Movie ticket prices have resumed their inexorable climb, with the average cost of a ducat cracking the $8 mark for the first time in the fourth quarter, according to the National Assn. of Theater Owners.

The fourth quarter price of $8.01 represented a new record, topping the first quarter’s $7.95 mark, NATO stats released Friday showed.

The average 2010 ticket price was $7.89, up 5.2% from the 2009 average of $7.50. NATO director of media and research Patrick Corcoran told Variety that the yearly price rise is in line with increases over the past five years, which have been from 4% to 5%.

“I would assume a large part of the increase for 2010 is due to 3D,” Corcoran said.

The number of 3D titles will increase this year from 2010’s 23, with the final 2011 tally expected to total about three dozen.

The price hike for last year came with 2010 domestic box office declining 1.4% from 2009, totaling $10.46 billion vs. a record-setting $10.61 billion in 2009. Majors released 11 fewer films with 110 last year, so 3D titles (such as “Toy Story 3,” “Despicable Me,” “Alice in Wonderland”) and their higher ticket prices helped prop up the overall box office.

Corcoran said last year’s box office decline wasn’t due to the impact of higher ticket prices but to moviegoer perception of the quality of films.

“Attendance is primarily affected by what’s onscreen,” he added. “There are movies out doing great numbers. We need more of them.”

The average ticket price has risen every year for the past decade. For 2009, it was $7.50; 2008, $7.18; 2007, $6.88; 2006, $6.55; 2005, $6.41; 2004, $6.21; 2003, $6.03; 2002, $5.80; 2001, $5.65; and 2000, $5.39.

NATO has been tracking quarterly prices since 2001. The figure includes discounted tickets such as matinees and children’s prices.

NATO didn’t disclose the number of tickets sold last year but Corcoran indicated that overall attendance has been increasing on a decade by decade average. He noted that the first decade of the 21st century averaged 1.41 billion yearly admissions, compared with 1.28 billion in the 1990s, 1.13 billion in the 1980s and 995 million in the 1970s.

“Adjusted for inflation, the average ticket costs less than it did in 1970,” he added.