’90 B.O. Neared The Record

Thanks to a kid at home and a gangster in Rome, U.S. theatrical film boxoffice in 1990 soared to an estimated $5.02 billion, according to the exclusive VARIETY reporting survey. This is barely shy of the alltime annual record of $5.03 billion set in 1989. The yearend surge came from a record December gross, climaxed by the biggest Christmas season week ever.

Final 1990 U.S. film ticket sales are projected at nearly 1.06 billion, which is down less than 7% from prior year’s 1.13 billion level but is dead-on the average annual ticket tally over the last 29 years.

Prior to the Thanksgiving opening of the year-end holiday b.o. season, all signs had been pointing since summer to a 1990 U.S. b.o. take of $4.90 to $4.95 billion. Then along came “Home Alone” to gun the engine, and finally “The Godfather Part III” as after-burner to lift the total to within inches of the prior year’s level.

The seasonally adjusted VARIETY Boxoffice Index for 1990 was 180.8 compared to 180.9 a year back. Since the Index base is 100.0 in the base year 1980, that means that domestic b.o. last year was 80.8% over 1980.

In December alone, the Index hit a peak of 220.9 compared to 190.3 a year earlier.

For the December period (the five weeks from Nov. 28 to Jan. 2), U.S. boxoffice gross reached nearly $581 million, up 16% from $501.7 million a year earlier. Ticket sales were 118.9 million, up nearly 9% from earlier 109.5 million. Average national ticket price was $4.88 compared to $4.58.

The Christmas season single-week record had been $157.9 million, set in Christmas week 1987. But the new record was set last week – $169.5 million.

The average ticket price over 1990 as a whole was just over $4.75, up nearly 7% from $4.45 in 1989.

The leading December hits were “Home Alone,” “Dances With Wolves,” “Misery,” “The Godfather Part III,” “Kindergarten Cop,” “Three Men And A Little Lady,” “Look Who’s Talking Too,” “Edward Scissorhands,” “The Rookie” and “Mermaids.”

Folding in Thanksgiving period results with the new record December figures, the total holiday season b.o. this year was a record $710.8 million, up nearly 12% from $637.1 million in 1989.

As for the immediate future, time will again tell how the domestic b.o. holds up in a national economic recession. Based on past history, the b.o. is recession-resistant, meaning that if it reflects hard times, it does so just before times turn up again.

In any case, worth remembering is the fact that people discard luxuries that are both recent and expensive; filmgoing is neither.

But overriding all external factors is the truism – here paraphrased somewhat – that there’s nothing wrong with the picture business that good films can’t cure.

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