Box office slump? Yeah, and Bill Gates is on welfare.

Every damn weekend since February, as Hollywood dumps another pile of crap into theatres and millions of crap-lovers pay upwards of $8 apiece to witness the crapitude, some whiny reporter has written an article about the Great Box Office Slump of 2005.

The blame gets placed somewhere different every time. Sometimes they blame piracy, sometimes they blame DVDs and video games, sometimes they blame the Internet, sometimes they even blame TV (you’d think they’d have gotten over that in the 50’s, but noooooo). Occasionally someone actually blames ticket prices, and every once in a while someone even goes so far as to point out that most movie theatres suck these days and a lot of people would rather watch movies at home, where they get better picture and sound for less money, plus no goddamn ads or $4 Cokes. But nobody seems to be interested in pointing out that, while the box office may be down compared to last year (which was itself an anomaly), the claims that this is some kind of horrible slump like the one in 1985 are utter bullshit.

In 1985, the average movie ticket cost $3.55. 470 movies were released, grossing a total of $3.75 billion. Nevertheless, that was a drop of 7% from 1984. In 2005 (so far), 238 movies have been released, grossing $3.85 billion, despite the fact that the summer blockbuster season and fall/winter Oscar season haven’t even gotten started yet. In 1985 only three movies earned more than $100 million. In the first half of 2005, we’ve already had eight $100 million-plus blockbusters. Even accounting for inflation, I don’t see a lot of similarity there. What I do see is a lot of whining and foot-stomping from an industry that’s not used to being subject to basic economic principles.

The number of movie tickets sold has risen by millions almost every year since 1980. At the same time, ticket prices have gone up and, not surprisingly, so have box office grosses. The average yearly box office gross in the 1980s was $3.82 billion. In the 1990s, that average rose to $5.74 billion. Now get this: if Hollywood stopped making movies right now, so that the total box office grosses for 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009 were exactly $0, the average yearly box office gross for the period 2000-2010 would still be $4.77 billion.

In the last five years, Hollywood has averaged almost $1 billion more than in the entire 1980s, and only $1 billion less than the entire 1990s. In real numbers, the 80s generated $38.2 billion and the 90s $57.4 billion, compared to $47.7 billion since 2000. At this rate, Hollywood is looking at a potential ten-year gross of almost $100 billion by the end of 2009. Adjusted for inflation, that’s about $39.4 billion in 1980 dollars, or $67.2 billion in 1990 dollars, a huge improvement any way you look at it.

They call this a slump?

All box office numbers are from Box Office Mojo. Inflation-adjusted grosses were calculated using conversion factors derived from the US Consumer Price Index. And by “billion”, I mean US billions, not British billions.