oriented horror movie "The Blair Witch Project," which cost just $60,000 to make, grossed $1.5 million at 27 theaters during its first week giving it a staggering $56,000 per-screen average. The film was released nationwide last weekend.
"The audience is getting younger," said Tom Sherak, chairman of Fox's domestic film group. "By 2002 and 2003, there will be more teens than ever in the history of America. Those teens are buyers, and they have tastes that need to be fulfilled."
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