Insider Q&A: Scary forecasts at the box office

This photo provided by comScore shows Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst for comScore. Movie theater companies say the U.S. box office is falling short of their expectations during the summer of 2017. Dergarabedian, who has followed the industry for more than 20 years, says movie theaters are always vulnerable if people aren’t excited about what’s playing, but things can change quickly. (Courtesy of comScore via AP)

Insider Q&A: Movie theater companies say the US box office is falling short of their expectations this summer

NEW YORK — It's been a rough summer at the box office, and movie theater chains are feeling the pain. It got worse last week when AMC Entertainment said U.S. box office grosses are sinking. Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst for comScore who has followed the industry for more than 20 years, says movie theaters are always vulnerable if people aren't excited about what's playing, but things can change quickly.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Q: Are Americans just not excited about this summer's movies?

A: Currently the summer box office is down about 11 percent compared to the summer of 2016. This is despite the fact that there have been some really terrific movies. Every year has these down trends. The reason this has gotten so much attention is because it's the summer movie season, which generally accounts for about 40 percent of the total-year box office.

I think people want more original content. It doesn't have to be an original piece of intellectual property. It can be something like "Spider-Man: Homecoming," that felt original because it had a different take on the Spider-Man character. "Baby Driver" was not a sequel. It was a brand new film from an innovative director (Edgar Wright).

Q: Is this a down year, or do you think things will even out?

A: The first quarter was huge, with "Logan," ''Get Out" and "Split." The second and third quarters have been kind of tough. But one or two movies can make all the difference. It is a true roller coaster ride.

I think the industry is changing in the sense that the seasons are going away. You can have big movies any time of year, not just May through Labor Day. Even though the summer is down, and the year is down 3 percent as well, but at the end of the year, with some big titles like "Thor: Ragnarok," ''Justice League" and "Star Wars: The Last Jedi," all of this could turn around. We could wind up with yet another $11 billion-plus year, which I think we will.

Q: What are movie theater operators doing to compete with at-home streaming services and all the options available on people's smartphones?

A: What they're doing with these smaller capacity theaters that are super high end and offer all these amenities, I think that's the way of the future. The moviegoing experience has never been better, but at the end of the day people are going to see a movie, not have a beer.

Q: Doesn't more amenities lead to higher costs for theaters?

A: You have to have a strong stomach in that business. It's a business that requires a huge physical footprint and constant upgrading. The theaters that are feeling the pinch now will more than make up for that once "Justice League," ''Thor" and particularly "The Last Jedi" are released.

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