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Hollywood's Box Office Blues

Batman was powerful enough to rule the box office, but the superhero was unable to pull Hollywood out of its worst slump in 20 years.

"Batman Begins" debuted as the top movie with $46.9 million, while overall movie revenues skidded for the 17th straight weekend, tying a slide in 1985 that had been the longest box-office decline since analysts began keeping detailed records on movie grosses.

The top 12 movies took in $128.5 million, down 1.6 percent from the same weekend in 2004, according to studio estimates Sunday.

"People have so many options today. They have DVSs and video on demand. It just becomes increasingly challenging to get people into movie theaters," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations, a box office tracking firm.

An Associated Press-AOL poll out last week found that 73 percent of adults prefer watching movies on DVD, videotape or pay-per-view rather than going to the theater.

Studio executives blame the downturn on a comparatively weak lineup of movies this year and say it will take more time to determine if DVDs and other home-entertainment options are eroding theater business.

"Certainly, we need to look at that, but I believe you can't do it by looking at six months. I think you have to take a couple of years to look at it," said Dan Fellman, head of distribution for Warner Bros., which released "Batman Begins."

"We're still product-driven, and even though there were and will continue to be strong movies in the summer, I don't think there have been enough of them."

Revenues this year are down 6.4 percent compared to 2004's, according to Exhibitor Relations. Accounting for increased ticket prices, admissions are off 9 percent.

In an appearance on CBS News' Early Show, Dergarabedian said quality movies don't necessarily guarantee box office success. He pointed to "Cinderella Man," as an example of a well-made movie that nevertheless did poorly at the box office.

"That kind of movie appeals to an older audience," he said. "Sometimes it is tough to get them into the theater. If you appeal to the 20-somethings, they'll go out to the theater. With a Depression-era story, it will appeal to a much older audience."

"Batman Begins" bumped the previous weekend's No. 1 film, "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," to second place with $27.3 million, raising its 10-day total to $98 million.

The weekend's only other new wide release, Hilary Duff's "The Perfect Man," opened with a weak $5.5 million, less than half the $13.6 million debut for the teen queen's 2004 romance "A Cinderella Story."

Since opening Wednesday, "Batman Begins," starring Christian Bale as the DC Comics hero in his early days, grossed $71.1 million. The cast also includes Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Katie Holmes and Gary Oldman.

Comparisons to the previous four "Batman" movies, released from 1989 to 1997, are imprecise since they all opened on Friday and ticket prices have risen dramatically since. The earlier "Batman" flicks had opening weekends ranging from $40.5 million to $52.8 million.

Warner Bros. expects "Batman Begins" to finish its first week with $85 million, compared to a range of $59 million to $77 million for the previous "Batman" movies in their first week.

Distribution boss Fellman said "Batman Begins" opened strongly enough that he expects the studio will push ahead with a sequel.

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at North American theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. (Final figures will be released Monday):

1. "Batman Begins," $46.9 million.

2. "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," $27.3 million.

3. "Madagascar," $11.1 million.

4. "Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith," $9.7 million.

5. "The Longest Yard," $8 million.

6. "The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D," $6.6 million.

7. "The Perfect Man," $5.5 million.

8. "Cinderella Man," $5.2 million.

9. "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants," $3.2 million.

10. "The Honeymooners," $2.6 million.

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