By Amy Kaufman
Los Angeles Times
Summer is the season for blockbusters at the box office, and this year Hollywood is going all in.
Midway through a year of declining attendance and ticket sales, the major studios are betting heavily on big-budget spectacles that can fatten the bottom line if they succeed — or lead to write-offs and management shake-ups if they don’t.
Of the 45 films being released from this weekend to Labor Day, at least 18 cost more than $100 million each to produce — and five of them were in the $200 mil- lion neighborhood. In summer 2012, just 12 of 40 pictures had budgets of $100 million or more.
“Hollywood seems to be recognizing what works and serving it up: superheroes, computer-animated movies for kids and sequels,” said Barton Crockett, a senior analyst with Lazard Capital Markets.
The summer rollout comes as the movie business is slumping from four straight months of bad box office, with revenue down roughly 12 percent compared with the same period last year, according to Hollywood.com.
For help, the studios are banking on comic book characters, 3-D cartoons and the crew of the USS Enterprise.
The summer kicked off with “Iron Man 3,” the latest entry in the Marvel Studios’ superhero series about tycoon Tony Stark. The sequel was expected to rake in about $170 million during its first weekend — making it the biggest opening of the year and probably the biggest of the summer.
The superhero spectacular will have lots of company — and competition. Every weekend from May to August is crowded with high-cost, high-risk sequels, prequels and franchises, including the Superman reboot “Man of Steel,” a new “Star Trek” and a fresh “Hangover.”
Also in the cards are animated family films such as “Despicable Me 2” and “Monsters University,” as well as a 3-D adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby,” which is generating particular interest among young women.
“We always wait for summer — but this year, especially, we’re holding our breath,” said Phil Zacheretti, chief executive of Phoenix Big Cinemas Management, which operates 25 theaters in 15 states. “Revenue being down a couple of percentage points would be one thing, but when you’re in double digits, you really need those blockbusters to get going to sell the tickets and the food.”
Summer is traditionally the high season for the film industry. Last year, about 40 percent of overall revenue was generated during the four-month-long period. But last summer produced “The Avengers,” which became the third-highest-grossing film ever in the U.S. and Canada.
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