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Oz B.O. high and low

All-time high receipts hit $457.6 mil, local pix only 3%

SYDNEY– The Australian B.O. hit an all-time high last year — but the grim news for Aussie producers was that homegrown films took the lowest share of the pie since 1991.

Nationwide receipts soared to $A704.1 million ($457.6 million), a 12% gain on 1998 — the 12th consecutive year of growth.

Tickets sold were estimated at 88 million, up from 79.8 million in 1998, as the screen count rose by 10% to 1,740.

Given the absence of a “Titanic”-scale blockbuster, Aussie distribs were delighted that the marketplace’s healthy momentum continued.

“It was a wonderful trading year,” said Ian Sands, chairman of the Motion Picture Distributors Assn. of Australia and of Roadshow Film Distributors.

Sands notes the lack of a “Titanic”-sized megahit was more than compensated for by five films that each grossed more than $13 million.

The top earner was “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace,” which took in $24.7 million, followed by “The Sixth Sense” at $18.2 million. The other fat grossers were the “Austin Powers” sequel, “The Matrix” and “Notting Hill.”

However, it was another flat year for Oz films, whose B.O. share was a meager 3.01% — down from 4.06% in 1998 and 1997’s 5.1%. The nadir, reached in 1991, was 2.26%.

Only two national releases figured in the top 50 titles: Gregor Jordan’s crime caper “Two Hands” (which minted $3.5 million) and Ted Emery’s outback comedy “The Craic” ($3.4 million).

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