Movie ticket sales hit 16-year low

Video games like "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3" are giving the movie industry a run for our money. Here, a video game store in Las Vegas is overrun by gamers lining up to buy a copy of "MW3." Sales of the game hit $1 billion in just over two weeks.

The Pulse is down today on news that movies no longer have a monopoly on our lazy Saturday afternoons.

Despite a year that saw box-office hits like "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" and "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" each rake in over $1 billion each worldwide, Americans bought fewer movie tickets than we had since 1995, according to box-office tracker Hollywood.com. A 16-year low with just 1.28 billion tickets sold domestically.

In fact, it’s the third consecutive year for sharp declines in domestic ticket sales, and the filmmaking industry can thank foreign audiences with an appetite for Hollywood’s product for making up the shortfall. But the slide in ticket sales isn’t a recent phenomenon. Since 2002, when cinemas in the U.S. sold 1.6 billion tickets, it’s been downhill.

Typically we blame the films for this kind of thing, and maybe this year’s batch of remakes and sequels are worse than last year’s. As Reuters points out: “And perhaps most concerning, creativity is down, too -- of the top 10 earners this year, seven were sequels, one was a reboot and two were based on comic books.”

But it’s more likely that movies are finding competition for our free time in many forms. These include iPads, streaming video, and, most seriously, video games like "Just Dance 3," "The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim," "Battlefield 3," "Madden NFL 12," and Activition’s record-shattering first-person-shooter "Modern Warfare 3" have begun to snare both our free time and free cash.

In fact, "MW3" did $1 billion in sales in just 16 days this fall. It took the 2010 box-office mega-success "Avatar" 17 days to hit that mark. Looks like we may just need to start stocking up on the massive buckets of popcorn and liters of Cherry Coke right at home.

About the author

Joel Patterson is the Associate Producer of Marketplace Money.

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