2010 Box Office Stumbles in May
After record-breaking grosses through April, 2010 hit a wall in May, which turned out to be one of the weakest starts to a summer movie season in recent years.

Overall business came in at $905 million, which was down 11 percent from May 2009 and nearly five percent from May 2008. May 2010 ranked as the seventh highest-grossing May on record, following the all-time highest-grossing January, March and April as well as the second-highest February earlier this year.

But May 2010 traffic was even slower than the gross suggested. With an estimated 110 million tickets sold, last month was the least-attended May since 2001, and ticket sales were off 19 percent from May 2009 and nearly as much from May 2008 and 2007. To be fair, though, May 2009 squeezed five complete weekends into the calendar month, giving it a slight advantage over May 2010. However, May 2010 was down nearly 24 percent from May 2004, the last time the dates and days of the week had the same alignment.

Now, not every month is going to be a record breaker nor has to be in order to be bustling or solid, but May 2010's drop-off was so steep and its estimated attendance so far below the norm of the past eight years that it was alarming. The upshot is a reaffirmation that the box office is product-driven for the most part. That's a positive sign: many people rejected or were indifferent to the current crop of movies, and that can be remedied in the future through the production of more compelling fare.

With lackluster movies and marketing campaigns, it was as if Hollywood rested on its laurels and took the audience for granted in May (the recent writers' strike has received some blame for the slate, but that still doesn't explain the poor marketing, and there still were big movies). Iron Man 2 held the most promise from the outset, given how well received the first movie was, but it has behaved like a normal sequel instead of taking off like a Dark Knight or Pirates of the Caribbean. It was by far the top draw of the month with $279.7 million, but it sputtered out rapidly. It didn't fly higher because it didn't up the ante, and the advertising lazily just announced that Iron Man was back with more of the same, instead of actually selling the new movie.

The same criticism can be leveled at Shrek Forever After, which was already at a disadvantage to begin with after the reception to Shrek the Third, and Sex and the City 2, which was also at a disadvantage given how relationship comedy sequels tend to play, while Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time's advertising lacked clarity and pushed the release date before convincing people to see the movie in the first place. Robin Hood took a more consistent approach, coming off as the long-awaited follow-up to Gladiator, and it had the best performance relative to its genre, though it was far from a blockbuster.

May 2010 was essentially a rerun of past Mays: there was Iron Man and Sex and the City from 2008, Shrek from 2007, 2004 and 2001, a historical battle epic (Robin Hood) like in 2005, 2004 and 2000, and a supernatural adventure (Prince of Persia) like in 2008, 2007, etc. Hollywood is mostly about sequels, adaptations, remakes and bandwagons, encouraged by audiences frequently lapping those up, but May's releases rotely repeated things with waning interest or little interest in the first place.

When the movies are so unappealing, grumbles over ticket prices and other moviegoing headaches seem to resonate louder than they normally would. Recent, significant ticket price hikes (especially for 3D) have raised concerns about the movies being too expensive for a lot of people. It's too early to tell if that's an actual epidemic, but the constant upward trajectory of ticket prices hasn't stopped records from falling in the past.

After Iron Man 2, Shrek Forever After was the second-biggest grosser with $146.8 million, followed by Robin Hood with $86.1 million, Sex and the City 2 with $51 million and holdover A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) with $46.2 million. Holdovers (movies that opened before May) accounted for 25 percent of May's business, compared to a 16.5 percent share in May 2009.

Through the end of May, 2010 as a whole stood at $4.3 billion. This was still the biggest January-May gross ever ahead of 2009's $4.14 billion through the same point. However, attendance was down more than five percent. Avatar remains the top-grossing picture of the calendar year with $465.4 million, followed by Alice in Wonderland (2010) with $333.2 million and Iron Man 2.

Related Stories

April 2010 Out-Grosses Past Aprils

March 2010 Sets Record Gross

May Weekend Reports

'Iron Man 2' Builds on 'Iron Man' Launch
'Robin Hood' More Merry Than Medieval

'Shrek' Shrinks with Fourth Movie

'Sex,' 'Prince' Deserted as 'Shrek' Leads Weak Memorial Weekend

Related Charts

• 2010 Grosses

• Year-to-Date Comparison