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Economic Downturn, Sept 11 Attacks Impacted 2001 Film Industry


Despite the economic downturn and global events more dramatic than any screenwriter could dream up, Hollywood is ending the year on an up note with movie box office grosses poised to set another record. Alan Silverman has this report on Hollywood in 2001

The most famous wizard since Merlin flew from the pages of author J.K. Rowling's international bestseller to become a big screen phenomenon. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone waved a magic wand to make records disappear in its meteoric rise up the box office chart, sharing the top spot with a computer-animated fantasy.

Shrek, a grumpy green ogre who rescues a princess and wins her heart, also captured the hearts of audiences. These mega hits were among five films with domestic ticket sales exceeding $200 million in 2001; but it was a "mixed year" for Hollywood according to Peter Bart, editor-in-chief of the show business paper Daily Variety.

"On the one hand, if you just look at film box office receipts, we're about nine percent ahead of where we were last year," he says. " That means more people are going to the movies and spending the higher ticket prices. A lot of people don't feel the quality of the films is equal to last year, but whatever those subjective views may be, the bottom line is it's been a strong year at the box office despite the recession."

Jerry Bruckheimer is one of the American film industry's most successful producers and his Pearl Harbor attacked by critics, went on to become a worldwide blockbuster.

"It's been a very successful year," says Mr. Bruckheimer. I think the media has beaten it up quite a bit saying it wasn't as good as last year; but I think it has been."

Bruckheimer sees the year's solid box office figures as proof Hollywood still gives audiences what they want to see or, more importantly, what they will pay to see.

"It's all about the movies we've been making [which] apparently have enticed audiences," he says. You have Harry Potter , Shrek, Lord of the Rings. So we've made movies that have filled the multiplexes and that's our job. Our job is to entertain people and take them away from their lives. I think with the world events you need hollywood more than ever now to make us forget about the tragedies and the tension that goes on in our daily lives."

Like every aspect of daily life, of course, the American entertainment industry was jolted by the September 11 attacks. Producer Bruckheimer, whose action-packed films are often criticized for their high levels of violence, acknowledges the change.

"There are individuals out there who don't like us and who don't want us on this earth. There are a lot of countries we can't film in any more. Americans aren't safe in certain parts of the world; we're not even safe in our own country. That affects our psyche and how we make movies."

Brian Grazer has produced dozens of hit films from Splash to How the Grinch Stole Christmas .

"I do think it's changed the industry," he says. "I think it's made us more aware of doing things that have redemption."

Mr. Grazer believes the post September 11 Hollywood is more receptive to uplifting stories of a character's inner strength and redemption.

"However you come to that place of redemption consciously or unconsciously, it has gotten us to have a greater social and moral conscience. In doing so, that being the umbrella thought, it has eliminated certain genres," he explains. "For example, I can't imagine people diving into the horror genre... or buildings and airplanes blowing up and all that kind of stuff that hyped up, steroided action is well watched right now. I think it's had that effect."

It's an attitude that may be short lived.

Several films pulled from release immediately after the attacks such as Arnold Schwarzenegger's terrorist-themed Collateral Damage are now scheduled to be in North American theaters within the first few months of 2002. Looking ahead to the next year, veteran industry observer Peter Bart predicts good news for Hollywood with some exceptions.

"The recession in the advertising business has put a big damper into television and I think that viewers should be alert to the cost cutting and other things that are going to be done because of that," he says. "Movies, by contrast have always been counter-recessionary and people in bad times tend to go to films more. I think that will continue to hold. Obviously the internet and all of the entertainment aspects of that have also been severely wounded by the bursting of that bubble. So I think it's going to be a spotty picture, but by and large a healthy one for next year."

Peter Bart is editor-in-chief of Daily Variety

Part of VOA's End Series for 2001

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