$10 billion milestone expected before year's end

Domestic ticket sales are up a healthy 8% over 2008, with the box office only days away from eclipsing 2008’s record-breaking haul of $9.64 billion in ticket sales.

Through Sunday, B.O. revs were $9.48 billion, only $175 million short of the record (figures calculated using Jan. 2 as the start date). Last year for the same period, domestic ticket sales were $8.78 billion.

Admissions also are running ahead of 2008 levels by more than 3%.

There’s no doubt that domestic ticket sales will jump the $10 billion mark, a key milestone for the film biz, between holdovers and the 2009 releases still waiting to bow, including Warner Bros.’ “Invictus,” 20th Century Fox’s “Avatar,” Warners’ “Sherlock Holmes” and Fox’s “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakuel.”

Historically, box office grosses reported by studios are not adjusted for inflation.

What’s fueling the boom? A diverse list of films have resonated with moviegoers who eager to get out of the house, yet find more affordable entertainment options.

The summer brought record revenues, but it was an unusually strong spring, and now fall, that are boosting the bottom line.

October and November saw revenues of $1.68 billion, up more than 11% over the $1.51 billion earned in October and November 2008.

This year, five movies released in those months having already grossed north of $100 million, with Summit Entertainment’s vampire romancer “New Moon” in the lead ($230.7 million through Sunday.)

The other titles are Sony’s “2012” ($138.5 million), Universal’s “Couples Retreat” ($106.7 million), “Disney’s A Christmas Carol” ($104.9 million) and Warner Bros.’ “The Blind Side” ($102.2 million).

Paramount’s “Paranormal Activity” also holds a spot on the list, since it didn’t open nationwide until October. Pic’s domestic cume through Sunday was $107 million, putting it at No. 3 on the list of the top grossers of October and November.

Last year, only three titles had grossed more than $100 million through the end of November: DreamWorks Animation/Paramount’s “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa” ($159.1 million), Sony’s “Quantum of Solace” ($141.4 million) and Summit’s “Twilight” ($119.7 million).

Strong fall box office, as well as the success of spring titles, could encourage distributors to spread out their releases, instead of loading down the summer months and winter holidays.

In recent years, the fall has generally been the specialty market’s territory. But this year, commercial titles are dominating and generating the headlines.

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