It's a comeback of cinematic proportions: in the first four months of 2012, big-screen releases took in nearly $3.2 billion at the U.S. box office, a whopping 17% increase over the same period last year (during which attendance hit an 18-year low). "The Vow, Safe House, 21 Jump Street--so many movies have overperformed," says Gitesh Pandya, editor of BoxOfficeGuru.com noting that summer and fall flicks, whose trailers aired before the early-year releases, will also benefit from the sky-high returns. So what's driving the boom? A combination of smart casting, smarter marketing and an idea as old as commerce itself: if you make a better product, more people will buy it.
1 Social- Media Savvy
With roughly 1 billion people on Facebook and Twitter, it's easier than ever for studios to stoke conversation. The Vow fans, for example, hyped the chemistry between Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams, while The Devil Inside parlayed "found footage" clips into weeks of social-media buzz, which helped it net more than $50 million despite a pathetic F audience grade on CinemaScore.
Evan Helmuth in The Devil Inside
Rachel McAdams in The Vow
Channing Tatum in The Vow
2 Off-Season Blockbusters
Studios typically unleash their biggest flicks during the summer, when students can easily spend money on weeknights. By choosing an off-season release for The Hunger Games, however, Lionsgate was able to command weeks of media hype--and the third largest opening weekend in history ($152 million). Universal had similar success with Dr. Seuss' The Lorax.
Danny DeVito is The Lorax
Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games
3 Better Movies
Any movie can open big; "that just takes star power and marketing," says Gitesh Pandya of BoxOfficeGuru.com But 2012's early-season hits tout staying power. Thanks to fresh, original premises--and high overall quality--once-dismissed flicks like Chronicle, The Vow and Safe House grossed an impressive $64 million, $124 million and $126 million, respectively, which bodes well for this summer's sci-fi epic Prometheus.
Denzel Washington in Safe House
Dane DeHaan in Chronicle
4 Girl Power
"CEOs ignore women at their own peril," says IMDB managing editor Keith Simanton, taking a dig at studios' overreliance on dude-centric action flicks, which dominated 2011. Not so in 2012: following Jennifer Lawrence's blockbuster turn in The Hunger Games, Scarlett Johansson, Rihanna and Kristen Stewart will all kick onscreen ass this summer.
Rihanna in Battleship
Scarlett Johansson in The Avengers
Kristen Stewart in Snow White
How High Is the Hype?
The movies that fans are betting will be summer's cash cows
[The following text appears within a chart. Please see hardcopy or PDF for actual chart.]
In order of release date
The Avengers, May 4
Men in Black 3, May 25
Prometheus, June 8
Brave, June 22