Ticket sales pass last year's record total

The national box office passed last year’s record-breaking $5.35 billion annual take Friday and should finish the weekend with a $5.4 billion cume. That puts the year approximately 11% ahead of the comparable period of 1995.

Admissions up

At the present rate of filmgoing, the year should wind between $5.85 billion and $5.9 billion. There also spells an increase in annual admissions to approximately 1.3 billion, a boost of 6% from a year earlier. Though consistent with moviegoing patterns of the past decade, it’s a couple of percentage points away from setting a new all-time standard.

While any increase in B.O. is welcome, this year’s expansion comes with several disappointing caveats. Wide releases – those films that open or expand to 500 or more simultaneous playdates – increased this year from 143 to 160, 12% greater than a year ago. So, while the relative gain or loss on the average domestic B.O. return will be negligible, the costs of producing and marking pictures have once again gone up by 15% to 20%.

Unprecedented building boom

The past year also has seen an unprecedented boom in theater construction with major national chains betting that new sites, coupled with more event pictures, will boost attendance. However, despite an increase in the number of $100 million-plus grossing titles, there’s been no appreciable overall expansion in the number of people going to the movies. In fact, outside of traditional peak viewing, attendance took a precipitous tumble.

But perhaps most worrying is an initial indication that growth in the international theatrical marketplace is slowing. Daily Variety’s annual sampling of top 100 worldwide grossers currently shows 1996 international B.O. outpacing domestic by 9%. Last year’s result for 12 months had international ahead by 20%.

With less than three weeks remaining in the year, Buena Vista is certain to lead all companies in market share for the third consecutive year with Warner Bros. once again the annual bridesmaid. Buena Vista’s B.O. will see a sizable 10% boost from 1995. However, both Fox and Paramount are headed for larger percentage boosts. The rest of the majors will experience slight erosion, with the exceptions of Universal and New Line, which had few bright spots to claim in their release schedules.

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