Global box office hits record $28 billion in '08
By Sue Zeidler
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The global movie box office rose 5 percent to a record $28.1 billion in 2008 as fans sought to escape tough economic times through the triumphs of superheroes in films like "The Dark Knight," and "Iron Man."
The Motion Picture Association of America on Tuesday said domestic ticket sales in the United States and Canada reached $9.8 billion, up 1.7 percent from 2007, and accounted for 35 percent of the worldwide total.
The box office in international markets, excluding Canada, climbed to a record $18.3 billion, up 7 percent from 2007, and accounted for 65 percent of the global total.
"Movies can still be counted on to boost people's spirits as well as the economy," said Dan Glickman, the chairman and chief executive of the movie trade group, in prepared comments for ShoWest, an annual convention held in Las Vegas.
Glickman said the domestic box office has remained strong in 2009, surging 11 percent in the first 10 weeks of the year.
David Miller, analyst with Caris & Co, said the lineup for the U.S. summer movie season looks exceptional with many big titles set for release, including "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," "Star Trek" and the newest "Harry Potter" installment.
"We believe the Street now has (a) little more comfort with the summer...lineup out of the studio system, which looks outstanding," Miller said in a report.
But strong ticket sales have not always helped Hollywood.
Citing strong box office trends, lawmakers recently stripped from the $900 billion U.S. economic stimulus plan a provision to provide $246 million in tax breaks for movie makers that would help fund production.
In his statement, Glickman said it was not only in Hollywood's interest, but in the U.S. interest, to have constructive policies that protect intellectual property and encourage the economic growth the industry can deliver.
"When folks talk about how well the box office is doing, it's nothing to apologize for," Glickman said in a statement.
"Whether we build cars or make movies shouldn't matter. What matters is getting folks back to work and reviving our economy," he said.
Unlike previous years, the MPAA did not provide data on the average cost to make and market films -- figures that mostly have been on the rise and have offset solid box office.
In last year's report, the MPAA said the average cost to make and market a film grew to $106.6 million in 2007 for the major studios, up 6.3 percent from $100.3 million in 2006.
An MPAA spokeswoman said the group did not track these figures in 2008 due to an evolving marketplace.
"The industry, the wide diversity of films produced, the labels used for distribution and a host of other factors are all changing so rapidly that year-to-year average cost comparisons are relatively useless and misleading," said the spokeswoman.
While domestic admissions fell slightly to 1.4 billion in all of 2008, they remained relatively equal to recent years, with the exception being 2002's high of 1.6 billion admissions.
Admissions rose 7 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008 and eight percent in the first 10 weeks of 2009, the MPAA said.
The rise underscores an old rule in Hollywood that in tough times, people go to the movies for escape.
Average ticket prices in 2008 rose by about 30 cents to $7.18, a 4.4 percent increase roughly comparable to the consumer price index increase, the MPAA said.
The number of films released domestically in 2008 rose slightly from the previous year to 610 compared to 599 in 2007, but films produced in the U.S. dropped 20.7 percent in large part due to economic and labor issues, the MPAA said.
The MPAA said its major studio members released 27 fewer films, while non-MPAA-affiliated independent companies released 38 more new films in 2008, making up the difference.
The MPAA represents major studios like General Electric Co's Universal Pictures, Time Warner Inc's Warner Bros, Viacom Inc's Paramount, which distributes DreamWorks films, News Corp's Twentieth Century Fox, Sony Corp and Walt Disney Co.
(Reporting by Susan Zeidler: editing by Carol Bishopric)