Escapist films gain popularity during tough financial times

Walt Disney Pictures' Beverly Hills Chihuahua was the top ranking box office hit during its first two weeks in theaters, and has brought in more than $50 million in the US since its October 3 debut.

In the news
Walt Disney Pictures' Beverly Hills Chihuahua was the top ranking box office hit during its first two weeks in theaters, and has brought in more than $50 million in the US since its October 3 debut. The horror film Quarantine also did well in its first weekend in theaters, alluding to the fact that escapist films might offer a certain appeal to consumers during tough economic times.

Why does it matter?
Duncan Wardle, VP of global and integrated PR for Disney Parks, explains that escapist entertainment and experiences are popular during times of economic distress because they provide a removal from the mundane concerns of everyday life. He adds that all types of movies, from thrillers to fantasy to adventure, “remove you from the worries... [and] let you suspend belief for a while.”

Jim Dowd, founder and CEO of The Dowd Agency, points out that while it isn't a good idea to tie pitches and promotions for entertainment specifically to the economic crisis, it is smart to promote the idea that lighthearted entertainment can bring much needed stress relief during a tough time through laughter.

“People don't want to have to think too hard,” he says. “They don't want to be reminded of how serious things are right now... it's very important for Americans to have an outlet.”

In addition to the increased consumer focus on escapism, Dowd adds that media outlets are also paying more attention than usual to pitches for lighthearted entertainment.

“We're experiencing more interest in some of the quirkier things as opposed to the more serious stuff,” Dowd says.

Five facts:
1. A recent Nielsen survey found that 35% of consumers plan to cut their spending this holiday season, but that movie ticket sales will stay strong through December.

2. Ticket sales for the opening weekend of Body of Lies, a film that deals with terrorism and war themes, were weaker ($12.8 million) than those for Beverly Hills Chihuahua ($17.5 million) during the same weekend.

3. Despite its dark theme, The Dark Night, like other comic-themed movies this summer including The Incredible Hulk, pulled in significant viewership.

4. Spider-Man made $114 million in its 2002 opening weekend, during a time when many were worried about geopolitical issues.

5. An August 2008 NPD Group survey found that 80% of frequent moviegoers plan to go to the theater the same number of times or more than in 2007.

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