- Hollywood has more tricks in its bag than ever with digital 3-D and other new film tools. Yet as the images on screen get bigger and better, movie crowds keep shrinking - down to a 16-year low as 2011's film lineup fell well short of studios' record expectations.
Through New Year's Eve, projected domestic revenues for the year stand at $10.2 billion, down 3.5 percent from 2010's, according to box-office tracker Hollywood.com. Taking higher ticket prices into account, movie attendance is off even more, with an estimated 1.28 billion tickets sold, a 4.4 percent decline and the smallest movie audience since 1995, when admissions totaled 1.26 billion.
Just what has put the movie business in the dumps is anyone's guess - though safe bets include the tight economy, rising ticket prices, backlash against parades of sequels or remakes, and an almost-limitless inventory of portable and at-home gadgetry to occupy people's time.
The year got off to a dismal start with what could be called an "Avatar" hangover, when revenues lagged far behind 2010 receipts that had been inflated by the huge success of James Cameron's sci-fi sensation.
A solid summer lineup helped studios catch up to 2010, but ticket sales flattened again in the fall and have remained sluggish right into what was expected to be a terrific holiday season.
"There were a lot of high-profile movies that just ended up being a little less than were hoped for," said Chris Aronson, head of distribution for 20th Century Fox, whose sequel "Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked" has been part of an underachieving lineup of family films for the holidays. "The fall was pretty dismal. There just weren't any real breakaway, wide-appeal films."
Big franchises still are knocking it out of the park. "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2," the finale to J.K. Rowling's fantasy epic, was the year's biggest earner and the top-grossing film in the series at $381 million domestically and $1.3 billion worldwide.
"Transformers: Dark of the Moon" pulled in $352 million domestically and $1.1 billion worldwide, while "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1" has climbed to $271 million domestically and $650 million worldwide.
Other franchises did well in 2011 but came up short of their predecessors on the domestic front, among them "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides," "The Hangover Part II," "Kung Fu Panda 2," "Cars 2" and "X-Men: First Class."
Strong overseas business has helped make up for shrinking domestic revenues and declining DVD sales. But 2011 was the second-straight year that domestic attendance declined sharply, and audiences generally have been shrinking since 2002, when admissions hit a modern high of 1.6 billion.