Cameron caps 2009

'Avatar' perf ends best year ever at box office

The astounding performance of 20th Century Fox’s “Avatar” — reaching $1 billion in worldwide ticket sales in just three weeks — was a fitting end to a boisterous year at the box office in which numerous studio pics did far better than expected.

Domestic ticket sales topped out at $10.7 billion for the year, blowing away 2008’s record $9.78 billion by nearly 10%. Attendance was up as much as 3%.

Studios also minted plenty of coin at the foreign B.O., with some titles seeing far more business overseas than domestically. (The 2009 domestic tally included weekend grosses through Jan. 3, according to U.S. industry practice. Overseas, the year ended Dec. 31.)

“I think the movies have been really good. It is true the box office is counter-recessionary, unlike ancillary markets, but if so many movies this year hadn’t been satisfying, that would not have mattered. Certainly that’s so with ‘Avatar,’ where Jim Cameron’s genius is all in service of story and emotion which audiences love,” Fox co-chair Tom Rothman said.

The added value of being able to charge more for a 3D ticket also came into clear view in 2009 thanks to titles including “Avatar,” Disney/Pixar’s “Up,” Paramount/DreamWorks Animation’s “Monsters vs. Aliens” and even Lionsgate’s “My Bloody Valentine.”

“Audiences responded in huge numbers to the widespread expansion of 3D resulting in record-breaking grosses around the globe,” Par prexy of international distribution Andrew Cripps said.

Or, as Warner Bros. prexy of domestic distribution Dan Fellman put it: “It couldn’t get any better.”

Warner Bros.

Warner Bros. led the majors with $4 billion in worldwide ticket sales, a first for any studio. (Previous record was $3.66 billion, set in 2007 by Warners.) That included $2.13 billion in domestic receipts, and $1.87 billion overseas.

The studio’s biggest worldwide grosser was “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” which took $302 million domestically and $627.4 million internationally for a total haul of $929.4 million, second only to “Avatar.”

Warners boasted two of the surprise hitters of the year, comedy “The Hangover” and, more recently, Sandra Bullock topliner “The Blind Side,” fully financed and produced by Alcon Entertainment.

“Hangover” grossed $277.3 million domestically and $182.1 million overseas for a worldwide haul of $459.4 million, the best showing ever for an R-rated laffer. Film’s triumph at the foreign B.O. was particularly sweet since comedy doesn’t always travel so well.

“Blind Side” jumped the $200 million mark at the domestic B.O. over New Year’s weekend to firm up its spot on the year’s top 10 list.

Studio’s Christmas entry “Sherlock Holmes” generated good biz, grossing an estimated $140.7 million in its first 10 days domestically and $88.3 million overseas for a total $229 million.

Weaker links: “Ninja Assassin,” “Terminator Salvation” and “The Informant.” But Warners made up for any blemishes by claiming the No. 1 spot at the domestic box office for 12 weeks.


Fox reached at least $4.04 billion in global ticket sales, with an estimated $1.74 billion in domestic receipts and a record-breaking (for any studio) $2.45 billion overseas. The Fox number includes $261 million in Fox Searchlight grosses, of which at least $171.9 million rep grosses from films directly distributed by Searchlight. That puts big Fox’s domestic tally at roughly $1.57 million. (Sony and Universal numbers don’t include numbers from Sony Pictures Classics or Focus Features, respectively).

“Avatar,” the biggest gamble in recent memory, has a shot at becoming the No. 2 worldwide grosser of all time after Cameron’s “Titanic” ($1.8 billion).

Fox ended the year on a decidedly high note between “Avatar” and the successful launch of “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel.”

Earlier in the year, “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs” pulled in a massive $691 million at the foreign B.O. but that’s since been eclipsed by “Avatar.”

Fox also saw strong returns from “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” and “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian.”

Liam Neeson starrer “Taken” was Fox’s surprise hit of the year, cuming $145 million domestically.

Weaker links: “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” Fox Searchlight’s “Amelia” and “All About Steve.”


