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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Film box offices were poised on Wednesday to eclipse 2007's record $9.68 billion in U.S. and Canadian ticket sales with Hollywood eyeing more than $10 billion this year as audiences flocked to theaters during the recession.
Movie studios began the year with January crossing the $1 billion mark for the first time ever, and box offices this month are counting on help from highly anticipated films such as "Avatar," "Sherlock Holmes" and "It's Complicated."
So far, moviegoers had snapped up $9.67 billion worth of tickets at domestic -- U.S. and Canadian -- box offices through Tuesday, said tracking firm Hollywood.com Box Office.
The firm said 2007's record was expected to be surpassed on Wednesday, as Hollywood reaps returns during a recession that, as in past downturns, has seen consumers showing up in theaters for relatively cheap entertainment.
Last year's domestic box office came in at $9.63 billion.
"The global economy is taking a major hit, and when these conglomerates that own movie studios are having a tough time, it's at least one bright spot in the equation," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Hollywood.com Box Office. "People are still, in 2009, going to the movies in big numbers."
For the entire year, Hollywood.com Box Office expects movie ticket spending in the United States and Canada to hit $10.6 billion.
The year has been helped by major releases such as "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen," the year's biggest hit with $402 million in domestic ticket sales, according to tracking firm Box Office Mojo.
At No. 2, so far, was "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," which made $301 million. Also, vampire romance "The Twilight Saga: New Moon" had the third biggest movie opening of all time for the United States and Canada.
Surprise hits have included Paramount Pictures' "Paranormal Activity" raking in $107 million. Warner Bros. put out two unexpected smashes, "The Hangover" ($277 million) and "The Blind Side" ($131 million and still counting.)
The 2009 total was aided by a 28 cent increase in ticket prices from the year before to an average $7.46.
The total number of tickets sold, or admissions, is expected to reach 1.4 billion, up from 1.34 billion in 2008. Still, that figure is not expected to break the record 1.6 billion tickets sold in 2002, said Hollywood.com Box Office.
The United States and Canada account for about 35 percent of the global box office total, making it the largest film market in the world, Hollywood.com Box Office said.
International figures were not available.
Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis: Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Peter Cooney