B.O. BONANZA

Season sees record box office intake pass $6 bil

It was indeed a merry Christmas for Hollywood as the domestic box office pushed past $6 billion on Dec. 25. The hearty seasonal dough establishes a new benchmark for North American box office, handily surpassing the prior record of $5.75 billion set in 1996.

The Christmas weekend is expected to add more than $140 million to the annual cume and the remaining three calendar days will see a finish of better than $6.2 billion. The final tally will translate to roughly a 7.8% increase from one year ago and also come close to record admissions of 1.3 billion.

The prospect of a $6 billion-plus year was evident from the results of first-quarter filmgoing. In fact, entering the summer, B.O. performance plotted out to almost $6.5 billion. However, weak returns in May and June necessitated more conservative projections.

Since Labor Day, moviegoing kept apace of prior years, indicating the likelihood of a finale perhaps a tad shy of $6.2 billion. However, record Christmas viewing that’s ballooned about 25% from a year ago now assures reaching that level.

Individual performance of holiday releases and the arrival of the last sputter of national debuts resulted in slight shifts in market share performance.

Sony has long been assured of top spot with combined grosses from 1997 releases approaching $1.3 billion and close to 21% of the marketplace. Buena Vista trails in second by more than 6%, and though the company will fall short of $1 billion domestically for the first time in three years, it’s released fewer titles and shifted emphasis to overseas territories where it controls rights to such pics as “Air Force One” and “Face/Off.”

Paramount pulled past Warner Bros. during the holidays thanks to buoyant biz on “Titanic” and will dock in third. The other major switch saw Miramax surpass New Line as a result of the late-year openings of “Scream 2” and “Jackie Brown” and the expansion of “Good Will Hunting.” New Line’s most recent wide release was the pre-Thanksgiving “Mortal Kombat Annihilation.”

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