LOS ANGELES — There should be plenty of money and holiday cheer for everyone in town as Hollywood edged near the $10 billion mark at the domestic box office for the first time.
So why couldn't producers and writers play nice together, and why have so few of Hollywood's year-end quality films caught on with audiences?
The big achievement for the year — record revenue — was offset by uncertainty as the Writers Guild of America went on strike over scribes' desire to get in on the ground-floor of whatever revenue might result from Internet programming.
Meantime, the town's prolonged period of backslapping — otherwise known as Academy Awards season — arrived in rare circumstances, with a critical favorite or two such as the Coen brothers' "No Country for Old Men, but no clear front-runners emerging in any categories — and many acclaimed Oscar wannabes landing in theaters with a yawn from apathetic audiences.
The box office was a roller coaster all year, with revenues up, then down, then up, then down again. The key lesson from lackluster fall returns: Serious films with important social messages are all well and good, but there's no beating a head-to-head between Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe or a cartoon princess getting the boot from her magic kingdom.
"Many of the dramas that have come out are terrific movies, but I just think that sometimes people, especially coming into the holidays, they just want escapism or feel-good movies," said Barry Josephson, producer of "Enchanted," starring Amy Adams as an animated princess forced to make her way in real-world Manhattan.
Slideshow: Winter movies to watch Disney's "Enchanted" — along with Universal's hit crime saga "American Gangster," starring Washington and Crowe — were among the few bright spots amid a sleepy fall that followed a monster summer season.
Pure escapism was the rule last summer as Sony's "Spider-Man 3," Disney's "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End," DreamWorks-Paramount's "Shrek the Third" and "Transformers" all topped $300 million domestically, with the Warner Bros. sequel "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" just missing that level.
Padded by other summer hits including "The Bourne Ultimatum," "Ratatouille," "The Simpsons Movie," "Knocked Up," "Rush Hour 3," "Hairpsray" and "Superbad," 2007's domestic returns should finish at a record of about $9.6 billion, up 2 percent from the previous year, according to box-office tracker Media By Numbers.
That surpasses the previous high of $9.45 billion set in 2004. Yet because of rising admission prices, the number of movie tickets sold should come in at about 1.4 billion, down 2 percent from 2006 and well shy of modern Hollywood's record of 1.6 billion in 2002.
The writers strike idled some TV shows from the start, and while the big-screen effect initially was minimal because of the long lead time for movies, shooting on a few films was postponed.
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It was the first time writers walked off the job in 19 years, with the guild taking a hard stand to ensure members are compensated if the Internet becomes a lucrative means to distribute programming.
"I really hope people figure it out soon, but I think this is real," said Akiva Goldsman, who won an Academy Award with his screenplay for Ron Howard's "A Beautiful Mind" and now has seen another collaboration with Howard, "The Da Vinci Code" prequel "Angels & Demons," delayed indefinitely because of the strike.
"I think there may have been posturing in terms of methodology. I can't second-guess anybody's behavior, but I do know this is substantive. It's not just sound and fury signifying nothing."
Slideshow: The year in entertainment Unlike many years, when one or two studios might dominate while others are stuck with flops and underachievers, every major distributor had its share of hits. There were solid successes in every genre, even horror, which had been written off early in the year after "Hostel II" and "Captivity" flopped, ending a long string of torture-tale hits.
"They said horror movies are dead," said Bob Weinstein, co-founder of the Weinstein Co., which scored with the supernatural tale "1408" and a new take on "Halloween." "If they're good, people will come, and if they're different. If you keep making the same movie again and again, that gets tiresome."
Fans welcomed the news that familiar friends would be returning with next year's "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" and an 11th "Star Trek" flick, this one drafting a young cast to play Capt. James Kirk, Vulcan scientist Spock and the other characters from the original 1960s series.
Harrison Ford reunited with director Steven Spielberg and producer George Lucas on the fourth "Indiana Jones" film, though Sean Connery declined to come out of retirement to play Indy's dad again.
The original Kirk, William Shatner, was baffled that he wasn't signed up for J.J. Abrams' "Trek" movie, considering pal Leonard Nimoy will be reprising his role as the older Spock. Shatner's Kirk did die at the end of film No. 7, "Star Trek: Generations," but Shatner noted that "they've got DNA from a dinosaur a hundred million years old," so the filmmakers could have figured out a way to resurrect his character.
Tom Cruise was unable to resurrect a venerable Hollywood name with Robert Redford's "Lions for Lambs," the first release from MGM's United Artists banner since Cruise and producing partner Paula Wagner took it over in late 2006.
Founded in silent-movie days by Charles Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and D.W. Griffith, United Artists largely had been in mothballs in recent years.
Starring Cruise, Redford and Meryl Streep, "Lions for Lambs" was among a series of films with war-on-terror themes that came and went with barely a hint of interest from moviegoers.
Fall brought the usual crush of prestige films jockeying for awards attention. With the shorter awards season that began a few years back, when the Oscars moved from late March to late February, more studios jammed contenders into early fall this time rather than waiting for the annual December scramble to get films into theaters.
That may have undermined the box-office prospects as too many dour dramas rolled into theaters all at once in September and October.
"We've seen a lot of product trying to get into the marketplace, as well, which didn't really bode well for anyone," said Rory Bruer, head of distribution for Sony. Sometimes, you're fragmented to the point where no one quite gets what they want."
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