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Hollywood's holidays turning green with box office cash

9:49 AM, Nov 27, 2012   |    comments
'Argo,' directed by and starring Ben Affleck, has pulled in $98 million so far.(Photo: Claire Folger)
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LOS ANGELES -- Entering the holiday season, Hollywood prognosticators wondered whether there were enough big franchises to carry the box office to a profitable 2012.

Turns out, the industry is running on little engines that could.

While juggernauts like James Bond and Twilight are racking up dollars as expected, Hollywood is seeing an uptick in business thanks to films that have serious Oscar aspirations but are finding commercial success as well.

Although there's another month left on the calendar, the movie industry has seen an unexpected surge in box office and attendance. According to holiday weekend figures from Hollywood.com, revenues are up 6% over the same period last year, while attendance is up 5%.

Just two months ago, that lead in revenue -- which had mushroomed early in the year to 11% over 2011 with movies like The Hunger Games and The Avengers -- winnowed to as little as 2%, and analysts wondered whether the season's three big franchises could shoulder the industry through December.

The Bond film Skyfall ($222 million) and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn -- Part 2 ($227 million) did their part. But with the help of some unexpected adult dramas, Hollywood is sitting pretty for 2012. And The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the third heavyweight franchise out this season, doesn't even hit screens until Dec. 14.

"We've had quite the turnaround, and we may be in something of a heyday," says Jeff Bock, chief analyst for Exhibitor Relations. "This is a rare blend of critics and fans liking the same thing, and there's a lot to like."

Bock points to dramas expected to propel the Oscar race that are adding an extra accelerant to the box office:

* Argo. Ben Affleck's Iran hostage drama is considered a lock for a best picture nomination, but has surprised analysts with $98 million and counting. It will join the nine-digit club this week and add more theaters and dollars after awards are announced.

* Lincoln. At 2 1/2 hours, this Steven Spielberg biopic was expected to pack awards lists, not theaters. But with $62 million since its Nov. 9 release, the historical drama becomes as much a commercial threat as awards heavyweight.

* Flight. The airline disaster film was to ferry Denzel Washington to the awards podiums, and still may. As a bonus, it carried unexpected but welcome baggage: $75 million and rising.

"These movies are scoring A's with audiences and thumbs-up from critics,'' says Bock, who adds that even family films like Wreck-It Ralph ($150 million) are doing well. "This is really what you want your movie season to look like every month."

USA Today

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