Year-end burst lifts ’92 B.O. to 2nd-best $4.9 bil

The final 1992 U.S. film box office gross came to $ 4.9 billion, according to the Daily Variety survey, in a year that saw revenue increases in four out of five seasons.

The year-end holiday season surged 5% to a new seasonal peak of $ 783.4 million.

The 1992 B.O. take of $ 4.9 billion represents a 2% increase over prior year’s $ 4.8 billion, and is the second-best year on record. (The 1989 and 1990 totals were virtually tied at $ 5 billion.)

The six-week year-end holiday season broke 1991’s all-time seasonal record of $ 742.8 million. That mark is all the more notable in that the 1991 calendar location of Wednesday for Christmas and New Year’s Day is an optimal event. The 1992 holidays were on Friday, not as good as ’91 but certainly better than the Saturday and Sunday locations of 1993 and ’94.

The 1992 B.O. figure breaks down to 971.2 million tickets sold at an average price near $ 5.03. The comparable 1991 data were 981.9 million and $ 4.89.

Though last year’s ticket count eased 1% from 1991, the far more serious decline was the 1991 tumble of more than 7% from 1.06 billion tix in 1990. Hence , the post-1990 drop in ticket units has stabilized.

This can be interpreted as a healthy sign, because historical data indicates that two consecutive years of nearly equal ticket sales often precedes a turn in the market from the most recent trend. In this case, an upturn may be in the offing.

Last year was the 31st consecutive year in which U.S. film ticket sales have ranged up and down around an average of 1.05 billion. The lowest year since 1961 was the 820.3 million total in 1971; the highest, 1.2 billion in 1984.

The relative ups and downs of annual ticket sales around a 31-year average is almost totally a function of the overall quality of films in release. National recessions are a very distant secondary factor; after all, the peak B.O. years of 1989-90 came in the life of the most recent recession.

Another 1992 record was the year-end ticket count of 153.6 million, up from 149.8 million a year ago and ahead of the old seasonal record of 150.4 million set in 1987.

In December alone, despite some weakness in the newer releases, the national gross rose to $ 643.5 million from $ 632.2 million in 1991. The ticket tally was 126.2 million vs. 127.8 million.

The year-end holiday season, which now begins with some major releases before Thanksgiving, has more than doubled in time the three-week frenzy that prevailed for decades. There are two notable effects of this extension (besides the obvious higher revenues):

First, there’s now a two-tier holiday release plan, duplicating the pattern of the summer season, with the stronger product opening early enough to play through year’s end, while other pix open well into December (along with the Academy Award platform releases for selected films).

Second, these November openings have in effect advanced B.O. revenues from the January-February weeks, which formerly were nurtured by strong holdovers. As a result, distributors are opening new films even before the holiday trimmings are stored away. The latter-day Martin Luther King Jr. holiday is another plus factor in getting new pix on screen.

The only bad B.O. season in 1992 was the late-winter period, which fell 15% from the prior year. Spring season jumped 13%, while summer and fall each rose 6 %.

The seasonally adjusted Variety Box Office Index for 1992 rose to 97.2 from 95.4. The Index base of 100.0 was set in the base year 1990, so 1992 performance was 97.2% of base year results. The December Index rose to a new high of 125.9 from 123.4 a year back.

Motion Picture Assn. of America chief Jack Valenti will in a few weeks be reporting the org’s own annual B.O. stats, which usually are very close to the Daily Variety readings.