Hollywood headed for banner year at box office

Thu Dec 27, 2007 7:27pm EST
 
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By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Hollywood is poised to end the year with a record $9.7 billion in domestic movie receipts, up 4 percent from 2006, but the gain will be fueled largely by higher ticket prices, box office tracking service Media By Numbers said on Thursday.

A handful of holiday season hits, led by Will Smith's sci-fi thriller "I Am Legend," propelled the movie business out of its autumn slump and set the stage for 2007's theatrical film revenues to surpass the 2004 benchmark of $9.45 billion.

Through Christmas Day, total U.S.-Canadian ticket sales stood at about $9.3 billion, already matching the year-end tally for 2006, when revenues grew by 3.8 percent.

But analysts said much of the increase was a function of ticket price inflation that offset a lack of growth in film attendance. Media by Numbers said ticket prices were up about 4 percent from last year.

Movie admissions are expected to remain nearly flat for the year, with Media By Numbers projecting a scant 0.17 percent increase over 2006 to 1.42 billion tickets sold. That would still be down considerably from the high-water attendance mark of 1.6 billion admissions in 2002.

Admissions were especially hard hit this year during a string of post-summer movies with somber themes, like "Michael Clayton" and war-related dramas "In the Valley of Elah" and "Rendition." The films were praised by critics but left audiences cold.

"I Am Legend," grossing more than $150 million since its record December opening two weeks ago, helped reinvigorate the market, along with "Alvin and the Chipmunks" and last weekend's top film, the Nicolas Cage adventure sequel "National Treasure: Book of Secrets."

WILL SMITH AND CHIPMUNKS TO THE RESCUE   Continued...

 
<p>Actor Will Smith shows off his hands after putting them in cement during a ceremony at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles in this December 10, 2007 file photo. A handful of holiday season hits, led by Smith's sci-fi thriller "I Am Legend," propelled the movie business out of its fall slump and set the stage for 2007's theatrical film revenues to surpass the 2004 benchmark of $9.45 billion. REUTERS/Chris Pizzello/Files</p>