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Americans seeking escape at the movies

From Kitty Pilgrim
CNN Financial News

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Movie attendance declined in the first weeks after September 11. But all of a sudden, box office receipts are soaring.

Last weekend, movie attendance was up 41 percent over the same time last year, thanks in part to the box office behemoth "Monsters, Inc.," which had the strongest debut in film history for an animated film, according to studio estimates.

Some observers suggest America is seeking an escape at the cinema.

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"They have to do something," said Hollywood Reporter columnist Martin Grove. "They want to get out of the house, and whatever the price of a movie ticket is. Whether it is $8 to $10 today, whether it was 25 cents during the Depression, it still is cheap entertainment compared to everything else."

History proves the point. The Depression brought the glamour and glitz of Nick and Nora Charles (William Powell and Myrna Loy) in "TheThin Man" series and the high escapism of Fred Astaire in "Top Hat." During World War II, the grinding news of war was broken up by patriotic movies such as "The Fighting Sullivans."

"The Depression had two kinds of really popular films, one of them was the gangster and crime films, which dealt with actual problems with society," said New York University cinema studies professor Robert Sklar. "The other was the musical, which was kind of a fantasy escapist story."

Analysts say look for 20th Century Fox's action-adventure flick "Behind Enemy Lines" for a new dose of patriotism or "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" for fantasy.

But some themes may be too sensitive in the wake of the terrorist attacks.

The Arnold Schwarzenegger movie "Collateral Damage" was moved to a release sometime next year because it involved a terrorist plot. And the film "Bad Company," starring Anthony Hopkins and Chris Rock, was postponed because of a plot involving a nuclear bomb on a plane.