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We always love a good box-office panic story this time of year, with studio execs smiling in your face and shitting in their pants while some exhibition insider somewhere blames the coming collapse on a batch of rotten tentpoles. Thank goodness for Carl DiOrio, whose Hollywood Reporter survey today notes that the spring season is down 19% from 2007 while summer promises even spicier drama to come:

This May, the highest flyers will include Paramount's Iron Man and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (May 22), Disney's The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (May 16) and perhaps Warner Bros.' Speed Racer (May 9). Most boxoffice handicappers expect at least one of those to travel north of $300 million, but anything beyond that is uncertain. ...

"I don't think you're going to know until mid-June," one studio exec estimated.

A spokesman for the chief exhibition trade group dismissed any connection between the boxoffice and the nation's economic downturn.

"I don't think what's driving this are the recessionary times," said Patrick Corcoran, operations chief for the National Association of Theatre Owners. "Just look at the product over the past couple months, and it's obvious what's missing are the big pictures."

OK, so: Crap-producing studio exec whose crystal ball is in the shop? Check. Bitter NATO rep passing the buck back to crap-producing studio exec? Check? Fear and loathing as recession squeezes economy? Check. Completely vague annual forecast of make-or-break summer to come? Check. We have our own prediction: We will read this story again next month after Speed Racer's $60 million opening weekend provokes simultaneous outcries that the recession is on and that Emile Hirsch just can't open a blockbuster. And we'll probably write about that when it comes around, too.