Batman was powerful enough to rule the box office, but the superhero was unable to pull Hollywood out of its worst slump in 20 years.
“Batman Begins” debuted as the top movie with $46.9 million, while overall movie revenues skidded for the 17th-straight weekend, tying a slide in 1985 that had been the longest box-office decline since analysts began keeping detailed records on movie grosses.
The top 12 movies took in $128.5 million, down 1.6 percent from the same weekend in 2004, according to studio estimates Sunday.
The slump may be a sign that more people are seeing movies at home. An Associated Press-AOL poll last week found that 73 percent of adults prefer watching movies on DVD, videotape or pay-per-view rather than going to the theater.
Studio executives blame the downturn on a comparatively weak lineup of movies this year and say it will take more time to determine if DVDs and other home-entertainment options are eroding theater business.
“Certainly, we need to look at that, but I believe you can’t do it by looking at six months. I think you have to take a couple of years to look at it,” said Dan Fellman, head of distribution for Warner Bros., which released “Batman Begins.”
“We’re still product-driven, and even though there were and will continue to be strong movies in the summer, I don’t think there have been enough of them.”
Movie revenues this year are down 6.4 percent compared to 2004’s, according to box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations. Accounting for increased ticket prices, admissions are off 9 percent.
“Batman Begins” bumped the previous weekend’s No. 1 film, “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” to second place with $27.3 million, raising its 10-day total to $98 million.
The weekend’s only other new wide release, Hilary Duff’s “The Perfect Man,” opened with a weak $5.5 million, less than half the $13.6 million debut for the teen queen’s 2004 romance “A Cinderella Story.”
Since opening Wednesday, “Batman Begins,” starring Christian Bale as the DC Comics hero in his early days, grossed $71.1 million. The cast also includes Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Katie Holmes and Gary Oldman.
Comparisons to the previous four “Batman” movies, released from 1989 to 1997, are imprecise since they all opened on Friday and ticket prices have risen dramatically since. The earlier “Batman” flicks had opening weekends ranging from $40.5 million to $52.8 million.
Warner Bros. expects “Batman Begins” to finish its first week with $85 million, compared to a range of $59 million to $77 million for the previous “Batman” movies in their first week.
Distribution boss Fellman said “Batman Begins” opened strongly enough that he expects the studio will push ahead with a sequel.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at North American theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. Final figures will be released Monday.