North American Movie Attendance In 2014 Hit Its Lowest Point In 20 Years

The North American box office for 2014 was down five percent from 2013, not only a decline, but the biggest year-to-year decline in nine years. But dollars-wise, this doesn’t sound especially remarkable:

[North American box office] is expected to finish at $10.4 billion by Dec. 31, compared to a record $10.9 billion in 2013. It also won’t match the $10.8 billion earned in 2012, but it has already bested 2011’s $10.17 billion. The first time that revenue hit $10 billion in North America was in 2009, when it clocked in at $10.6 billion. Nine years ago, in 2005, revenue topped out at $8.8 billion, a 5.8 percent decline over the previous year. [HollywoodReporter1]

So, revenue took a moderate tumble from last year’s all-time high. Attendance, on the other hand, the number of people who actually showed up, looks more dire.

According to preliminary estimates, roughly 1.26 billion consumers purchased cinema tickets between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31. That’s the lowest number since 1.21 billion in 1995 and not that far ahead of 1994 (1.24 billion). The last time admissions fell below the 1.3 billion mark was in 2011, when only 1.28 billion people when to the movies. [HollywoodReporter2]

Most agree that the problem was a series of lackluster Summer blockbusters, usually the time of biggest attendance.

A number of summer tentpoles underperformed compared to previous installments, including Sony’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (May 2) and Paramount’s Transformers: Age of Extinction (June 27). And while November’s The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1, from Lionsgate, is only the second release of 2014 to cross $300 million after Disney and Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy (Aug. 1), it still won’t match its predecessors, both of which earned north of $400 million domestically.

For the lay observer, the success of Guardians Of The Galaxy, Gone Girl, and The LEGO Movie, in conjunction with the failure of Amazing Spider-Man 2, Exodus: Gods And Kings, and Trans4mers might say the takeaway here is, “make less dog sh*t.”

Sadly, there are complicating factors, like the fact that Trans4mers, after making less than $250 million in North America, went overseas and made $842 million, including $300 million just in China. So while it’s easy (and fun) to accuse studios of not getting the message, that movies have more competition from premium cable now and thus audiences are demanding more quality, the bigger problem seems to be that they’re getting multiple competing messages. One message from the Gone Girl audience and another from the (shockingly large) Ouija audience. I’d be cool if the actual human beings involved in financing and greenlighting films also got some kind of message from their own movie-watching eyes, but haha I’m not even going to finish this sentence.

In the meantime, we’re stuck between two worlds. In television, there are two different business models for Big Bang Theory and for Game of Thrones. Movies are still mostly lumped into the same structure. I don’t have any great ideas for a solution, myself. Maybe send Michael Bay to China? I don’t know, just spitballing here.