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B.O. rockets in ’96, but aud size stable

The national box office finished the weekend with a cume of slightly more than $5.7 billion for 1996. That’s already 6.7% ahead of 1995, with two days remaining in the year. Daily Variety projects a final ’96 B.O. of $5.75 billion, the greatest annual increase of the past five years.

Initial figures also indicate a slight increase of 2.5% in admissions, reversing modest moviegoing erosion since 1993. However, both those gains are offset by increases in screen counts and the number of wide releases by major distributors. Firstrun theater sites are up about 6%, and mainstream titles expanded about 12%, to 160 titles for the year.

Distribs continue to be rocked by double-digit inflation in the production and especially the marketing of movies. Films are costing about 20% more to make and distribute, while the average theatrical return is shrinking. Expansion in ancillaries and overseas markets also appears to have slowed, which potentially is worrisome in all industry sectors.

Buena Vista has the market-share crown locked for a third year, with close to 21% of domestic B.O.; Warner Bros. trails at second with 16%. Final figures will be available in Thursday and Friday’s issues of Daily Variety.

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