If Hollywood made a hospital movie, it would have to cast itself as the terminal patient. Box-office revenue in North America was down 4.9% in 2011 from the previous year, with the fewest tickets sold since 1992. The DVD cash cow is nearly milked dry, as audiences go for cheaper downloading and streaming formats. These are numbers the industry doesn't want to crunch but shred.
Here is a brief coroner's report:
1. Movies are seasonal entertainment.
No films released before the end of April and only two films released after Labor Day (The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn--Part 1 and Paranormal Activity 3) earned as much as $40 million in their opening weekend. Summer was fine, with the Harry Potter, Transformers and Pirates of the Caribbean franchises raking in their predicted coin. But if Hollywood is going to be a May-to-August business, it may as well bring back drive-ins.
2. Young men have gone AWOL.
The failure of burly fare like Green Lantern and Cowboys & Aliens underlines how young males are staying home with video games and social networks. Meanwhile, women turned the relatively low-budget Bridesmaids and The Help into winners, and customers over 40 queued en masse. If only the industry knew how to make more movies for adults.
3. Stars are sooo last century.
Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts flopped in Larry Crowne, and only three of the year's top 20 films were star vehicles (Johnny Depp, Tom Cruise and Robert Downey Jr. in their respective Pirates, Mission: Impossible and Sherlock Holmes sequels).
4. Sequels are sagging.
Yes, the year's top seven films (Potter 7.2, Transformers 3, Twilight 4.1, The Hangover Part II, Pirates 4, Fast Five and Cars 2) were all retreads, but the grosses of five of these were well below their previous episodes'. And there aren't enough "new" hits to stoke the next wave of sequels.
5. Cartoons are crashing.
Animated features, box-office magnets for a decade, lost their luster. In 2010 five of the top 10 grossers were cartoons; in 2011 there was just one (Cars 2). Need more evidence? Three words: Mars Needs Moms.
Some analysts predict a twilight and no breaking dawn. But Hollywood, the home of the happy ending, can look abroad, where business is booming--even if this means the industry has outsourced the bulk of its audience. At home, 2012 could restore the glow with a new Dark Knight in July and Peter Jackson's first Hobbit film in December. Hey, wait a minute: Didn't the Maya say the world will end Dec. 21? That would be a big hit, with no sequels.