EXTRA: Box Office Bust?

If only there was a new “Star Wars” movie every summer, then maybe Hollywood might have something to celebrate.

Instead, box office grosses are lagging about 6 percent behind last year’s figures, which were buoyed by the gargantuan success of “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace” and its $431.1 million-grossing theatrical run.

Through Sunday, domestic summer movie ticket sales amounted to $774 million; during the same period in 1999, that figure was $820 million. (The summer movie season, by the way, runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day, according to movie industry watchers.)

The studios are banking on this holiday weekend, with two so-called “event movies” (“The Patriot” and “The Perfect Storm“) going head to head, to resuscitate the summer cash flow.

But Brandon Gray, editor of Boxofficemojo.com, says it might not be enough.

“The fact that grosses are down, even though ticket prices have increased, indicates that a lot fewer people are going to the movies this summer,” Gray says.

“The theater chains have got to be concerned about it, because they make their profits from the sale of concessions. And if fewer people are buying tickets, that means they’re selling less popcorn and soda.”

But even if there’s a momentary box office surge over the Independence Day weekend, Gray thinks the rest of the summer will likely be flat.

“There’s no more event movies to lift the box office up. Toward the end of last summer, there were some sure-fire hits like ‘Runaway Bride,’ ‘The Haunting‘ and ‘Deep Blue Sea,’ and then there were some surprise hits like ‘The Sixth Sense.’ This summer was front-loaded, with all the big hits coming at the beginning. It’s very unusual.”

The only certified event movie on the horizon is probably “Nutty Professor 2: The Klumps,” which opens July 28. The rest of the summer slate is full of stuff like “Coyote Ugly” (Jerry Bruckheimer‘s neo-“Flashdance“), Clint Eastwood‘s “Space Cowboys,” “The Replacements” (a football movie starring Keanu Reeves) and “Hollow Man” (a sci-fi flick by director Paul “Showgirls” Verhoeven, starring Kevin Bacon and Elizabeth Shue).

Maybe it’s time to check out the upcoming DVD releases. …