The record-breaking pace of 2009 came to a halt in March. A relatively modest slate of new releases led to a $646 million total for the month, which was down more than five percent from last year. Prior to March, January and February posted all time high grosses of over $1 billion and $769 million, respectively. On the strength of January and February, the first quarter of 2009 hit an all time high for the timeframe, coming in at $2.4 billion. Business was up over nine percent from the same period last year.
March was off a whopping 16 percent from February. That compares unfavorably to the February-to-March changes of recent years, which have ranged from large increases to slight decreases. For the decade, March 2009's gross ranked fifth behind 2007, 2002, 2004 and 2008, but, when ticket price inflation is factored, attendance was at a decade low.
Watchmen was the top-grossing picture of March at $103.8 million, paling compared to the leaders of March 2008 (Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who! at $118.8 million) and 2007 (300 at $176.5 million). The fate of March was largely pinned on Watchmen, which was always going to be a tough sell based on its non-mainstream source material, diffuse storyline, lack of heroes and other factors. Expectations were so unrealistically high that it was the sole new nationwide release for the first weekend of the month, and overall business suffered from that dearth of counter-programming.
Through March, the Top Four of calendar 2009 remained the same. With $142.6 million, Paul Blart: Mall Cop eked past Gran Torino to lead, and Taken and Slumdog Millionaire held onto third and fourth, respectively. Trailing those, Watchmen became the fifth picture of the year to cross $100 million.