The $8bn mark may have been broken at the North American box office in 2001, but it was a mixed celebration among the Hollywood majors.

Up by 8.5% from 2000's record $7.7bn, the year's total of $8.3bn reflected a rise in ticket prices as opposed to an increase in admissions, with preliminary estimates ranging from 1.44bn to 1.48bn ticket sales. The all-time record currently remains 1.48bn admissions in 1998, and whether the final figure for 2001 surpasses that will not be revealed until March when the MPAA presents its annual figures at ShoWest in Las Vegas.

Meanwhile the year became especially notable for the trend of "front loading" a film, or marketing it so intensely that as large an audience as possible would attend in its opening weekend. By the following weekend, that audience has moved on to the next picture.

So while there were precipitous drop-offs in second weekend grosses for many summer pictures, their openings were newsworthily massive - notably: Pearl Harbor ($75.2m), Planet Of The Apes ($68.5m), The Mummy Returns ($68.1m) and Rush Hour 2 ($67.4m).

Movies that failed that opening weekend gambit were deemed dead-on-arrival and beleaguered exhibitors grumbled at the rental terms offered them on short-legged blockbusters.

Warner Bros. came out top in market share terms for the first time in eight years, taking a total of $1.227bn, some $40m shy of the all-time record held by Sony Pictures in 1997, and a market share of 15.1%. The studio enjoyed an extraordinary fourth quarter led by Harry Potter, which is now close to $800m worldwide, and Ocean's Eleven which has so far taken $137m domestically.

Had Warner not been obliged to move its actioner Collateral Damage into 2002 due to concerns over Sept 11, the studio could easily have swiped the all-time crown.

Universal, which is frontrunner at this stage for Oscar glory this year with A Beautiful Mind, had an exceptional year including four consecutive summer blockbusters which grossed in excess of $140m: The Mummy Returns, The Fast And The Furious, Jurassic Park III and American Pie 2. The studio's total for the year was $955.9m, representing a market share of 11.8%.

Paramount came in third with $891.8m (11%), Buena Vista fourth with $886.1m (10.9%) and 20th Century Fox fifth with $855.6m (10.5%).

Also triumphant in 2001 was New Line Cinema, which faced a downsizing from the hands of new corporate parent AOL Time Warner and threats that the studio itself would be closed or merged into Warner Bros. Fortunately New Line scored a monster hit with Rush Hour 2 followed by its coup de grace in The Fellowship Of The Ring which has almost determined its secure future, at least for the remainder of the Lord Of The Rings trilogy.

Meanwhile, the studios have a bumper crop of blockbusters lined up for 2002 including new instalments in the James Bond, Star Trek, Star Wars, Harry Potter and Lord Of The Rings sagas, new sequels to Austin Powers, Men In Black, Stuart Little, Spy Kids, Scary Movie, Blade and Analyze This and potential new franchises in Spiderman and Scooby Doo.

NORTH AMERICA TOP 20 2001 (TO JAN 1, 2002)

Film (US distributor) Total US gross

1 Harry Potter & The Sorcerer's Stone (Warner Bros) $291.6m*
2 Shrek (DreamWorks SKG) $267m
3 Monsters, Inc. (Buena Vista) $239.2m*
4 Rush Hour 2 (New Line) $226.2m
5 The Mummy Returns (Universal) $202m
6 Pearl Harbor (Buena Vista) $198.5m
7 Jurassic Park III (Universal) $181.1m
8 Planet Of The Apes (20th Century Fox) $179.8m
9 The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring (New Line) $174.1m*
10 Hannibal (MGM) $165.1m
11 American Pie 2 (Universal) $145.1m
12 The Fast And The Furious (Universal) $144.5m
13 Ocean's Eleven (Warner Bros) $137m*
14 Tomb Raider (Paramount) $131.2m
15 Dr Dolittle 2 (20th Century Fox) $112.9m
16 Spy Kids (Dimension) $112.7m
17 The Princess Diaries (Buena Vista) $108.2m
18 The Others (Dimension) $96.5m
19 Legally Blonde (MGM) $96.2m
20 America's Sweethearts (Columbia) $93.6m
* still on release