| LOS ANGELES, April 27
LOS ANGELES, April 27 Hollywood is remaking one
of its most cherished traditions: the summer blockbuster.
Unlike last year, when every summer weekend seemed to bring
one or more mega-budget films, this year studios have spread out
their most expensive entries for the warm weather months that
traditionally make up roughly 40 percent of annual ticket sales.
This year, the parade of super heroes, animated films and
big-budget sequels started two months earlier, in March instead
So far, moviegoers are lining up. Six films released since
March 7 have passed or are nearing $100 million in U.S. and
Canadian ticket sales, according to tracking firm Rentrak. Walt
Disney Co's "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" has
collected $225 million so far. "Divergent" from Lions Gate
Entertainment Corp has earned $139 million, and Fox's
"Rio 2" has grossed $96 million.
In the same period last year, only three releases had
reached that mark. This year's early start to summer has pushed
the 2014 box office to $3.1 billion, a 9.4 percent hike from
last year, according to Rentrak.
"I'd rather have us in April with relatively no competition
than in July with a huge movie ahead of us and a huge movie
behind us," Alan Horn, chairman of Walt Disney Studios, said of
the release strategy for "Captain America." "It's hard to find
"Captain America" set an April record when its opening
weekend sales hit $95 million. With no other big-screen
superheroes to battle, the Marvel Studios sequel topped domestic
box office charts for three straight weeks, a feat that's hard
to accomplish in the busy summer.
Last year, Hollywood executives overloaded the summer season
with 18 larger-budget sequels, animated and action "tent pole"
films in the 18 weeks from May to the end of August, according
to Box Office Mojo, and suffered an unusually large number of
bombs, such as Disney's $215 million budgeted "The Lone Ranger,"
and the $130 million "R.I.P.D." from Comcast Corp's
This year, roughly a dozen big-budget movies will reach
theaters during that time, according to Jeff Bock, senior box
office analyst at Exhibitor Relations Co.
Hollywood concentrates its biggest films in the summer
because teens and college students are out of school and
families take vacations, freeing up time for moviegoing and
increasing ticket sales during weekdays.
The migration of blockbuster wannabes to March and April
comes two decades after Hollywood began scheduling its summer
box office contenders in May. The 1996 film "Twister" opened
with $41 million, and these days the first weekend in May ranks
among the biggest of the year.
"The earlier the tent poles debut, the better the chance
they have of getting the signal out from the noise," Lynda Obst,
a film producer and author of the book "Sleepless in Hollywood,"
said in an interview. By August, she said, "the audience has
been deluged with the biggest product the studios have, and
pretty much all of their best marketing tricks."
The spring hits have steered clear of this year's summer
pileup, which begins on Friday with the domestic debut of Sony's
hugely anticipated "The Amazing Spider-Man 2."
"Godzilla," from Time Warner Inc's Warner Bros. and
Legendary Pictures, roars into theaters on May 16, followed by
Fox's "X-Men: Days of Future Past" on May 23 and Paramount's
"Transformers: Age of Extinction" on June 27.
"Individually, these films could be strong, but three are
slated to release in a three-week period and may cannibalize
each other," Janney Montgomery Scott analyst Tony Wible said in
a research note.
Theater owners, who have long advocated spacing out the
films to keep seats filled throughout the year, are the biggest
fans of the move. "We could sell even more tickets if they
spread out more evenly throughout the year," John Fithian,
president of the National Association of Theatre Owners, told
the group's CinemaCon convention in March.
(Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Editing by Ronald Grover and