Sony enjoyed a stellar year worldwide, grossing $1.46 billion domestically and $2.13 billion overseas. Fueled by foreign interest, studio’s two top titles were Roland Emmerich’s disaster pic “2012,” grossing $590.7 million internationally and $162.3 million domestically, and Ron Howard’s “Angels and Demons,” which cumed $352.6 million overseas and $133.4 million domestically.

Sony also was foreign distributor of “Terminator Salvation,” which did far better overseas, where it cumed $220.6 million in Sony territories. Warners distributed the pic domestically, where it grossed $125.3 million.

“Paul Blart: Mall Cop” proved a sleeper hit domestically, grossing $146.3 million.

Studio scored with femme-driven pics, including “Julie and Julia” and “The Ugly Truth.” It also did well by “This Is It,” which cumed $183.5 million overseas (it’s still playing in Japan) and $72.1 million domestically.

Weaker links: “Year One” and “The International.”


Par’s pics grossed an estimated $1.48 billion at the domestic B.O. and $1.31 billion overseas for a total of $2.79 billion. “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” was the big gun, grossing a massive $402.1 million domestically (the top gross of the year) and $433.2 million overseas.

Studio successfully relaunched the “Star Trek” franchise, whipping up genuine interest among foreign auds for the first time. Pic grossed $257.7 million domestically and $128 million overseas. Par also launched a global franchise with “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.”

Paramount made history at the domestic B.O. with micro-budgeted “Paranormal Activity,” which the studio acquired for several hundred thousands dollars and which grossed $107.8 million domestically.

By December, Par was focusing much of its attention on awards hopeful “Up in the Air,” directed by Jason Reitman and starring George Clooney. Through Sunday, film had grossed $45 million domestically.

Weaker links: “Imagine That,” “The Soloist, “Dance Flick.”


Disney had a strong year, with $2.93 billion in worldwide grosses, including $1.23 billion in domestic ticket sales and $1.7 billion in foreign grosses.

Disney/Pixar’s 3D toon “Up” was a critical and commercial hit, cuming $293 domestically and nearly $420 million overseas, where the film is still in release. That’s the best foreign showing for a Disney toon after Pixar’s “Finding Nemo.”

Sandra Bullock-Ryan Reynolds romantic comedy “The Proposal” was one of the year’s notable overperformers, cuming $164 million domestically and $153.2 million more overseas.

The Mouse House, a leader in 3D, saw strong returns from “G-Force” and even “Disney’s A Christmas Carol,” which started off slow but has become a tried-and-true box office performer. “Christmas Carol,” from Robert Zemeckis, has grossed $137.4 million domestically and $171.5 million overseas, where it has become the biggest holiday-themed pic of all time.

The traditionally animated “The Princess and the Frog,” the first Disney pic featuring an African-American princess, did well over the holiday frame, ending 2009 with a domestic cume of $86.1 million.

Weaker links: “Old Dogs,” “Confessions of a Shopaholic.”


U was the only major not to crack the $1 billion mark in ticket sales at the domestic B.O., ending the year with an estimated haul of $900 million. Overseas, the studio reached $1.2 billion in ticket sales for a total haul of $2.1 billion.

Studio’s top performer of the 2009, both domestically and internationally, was “Fast and Furious,” which cumed $155.1 million domestically and $207.6 million overseas for a total $362.7 million.

U also saw big foreign returns from Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds,” which grossed $198.8 million internationally. The Weinstein
Co. was domestic distrib.

“Couple’s Retreat” pleased auds, grossing $108.3 million domestically and $51.6 million overseas.

Michael Mann’s Johnny Depp starrer “Public Enemies” grossed $115.6 million internationally and $97.1 million domestically.

Christmas entry “It’s Complicated,” the latest romantic comedy from Nancy Meyers, brought some cheer, cuming an estimated $59.1 million in its first 10 days for U.

Generally speaking, U had a tough year, suffering a string of high-profile, low-performing releases.

Weaker links: “Land of the Lost,” “Duplicity,” “State of Play.”


Though Summit Entertainment is not one of the majors, its “New Moon” earned a spot on the list of top 2009 performers. The second installment in the “Twilight” vampire franchise grossed $287.1 million domestically and $381.5 million overseas for a worldwide haul of $668.6 million — one of many box office bites making 2009 a year no one will forget anytime soon.

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