Box Office Hits Record, Number of
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Fueled by “Jurassic World,” “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and other blockbusters, the global box office scaled record heights in 2015, climbing 5% to $38.3 billion, according to a new report by the Motion Picture Assn. of America.

It wasn’t just the returns of Luke Skywalker and those man-eating dinosaurs that goosed revenues. Ticket sales were also bolstered by China’s growing appetite for movies. China’s box office jumped a massive 49% in 2015 to $6.8 billion.

Domestically, ticket sales rose 8% to $11.1 billion in 2015, while admissions jumped 4% to 1.32 billion. Two-thirds of the population of U.S. and Canada, some 235.3 million people, went to the movies at least once last year, up 2% from 2014.

“It was strong everywhere,” said Chris Dodd, the head of the MPAA, the movie business’ lobbying arm. “We’re on a great path.”

However, the number of frequent moviegoers, people who go to the cinema at least once a month, decreased by 3.7 million or 10%. Total tickets purchased by frequent moviegoers jumped by 2.9 million, indicating that this group of people saw more movies in 2015 than in the previous year.

For the fourth consecutive year, frequent moviegoers between the ages of 18 and 24 fell, hitting 5.7 million, down from 7 million in 2014, signaling that younger consumers may not be entirely enamored with the big-screen experience. Frequent moviegoers between the ages of 12 and 24 dropped from 5.5 million to 5.3 million, those between the ages of 40 and 49 dropped from 5.7 million to 4.5 million, and ticket buyers between 50 and 59 dipped from 4.2 million to 3.4 million. The only two demographics that saw increases were those between 2 and 11 (2.7 million to 2.9 million) and ticket buyers between 25 and 39 (7.1 million to 7.4 million).

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The report was unveiled at CinemaCon, the annual exhibition trade show unfolding this week in Las Vegas. In public remarks and in a press conference immediately after, the study’s backers and the National Assn. of Theatre Owners, a trade organization for exhibitors, stressed that there were signs that despite the popularity of digital forms of entertainment, teenagers remain fans of theaters. Per capita ticket sales for Americans ages 12 to 17 was 7.3, the highest growth rate of any age demographic, NATO head John Fithian said. He added that although that demographic represents only 8% of the U.S. population, it is responsible for 16% movie tickets purchased.

There was also evidence that being digitally connected doesn’t dissuade consumers from hitting the movie theater. Three-quarters of frequent moviegoers own at least four different types of technology products such as smartphones, tablets and video-game systems. Dodd said social networking sites and mobile phones are helping to drive box office receipts.

“Word-of-mouth no longer exists,” he said. “It’s now word-of-text.”

Hispanic audiences oversampled in terms of their percentage of the population, but saw declines in the number of frequent moviegoers, dipping from 9.6 million to 7.9 million. The number of frequent Caucasian moviegoers also dropped, falling from 21.2 million to 19.3 million. Frequent African-American moviegoers rose slightly, climbing from 3.7 million to 3.8 million.

Hispanics continued to make up a large percentage of the population, making up 19% of domestic moviegoers. Caucasians made up 60% of moviegoers, with African-Americans representing 12%. Women were 51% of moviegoers.

Four of the five highest grossing films — “Jurassic World,” “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and “Furious 7” — attracted an audience that was primarily male. Only one film, “Inside Out,” had an audience that was largely made up of women.

“Furious 7” attracted the most ethnically diverse audience. Ticket buyers to the film were 25% Hispanic, 22% African-American and 8% Asian. It was followed by “Jurassic World,” with an audience that was 19% Hispanic, 16% African-American and 11% Asian.

“Diversity in the movie business is the right thing to do and it’s also good for business,” said Fithian.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said the frequent movie drop was 17% rather than 10%.

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