From January to April, the box office improved five percent over the comparable time period in 2005, and, now with seven up weeks in a row, the summer movie season appears to have a momentum that last year lacked. However, closer inspection reveals that 2006's advantage thus far has sprung from more movies.
In 2005, there were 46 new nationwide releases through April. This year, the count ballooned to 63—the most ever on record. Overall, that contributed to 2006's $2.72 billion tally through April, versus 2005's $2.57 billion.
Growing five percent from a 37 percent increase in the number of new wide releases does not suggest a significant expansion of the box office pie in 2006. Indeed, the average wide release through April made $34.4 million, compared to $42.8 million in 2005.
The sole picture to cross the $100 million mark through April 30 was Ice Age: The Meltdown with $177.9 million. In 2005, three pictures had reached that milestone through the same point: Hitch ($177.1 million), Robots ($122.6 million) and The Pacifier ($108 million). 2006 gained most of its ground in pictures grossing less than $50 million.
Though inexpensive to produce and seemingly ubiquitous, horror pictures have not made the difference in 2006. In fact, 2006 and 2005 each had eight horror releases through April, but 2006's crop grossed 17 percent less than 2005's. If one genre must be named a factor, it would be family and children's pictures. Hollywood released 11 of them in 2006, out-grossing the seven from 2005 by $185 million—or more than 2006's overall lead on 2005.
Quantity has kept 2006 ahead of 2005, reinforcing the fact that content is king. Moving forward, the summer won't see a substantial increase in the number of movies like the first third of the year—as usual, there'll be nearly 50 wide releases.
Hollywood will step up to the plate with more intended mass appeal pictures, particularly in May. The month is stacked with five event-style hopefuls (Mission: Impossible III, Poseidon, The Da Vinci Code, Over the Hedge, X-Men: The Last Stand) compared to 2005's two (Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith, Madagascar).