Most years, new movies released in January and February are afterthoughts, often inexpensively made comedies, horror films or thrillers competing with Oscar-nominated fare.
In 2009, with the economy dim, the afterthoughts have taken over the box office spotlight.
"Taken," an action thriller, and "Paul Blart: Mall Cop," a comedy, have emerged as unexpected hits. Built around non-superstars Liam Neeson and Kevin James, they have eclipsed $100 million in box office receipts, a key ticket benchmark for success.
Throw in Tyler Perry's "Madea Goes to Jail," last weekend's box-office leader (opening at $41 million), and you have surprising numbers for the first two months. The New York Times reported that ticket sales are up 17.5 percent, to $1.7 billion; attendance is up nearly 16 percent.
The movies share this trait: they help viewers forget their troubles. In dark theaters filled with silliness or suspense, moviegoers can find relief from the gloom.
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