When the banking crisis began in 2008, many people predicted hard times for the film industry. Studios were hesitant to put money into smaller productions or those judged risky. But ironically, it's poor performance by big name films that seems to have led to the dramatic slump in US box office takings announced today.
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Cowboys And Aliens, The Hangover Part II - remember them? They sound like big names but they didn't pull in anything like the big money expected of them, with total US cinema admissions estimated at around 1.27 billion (around four per person). That's a drop of almost five percent and it's likely to hit the industry hard. Only the final part of the Harry Potter series really did well, though The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part I acquitted itself better than some had expected and Transformers: Dark Of The Moon made its money back despite a critical mauling.
One thing you'll notice about these names is that most of them are sequels, which is particularly worrying, as sequels usually have guaranteed bankability - as a rule, each brings in at minimum 40% of its predecessor's takings. The most successful non-sequel of the year was Bridesmaids, though as it was pitched as a female version of The Hangover it was arguably taking the same approach.
The news comes as a poor performance by David Fincher's remake of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo threatens to see its planned sequels put on hold, if not cancelled altogether. Meanwhile, the independent side of the industry remains surprisingly robust, so perhaps 2012 will be the year of the little movie after all.