2003 Summer Box Office Outperforms Summer ’02

Although no records were shattered at the box office this summer, the season’s grosses exceeded last year’s by 4 percent with the help of a little animated tale called Finding Nemo.

The Buena Vista/Disney and Pixar Animation Studios computer-animated feature is not only the top grossing film of the summer, but the highest earner this year to date. So far, Finding Nemo has reeled in $332.4 million. Furthermore, the film has surpassed Disney’s The Lion King as the highest grossing animated film in history and currently ranks as the eighth-highest grossing film of all time in North America.

But summer 2003 played out much differently than summer ’02. While Finding Nemo, for example, enjoyed its summerlong box-office dominance, the rest of the wealth was spread pretty evenly across the field.

Summer 2002, for instance, saw two films, Spider-Man and Star Wars: Episode II–Attack of the Clones, eclipse their closest contenders by about $200 million and $100 million, respectively. This summer saw a record five films gross more than $200 million and an another 15 cross the $100 million mark.

Besides Finding Nemo, the summer box office season, which runs from Memorial Day through Labor Day, saw five huge earners in 2003 including Warner Bros.’ The Matrix Reloaded ($279.6 million), Disney’s The Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl ($274.4 million), Universal’s Bruce Almighty ($240.9 million) and Fox’s X2: X-Men United ($214.9 million).

Passing the $100 million mark were Warner’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines with $149 million, Sony’s Bad Boys II with $135.1 million, Universal’s 2 Fast 2 Furious with $126.7 million and Dimension’s Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over with $107 million.

But thanks to Finding Nemo and Pirates of the Caribbean, Disney took the top spot for the summer market share with a haul of $750 million. The previous record for the summer season was Sony’s $708.2 million in 2002.

Average opening weekends also swelled this summer to $23.4 million, up from $19.9 million last year. The increase, however, could be due to more frequent large opening weekends. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the average number of theaters for a wide release went from 2,635 in 2002 to 2,741 in 2003. There were also 18 ultrawide releases–involving more than 3,000 theaters–compared with 13 last summer.

But the rising cost of ticket prices also played a role since estimated admissions for this summer, 548.7 million, were actually down by one percent compared to summer 2002’s 553 million.

According to the Reporter, numbers reported include only the grosses earned from Memorial Day to Labor Day and do not include pre-summer grosses. The Matrix Reloaded‘s $163.9 million pre-summer take, for example, is not included in the summer and studio totals.