'Hunger Games' and 'Lorax' lead 2012's box office boom: Are we headed for a record-breaking year?

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Image Credit: Murray Close

Sorry, Lisbeth Salander — you tried your best, but apparently, what Hollywood really needed to revive the box office was a fuzzy orange puffball and starving archer named Katniss.

Yep, in 2012, titles like The Hunger Games and The Lorax have lifted the box office high above its late-2011 woes. In case you forgot, 2011 ended up being the least-attended year at the movies since 1995 after sure bets such as The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and The Adventures of Tintin floundered at the box office during the normally lucrative holiday season.

Still, almost as soon as the ball dropped on New Year’s Eve, the box office’s fortunes completely turned around.

Every movie — from 21 Jump Street to The Vow to the aforementioned Games — suddenly seemed to be over-performing (except John Carter, of course). After 114 days, the 2012 box office had amassed $3.16 billion — a whopping 17 percent above the $2.70 billion that had been earned at the same point in 2011 — and the healthy grosses don’t look likely to slow down anytime soon. What’s behind the big bump? We brought that question to two box office analysts, BoxOfficeGuru.com‘s Gitesh Pandya and BoxOffice.com‘s Phil Contrino. Here’s what the industry experts had to say:

2012′s movies are better (or at least more appealing). “A lot has to do with the product,” explains Pandya. “There are movies out there that are genuinely exciting people.” Contrino agrees: “You can feel it in the air. Things are coming out and totally over-performing. Nobody thought Lorax was going to make $70 million. Everybody talked about Hunger Games being the next Twilight. No, forget about it — it’s the next Harry Potter.”

Studios are releasing summer-size movies in the spring.  “Moviegoers don’t care what time of year it is,” says Contrino. “If you release something during any month of the year that interests people and grabs their attention, they’ll show up for it.” He adds, “Hollywood thinks moviegoers are programmed to only see blockbusters in the summer and November and December, but that’s not the case, and they proved that in March. March felt 100 percent like the summer… Hunger Games [stayed at] number one for four weekends. Good luck trying to do that in the summer.”

Marketing teams have upped their game. “The marketing has been quite good on a lot of titles,” explains Pandya, who points to The Devil Inside, the $1 million movie that grossed more than $100 million worldwide, as “a great example of taking a lump of coal and turning it into a diamond.” He also commends the marketing for Safe House, which included television ads that “had some great hip hop music — Jay-Z and Kanye, and all that — that really made the movie very relevant and exciting and just this very fresh looking action film.”

Hollywood is finally starting to remember women. “Females are 100 percent under-served,” says Contrino, “[but] they are more reliable than men in terms of moviegoing.” Fortunately, 2012′s film offerings have rectified that. “Hunger Games is certainly a female-skewing film,” says Pandya. “And then you had Channing Tatum and Zac Efron in these big romance films, and, of course, Think Like A Man opening this weekend.”

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Image Credit: Zade Rosenthal

The strong box office results during the January-April period should boost future films’ prospects even more. “We have record number of people going [to the movies] in the first four months of the year,” says Pandya, “and they’re all seeing the trailers and posters of what’s coming out in the summer, and that exposure sets up the summer very well. I think we could not be in a better position to set up the summer season.”

With The Avengers tracking to score one of the best opening weekends of all time, other superhero titles like The Dark Knight Rises and The Amazing Spider-Man poised to pull in massive numbers, wild cards like Prometheus and Snow White and the Huntsman garnering impressive pre-release buzz, and fall franchise titles like The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 2 and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey destined for great runs, 2012 has a good shot at breaking the record set in 2009 for most revenue earned at the box office in one year ($10.6 billion).

As Contrino remarks, “The 2012 slate is still very impressive. I see no reason why this year won’t be huge.”

More on EW.com:
Kevin Hart: How Facebook and Twitter helped ‘Think Like A Man’ open at No. 1
Box office report: ‘Think Like a Man’ halts the ‘Hunger Games’ train with $33 mil

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