Potter leads holiday films

Updated: Nov 20 2005, 05:30am hrs
While most Americans will be dining on turkey and other treats during the holidays, Hollywood executives will be biting their nails and hoping for a big year-end movie season. Holiday movies kicked off with the latest Harry Potter film leading a pack of big-budget flicks seeking huge payoffs at box offices while other movies, like Mideast saga Syriana, aim for the Oscars.

It is no secret that ticket sales are down for 2005 after a host of summer films bombed, so the major studios are counting on fantasy films Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and a King Kong remake to restore moviegoers faith in film.

The pressure is on, said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box office watcher Exhibitor Relations Co Inc. This holiday season is being held to a high standard in terms of quality, because we always need that quality. So far this year, U.S. and Canadian ticket receipts stand at $7.6 billion, down about 7 percent from $8.16 billion posted for the same point in 2004, and attendance is down roughly 8%. The holidays are the years second-biggest moviegoing period, and Hollywood is counting on momentum from Potter. The first three movies in the franchise have sold $2.6 billion worth of tickets worldwide.

Walk the Line also debuted in theatres, blending music with the story of their romance and early recording careers. The movie is on the must-see list for award watchers. Syriana, starring George Clooney and Matt Damon, also has Oscar aspirations. Also on the Oscar front before December will come Rent. Those films join titles like Good Night, and Good Luck, Shopgirl, and Capote, which are now playing in theatres and have award ambitions for their actors.

December movies on the awards watch list include Memoirs of a Geisha and Brokeback Mountain.

Other movies with Oscar ambition are Woody Allens romance Match Point and Steven Spielbergs Munich. Few Oscar hopefuls produce the $100 million-plus paydays Hollywood needs to get back on its star-studded feet, but if there are two this year, they are Narnia and King Kong. Also in late November and into December come Yours, Mine and Ours, Cheaper by the Dozen 2,Fun with Dick & Jane, The Family Stone, and The Producers.