Dark Knight: When the Going Gets Tough…

Dark KnightAmericans go to the movies.

Last Monday I wrote a money story about everyday indicators of our economy’s ups and downs. In that story I pointed to the fact that Starbucks is down, and FedEx Kinko’s office stores are showing a noticeable decline as well. When people aren’t coming up with $3.50 for a designer coffee drink, and young entrepreneurs are not running out to Kinko’s to launch their latest business venture, its a sure sign that, as economists like to say, “people are hurting on Main Street.”

Now this week comes another Main Street indicator: box office receipts are way up. Led this weekend’s latest Batman sequel release, The Dark Knight, with a record setting pace of $155 million, this past Friday, Saturday, and Sunday turned out to be the top-grossing overall box-office weekend in U.S. history, with an estimated $253 million in sales. The previous No. 1 weekend brought in $218 million and occurred in 2006, when Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest opened.

Going back to the days of the Great Depression in the 1930s Americans have always found the movies to be an effective 2 hour retreat from troubled times. This summer even Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is scoring huge at the box office with a haul of $312 million over the last 9 weeks. If a tired Harrison Ford and an overweight Karen Allen can get that kind of box office, certainly there is more going on here than just great moviemaking.

I think it’s part of the “staycation” versus vacation syndrome where mom and dad say “kids we’re not going up to the lake this weekend, but we’ll take you Sunday to see the new Batman movie instead. It’s not that $7 matinee tickets, and $10 evening tickets are all that cheap, it’s just that they are a real bargain when compared with $4 plus gas prices and rising hotel and travel rates.

So add movie box office to the list of Starbucks and Kinko’s factor. I’m not certain what Wall Street will do this week, but on Main Street it looks a lot like a long haul to get to next weekend.

Martin Brown

SMW Money Editor

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