What to do in a recession? Let's go to the movies!

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The idea of getting away from your troubles by going to a movie is taking on more significance during this recession, as movie ticket sales are up 17.5% this year to $1.7 billion, according to Media by Numbers, a box-office tracking company quoted in a story in the New York Times.

Movie attendance has also jumped, by nearly 16%, and if that pace continues throughout 2009, it would be the biggest box-office surge in at least two decades, according to the Times.

Being in the dark and leaving your troubles at the door of a theater is a common reaction in a recession.

"It's not rocket science," said Martin Kaplan, the director of the Norman Lear Center for the study of entertainment and society at the University of Southern California. "People want to forget their troubles, and they want to be with other people."

The story points out that the old theory that movies do well in hard times isn't precisely true. The last time a double-digit jump in attendance happened was in 1989, when the unemployment rate was at 5.4%. It's now at 7.6% nationally, according to the latest figures from January. In 1989 the number of moviegoers rose 16.4%.

But in 1982 with unemployment past 10%, theater attendance increased 10.1% to about 1.18 billion. But when the economy picked up in 1985, admissions fell nearly 12%.

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