Global Box Office Hits Record $36.4 Billion Fueled by China

The global box office was essentially flat in 2014 with worldwide receipts reaching $36.4 billion, according to a new study by the Motion Picture Association of America.

That does establish a new record by a hair, representing a modest 1% increase over the high-water mark established in 2013. In this case, credit goes to the international market which was able to compensate for a 5% dip in domestic ticket sales.

Much of the growth was powered by China, which jumped 34% and became the first international market to exceed $4 billion in box office when it hit $4.8 billion in receipts. The Asia Pacific region was a key area of strength, climbing 12% over last year’s numbers.

The MPAA, which lobbies for the six largest Hollywood studios, was quick to hail the results as evidence of the cross-cultural power of cinema.

“This is not just an American story of success, but a worldwide story about the value of craft, creativity and the importance of a story well told,” MPAA chairman and CEO Senator Chris Dodd said in a statement. “We tell stories that transcend borders and transform individual experiences into shared ones.”

Not everyone is celebrating. It may have been a record year for global ticket sales, but stateside it was a different picture. U.S. ticket sales dipped from $10.9 billion in 2013 to $10.4 billion in 2014 as hits like “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Maleficent” failed to match the impact of the previous year’s crop of tentpole releases.

Domestic admissions fell 6% to 1.27 billion tickets sold, the lowest level in more than a decade, while the typical moviegoer bought 5.5 tickets over the course of the year, down from 5.9 tickets in 2013.

Frequent moviegoers, which the MPAA defines as people who go to movies once a month or more, continued to drive the box office. Though they represented 11% of the total U.S. and Canada population, they accounted for 51% of tickets sold.

In terms of demographics, Caucasians comprised a greater percentage of frequent moviegoers in 2014 than the previous year, climbing from 17.8 million to 21.2 million, while Asians also saw increases, rising from 2.7 million to 3.3 million. Hispanic and African-American audiences, however, saw less to interest them at the multiplexes, with the number of frequent Hispanic moviegoers dropping from 11.6 million to 9.6 million and the number of frequent African-American moviegoers sliding from 4.3 million to 3.7 million.

The movie business continued to struggle to attract younger ticket buyers. The share of tickets sold to audience members between the ages of 40 to 59 hit all-time highs, but the all important 18 to 39 demographic fell to its lowest point in five years.

Audiences also seemed more fatigued than excited by 3D, with the format comprising 14% of the overall box office. That represents its lowest percentage since 2009. A mere 27% of the moviegoing public saw a 3D film in 2014, roughly half of the 52% of the public that checked out the format in 2010, a year in which “Avatar” made most of its $2.8 billion haul.

The U.S. wasn’t the only region to suffer declines. Europe, the Middle East and Africa saw box office receipts fall 3%, as major territories such as Germany and the United Kingdom saw revenues drop. Latin American ticket sales rose a slender 2%, less than in prior years as Mexico and Argentina suffered setbacks, falling 5% and 20%. Both of those countries are enduring periods of political and economic unrest.

In terms of foreign markets, China was the clear leader followed by Japan with $2 billion in receipts, France with $1.8 billion, and the United Kingdom and India both with $1.7 billion.

Most industry analysts don’t expect 2014’s global record to last for long. This year brings a steady stream of blockbuster fare thanks to new installments in the Hunger Games, Jurassic Park, Star Wars and Avengers franchises and with them the possibility for a box office windfall of unprecedented proportions.

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