Hooray for Hollywood

'The Simpsons Movie' is the latest blockbuster in a hot season for the silver screen. Analysts think a new record for summer box office sales is in sight.

By Paul R. La Monica, CNNMoney.com editor at large

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Hollywood can sum up this summer on the silver screen with a phrase immortalized by the newest box office stud, Homer Simpson. "Woo-hoo!"

"The Simpsons Movie" generated nearly $72 million in ticket sales this past weekend, helping to lead the movie industry to its third consecutive weekend where box office figures were higher than last year.

"The Simpsons Movie" is the latest blockbuster film in what's shaping up to be a record-breaking summer.
In a summer of sequels, "Transformers" stood out as something new. The movie, based on the Hasbro toys, is nearing the $300 million mark in the U.S.

According to figures from Exhibitor Relations, a movie industry tracking firm, Hollywood has generated about $2.9 billion in box office sales so far this summer, which for movie going purposes starts in early May, not in mid-June.

And with about one month left in the summer movie season, box office analysts Relations predicts that this could wind up as a record-breaking summer, topping 2004's $3.8 billion take.

Although May's big "threequels" -- "Spider-Man 3," "Shrek the Third" and "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" -- did not do as well as their predecessors, they did all eclipse the $300 million mark in the U.S.

The industry went into a bit of a slump in June but the box office roared back in July.

"Transformers," the blockbuster from Viacom's (Charts, Fortune 500) Paramount based on the Hasbro toys that were popular in the mid-1980s, is also approaching the $300 million mark, while "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," the fifth movie from Time Warner's (Charts, Fortune 500) Warner Bros. about the boy wizard, is on its way to passing the $250 million mark. (Time Warner also owns CNNMoney.com.)

"May was so strong that it got things off to a good head start. And even though June was a bit of a letdown, July was huge. So even if August is a disaster, this should be the biggest summer on record," said Chad Hartigan, an analyst with Exhibitor Relations. He said that box office sales for this summer should top $4 billion.

August, typically a hit or miss month since it can be a bit of a dumping ground for movies that aren't as good as those released earlier in the summer, should be fairly strong at the box office thanks to two sequels.

"The Bourne Ultimatum," the third in the series of movies starring Matt Damon as the titular spy Jason Bourne from the popular Robert Ludlum novels, comes out on August 3.

And a week later, Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker team up in the action-buddy comedy, "Rush Hour 3." The first two "Rush Hours" grossed $141.2 million and $226.2 million respectively.

"I'm bullish on August. Although there's usually a lot of junk at the end of the month, Hollywood has some ammunition left in the first few weeks," said Gitesh Pandya, editor of movie industry research site BoxOfficeGuru.com.

Both Pandya and Hartigan added that teen comedy "Superbad," which was produced by Judd Apatow, the director of this summer's raunchy romantic comedy sleeper it "Knocked Up," could also wind up doing well. The movie, which was co-written by "Knocked Up" star Seth Rogen, comes out on August 17.

Looking at the individual studios, it's been a very good summer for Paramount, which in addition to Transformers, also distributed DreamWorks Animation's (Charts) Shrek the Third.

News Corp.'s (Charts, Fortune 500) Fox is also having a hot summer. Besides "The Simpsons," Fox has had moderate hits with "Live Free or Die Hard" and "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer."

Sony's (Charts) only big hit was "Spider-Man 3" but it is the top-grossing film of the summer so far. Plus, it's the studio behind "Superbad."

Walt Disney (Charts, Fortune 500), in addition to "Pirates" also had a hit with "Ratatouille," the latest computer animated film from Pixar. However, "Ratatouille" had the second weakest opening for a Pixar film and the movie may not break $200 million as "Cars" did last summer.

Time Warner, which owns Warner Bros. and New Line Cinemas had mixed results. It struck gold with "Harry Potter" and the musical version of "Hairspray." It also is releasing "Rush Hour 3."

But "Ocean's Thirteen" failed to replicate the box office success of the previous two movies in that franchise and "Nancy Drew" was a flop.

And it wasn't a great summer for GE's (Charts, Fortune 500) Universal Studios. The company did release "Knocked Up," which has grossed nearly $150 million at the box office. But two bigger budget comedies, "Evan Almighty," and "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry" have been relative disappointments. Universal is the studio behind "Bourne," however.

So what's this all mean for the big media companies, most of which will be reporting their second quarter earnings in the next two weeks? The second quarter ended in June for the media giants so only box office figures from April through June will be included in these reports.

Dennis McAlpine, an independent media analyst, said most companies, despite some strong box office numbers, will probably see a hit to profits in their movie divisions simply because most of the marketing and distribution costs are front-end loaded to the quarter that they are released.

But McAlpine said the encouraging thing for these companies is that they will more than likely make up for these expenses in the fourth quarter of this year as the studios release this summer's blockbusters on DVD in time for the holidays.

"It's been a good year. There haven't been many major disappointments," McAlpine said. "Revenue from home video releases should be strong in the fourth quarter."

So despite all the hype about box office records this summer, don't expect the the crowds at the multiplex to have a huge impact on media company earnings, or share prices, until later on this year.

The reporter of this story owns shares of Time Warner through his company's 401(k) plan. Top of page