Some 985 million tickets sold in 2009, up 6.5% on 2008

More European film fans went to the cinema in 2009 than in 2008.

Initial figures from 18 of the 24 European Union member states for which data is available show that around 985 million tickets were sold in 2009, up 6.5% on the previous year.

The figure, collated by the European Audiovisual Observatory, is edging closer to the record-breaking 1.013 billion tickets sold in 2004.

Analysis of the numbers — which show Germany as the leader in B.O. gains, up 13.1% to 16.9 million admissions — suggests that the box office is being driven by Hollywood blockbusters including “Avatar” and “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs.”

“Data already available show box office growth significantly outpacing growth in attendance in basically all countries,” the Observatory said in a statement. “The increasing number of 3D blockbusters like ‘Ice Age 3′ or ‘Avatar’ selling tickets at premium prices is likely to have been a major contributing factor in this development.”

Apart from Germany, other admissions leaders were France (up 5.7% to 10.9 million), the U.K. (up 5.6% to 9.3 million) and Poland (up 16.1% to 5.4 million). Attendance was marginally down in Italy by 0.4%.

Early analysis of the figures shows that national film market share in 19 of the 24 European countries was down.

Exceptions were Sweden, which registered a record year in 2009, with admissions to local films increasing by 81.5% year-on-year, and local market share climbing to a record 32.7%. This was largely due to the success of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” based on author Stieg Larsson’s blockbuster “Millennium” trilogy of books.

Outside the EU, Russia continued to grow, with admissions up by 11.8% to 138.5 million tickets, holding its position as the fourth largest cinema market in Europe in terms of cinema attendance.

With the Russian ruble losing around 20% of its value against the dollar in 2009, gross box office reported in dollars dropped from $830 million in 2008 to $736 million last year, although when measured in rubles box office was actually up 10.4%.

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