While 1999 will be remembered as yet another record-shattering year in terms of theatrical box office grosses, it will also bear witness to a growing worldwide disparity in fortunes between the handful of huge hits and the mass of movie misses.

The seventeen blockbusters that crossed the magic $100m gross point during the North American release last year accounted for nearly two fifths of the overall box office total, which swelled 8% to top $7.3bn. The remaining 327 films put out last year, 128 of them on wide release, shared a cumulative take of around $4.5bn, an aggregate total that works out at less than $14m apiece.

Meanwhile, the average cost of producing and marketing a Hollywood film in the US currently stands at $78m, a figure that underscores how reliant studios have become on overseas ticket sales and worldwide ancillary deals just to recoup costs.

Even the US exhibition chains that would normally cheer an increase in the dollar bounty pouring in to their sites had reason to temper their New Year's jubilation. Depending on whose figures are used, admissions were either stagnant or rose a modest 5% - hardly enough to justify the large number of new or improved multiplexes that have been added to the North American circuit.

The situation is no less acute overseas: UK audiences have not expanded to match the rapid growth in local cinemas; while in France, the number of admissions actually fell nearly 9% to 155 admissions in a year that saw 15 new multiplexes open for business.

In terms of bragging rights, the year belonged once again to Buena Vista which notched billion-dollar tallies in both the North American and international marketplaces scooping $2.6bn worldwide, largely on the back of Spyglass' The Sixth Sense and Pixar's Toy Story 2. Both joined the exclusive $200m plus club while Buena Vista's 17% domestic share compares with the 14.2% enjoyed by a resurgent Warner Bros. It also recorded its first billion dollar double with the help of Village Roadshow's The Matrix and its Japanese pick-up Pokemon.

PolyGram's Notting Hill, which eclipsed Four Weddings And A Funeral as the highest worldwide grossing UK production ever was one of the keys behind Universal becoming the third distributor last year to score a billion dollars or more internationally.

Although most territorial top tens featured many of the same Hollywood titles, there were a few anomalies across the globe. In France, the top-grossing film was Asterix And Obelix vs Caesar, a French-German-Italian co-production that attracted 1.7million more movie-goers than The Phantom Menace (which has now moved ahead of Jurassic Park on the all-time grossing list with a worldwide gross of $922m and counting). Three films, The Mummy, Eyes Wide Shut and Notting Hill did notably more business overseas than in the US; while others, including Big Daddy, The General's Daughter and Inspector Gadget, have so far made most of their money at home.