UK box office thrives while industry set to struggle

Tue Jan 20, 2009 10:45am EST
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LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Box office sales in the United Kingdom and Ireland hit a record high of 950 million pounds ($1.34 billion) in 2008, up five percent on 2007, figures from the UK Film Council showed on Tuesday.

Although more money was spent on tickets than in any year since records began in 1989, investment on film production in Britain fell sharply and the council warned that independent British cinema would struggle to raise finance this year.

A total of 578 million pounds was spent in Britain on films with production budgets of over 500,000 pounds, a 23 percent drop from the 753 million spent in 2007.

Despite the fall, spending on movies made by British companies as opposed to blockbusters partly produced in the country or co-production pictures, increased by 21.5 percent to 192 million from 158 million in 2007.

But the outlook for independent British productions in 2009 is less rosy, the UK Film Council warned.

"The outlook for independent British films in 2009 is expected to be tough with the economic downturn starting to take effect," it warned in its annual market report.

"This impact had not materialized in 2008 as finance and credit deals are done well in advance of film production and release. The immediate prospects for ... British independent films suggest it will become even harder for them to raise credit especially through bank loans."

Spending on blockbusters may hold up better, however, with another Harry Potter installment being made and "Gulliver's Travels" and "Nottingham" also due to be shot later in 2009.

Box office earnings were boosted by the surprise success of Abba musical "Mamma Mia!," which earned 69 million pounds to become the most successful ever film in Britain, and James Bond movie "Quantum of Solace" which took over 50 million pounds.

The share of British films in the overall earnings last year was 31 percent, up from 29 percent in 2007.

(Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato)