Movies hauling in money, despite economy


As stocks plummet and unemployment rates jump, businesses across the country are posting losses.

But there’s no business like show business.

Movie theaters are seeing a counterintuitive trend: As the economy slides, ticket sales are climbing.
U.S. theaters grossed $770 million in February. That’s the best February total ever, according to Box Office Mojo, a movie-tracking website. And the month before set another record as the first billion-dollar January in history.

And the national trend holds true on the local level, officials said.

“Overall, moviegoing has been strong during the last few months across our industry,” said Carlo Petrick, spokesman for Marcus Theatres. “The reason is that going to movies is still an inexpensive form of entertainment, and people might not be able to afford taking a vacation with their family but can take their family out for an evening of entertainment at a theater.”

Marcus Theatres operates facilities in Iowa City at Sycamore Mall and in Coralville at Coral Ridge Mall.

While this year hasn’t had a Titanic to single-handedly boost sales, Petrick, said a handful of well-attended movies has kept sales up, including Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Taken, and Hotel for Dogs.

Many of this year’s top grossers are light-hearted films. That’s no coincidence, Petrick said.
“People also are looking for entertainment as a way to escape all the bad news headlines. I think that is why the comedies have done especially well during the first few months of 2009. People are looking for laughs and escapism,” he said.

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On campus, too, many are taking advantage of the opportunity to spend a couple hours in the dark. Campus Activities Board has offered midnight movies during several weekends this semester.

Aaron Corso, the board’s film director, said even though it’s the first year of the midnight movie series, the events are drawing sizable crowds to the Bijou. All of the Bijou’s 163 seats have sold out four times: twice for The Dark Knight and twice for Twilight. Other movies usually draw around 50 movie-goers.

“I think it’s just a form of cheap entertainment,” he said. “People can’t go on vacation, but for a little bit of money they can spend a night at the movies.”

With admission at only $2, popcorn included, the Campus Activities Board doesn’t make a profit off midnight movies, said group President Molly Golemo. Instead, the group is partly funded by money from UI Student Government and Office of Student Life which is aimed to provide a drinking alternative for students.

And it’s working: More than 100 patrons saw Seven Pounds over the weekend at the IMU. One of them, UI freshman Anna Libo, said a $2 movie is especially attractive when a night at the bars can cost up to $20.

“That’s saving 18 bucks. Definitely, money plays a role in it,” she said. “I think it’s a really good idea to offer to students on weekends. Kids want to drink and now they have something else to do. I think it’s a really great idea.”

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