LOS ANGELES - This year's movie superheroes are getting licked by last year's.
While "The Matrix Reloaded," "X2: X-Men United," "The Hulk" and "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" had big weekend openings, Hollywood revenues lag behind the record pace of 2002, when "Spider-Man" and "Star Wars" ruled the summer.
Since early May, when "X2" kicked off the summer blockbuster season, domestic revenues are at $2.11 billion, down 3.3 percent from summer 2002, according to box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations.
For the year, revenues are $4.65 billion, a 4.5 percent drop from 2002, when movie grosses hit an all-time high of $9.32 billion.
The picture is even worse factoring in this year's higher ticket prices. With an average admission cost of $6.03, up from $5.80 in 2002, Hollywood has sold about 772 million movie tickets this year, off 8.2 percent from 2002.
Moviegoers seem less enchanted by this summer's crowd of explosive action flicks, none of which has approached the $400 million-plus performance of "Spider-Man" and $300 million payday of "Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones."
Audiences may be a bit worn out by the onslaught of comic-book adaptations such as "The Hulk," "X2" or "Daredevil," and by Hollywood's record number of sequels - about two dozen this year.
In summer 2002, fans were still buzzing about "Spider-Man" when the low-budget sleeper "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" grew into a blockbuster on audience word-of-mouth alone. Moviegoing tends to breed more moviegoing, but this summer, the films are not catching people's fancy in quite the same way.
"Maybe this is just my esoteric theory, but it could be that people just feel like doing something else than going to the theater," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations. "Maybe they did so much moviegoing last year that they're burned out."
This year's most anticipated movie, "The Matrix Reloaded," came in second behind "Spider-Man" among best weekend debuts ever and grossed $135.8 million in its first five days. But unlike the staying power of "Spider-Man," "Matrix Reloaded" earned mixed reviews and so-so word-of-mouth, with revenues falling steeply in subsequent weekends.
The animated fish tale "Finding Nemo" swam past "Matrix Reloaded" last weekend to become this year's top-grossing movie, at $274.9 million and counting.
Other big action flicks have opened strongly then nose-dived, most notably the "The Hulk." Second-weekend revenues plunged 70 percent from its $62.1 million debut.
Meantime, "Finding Nemo" and other lighter tales such as the heist caper "The Italian Job" or the comedies "Bruce Almighty," "Bringing Down the House" and "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days" held up better week after week.
Despite lagging revenues, a few surprise hits could be enough to put Hollywood on track to overtake last year's record box office.
This year's advantage is a solid lineup of potential hits in the second half of summer, traditionally a quieter time at theaters than the stretch from Memorial Day to the Fourth of July. Summer 2002 closed with a whimper, while this season has a chance to go out with a bang.
This week brings the big-budget adventures "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" and "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen." Still to come are such comedies and action romps as "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider - The Cradle of Life," "Bad Boys II," "Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over," "S.W.A.T." and "American Wedding," the third in the "American Pie" series.
"I do believe it's too much to ask that every year be a record year, but I wouldn't discount this year yet," said Chuck Viane, head of distribution for Disney, which distributed "Finding Nemo." "There's still a lot of stuff in the bags of all the studios."