Paramount leads the billionaires' club

For the first time since 1998, Paramount ended the year No. 1 in market share, a victory made possible because it owns DreamWorks and distributes its movies.

In another milestone, six majors crossed the $1 billion mark at the domestic box office in the same year, besting the previous mark of four studios.

The sixth studio crossed the threshold at the last minute: With the coin earned over the weekend from “Alvin and the Chipmunks” and “Aliens vs. Predator — Requiem,” 20th Century Fox passed $1 billion and joined Par, Warner Bros., Disney, Sony and Universal.

After Par, estimates show 2007 rankings as follows: Warner Bros. ($1.41 billion), Disney ($1.36 billion), Sony ($1.24 billion), Universal ($1.08 billion) and Fox ($1.01 billion).

While market share is often touted to Wall Street as a sign of muscle, it only tells part of a studio’s story. Studios that churn out the most titles have an advantage in terms of gaining share, but that doesn’t take into consideration the key issue of profitability.

Official figures won’t be released until today or Thursday, but the 2007 domestic box office is up about 5% to 6% from 2006, with total receipts totaling about $9.57 billion.

The four top-grossing films were Sony’s “Spider-Man 3″ ($336.5 million), DreamWorks Animation’s “Shrek the Third” ($321 million), DreamWorks-Par’s “Transformers” ($319 million) and Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” ($309.4 million).

This marks the first time that four films made more than $300 million in one year.

Overall, 2007 was an unpredictable ride, giving the film biz its best summer on record, only to be followed by a difficult fall. That was followed by what looks to be a record-breaking holiday sesh.

Estimates show that Paramount’s take is roughly $1.48 billion. Its top five grossing movies were all supplied by DreamWorks or DreamWorks Animation, although “Transformers” was a DW-Par co-production.

They were “Shrek,” “Transformers,” “Bee Movie” ($124.2 million), “Blades of Glory” ($118.2 million) and “Norbit” ($95.4 million).

The biggest Paramount non-DreamWorks title for the year was the 3-D epic “Beowulf,” which has grossed $81 million. Then it’s back to a DreamWorks title, “Disturbia.”

Paramount hasn’t been No. 1 in market share since 1998, when “Titanic” propelled the studio. DreamWorks never achieved the goal as a stand-alone studio.

Warner’s biggest title of the year was “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” which grossed $292 million domestically. It was the only studio to have three films make more than $200 million: “Harry Potter,” “300” ($210.6 million) and “I Am Legend” (about$205 million thus far).

Disney came in third in market share on the strength of “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” and Disney-Pixar’s “Ratatouille” ($206.4 million). Also, nobody expected “Wild Hogs” to do the business it did ($168.3 million).

Universal touted 2007 as the year of its turnaround, saying it made the most it ever has at the domestic box office, fueled by such hits as “The Bourne Ultimatum” ($227.5 million) and “Knocked Up” ($148.8 million).

Fox, considered the most fiscally frugal of all the studios, had successes including “The Simpsons Movie” ($183.1 million) and “Alvin,” which will likely make more than $200 million domestically.

The majors did release their share of poor performers. DreamWorks’ Ben Stiller laffer “The Heartbreak Kid” stumbled with a gross of only $36.8 million. Warner’s “The Invasion” and “The Brave One” disappointed.

Sony didn’t see the grosses it expected for toon “Surf’s Up.” Ditto for U with sequel “Elizabeth: The Golden Age,” which only grossed $16.3 million domestically. Fox-Walden’s “The Seeker: The Dark is Rising” only grossed $8.8 million.

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