The headline story of the 2008 box office can be summed up in three words - The Dark Knight. Warner Bros' triumphant follow-up to Batman Begins made history when it became only the second film to cross the half-billion dollar mark in North America and ended up as the second biggest unadjusted theatrical release of all time behind Titanic.
A four-quadrant hit is the goal of any distributor, and The Dark Knight, driven by huge anticipation, glowing reviews, a widely admired performance by the late Heath Ledger and repeat visits, did not disappoint with $529.7m.
The journey does not end there - Warner Bros has said it will re-release the film in January in an attempt to push $996.5m in worldwide ticket sales past $1bn and make The Dark Knight only the fourth film ever to do so after Titanic, The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King and Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest.
As mid-December approached, Hollywood was on course to break 2007's record $9.7bn haul as receipts reached $8.7bn, slightly ahead of the same time last year. Hollywood never seems to stop surprising itself with its ability to generate vast sums of money - even if it prefers to overlook the fact that, with a 4% year-on-year drop in admissions, rising ticket prices is a key factor.
Nevertheless, $8.7bn is nothing to be sniffed at. Marvel Studios scored a hit with Iron Man, the second-biggest film of the year, that kicked off the summer in style and took $318.3m. Other notable hits came from Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull on $317m, Hancock on $227.9m, Wall-E on $223.6m and Kung Fu Panda on $215.4m. Conversely, Speed Racer stalled on $43.9m and The Incredible Hulk, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, The Mummy: Tomb Of The Dragon Emperor and Body Of Lies all disappointed.
This was a good year for female-friendly blockbusters, with Sex And The City on $152.6m and Mamma Mia! The Movie on $143.8m both exceeding expectations to break into the 2008 top 10.
But the biggest pound-for-pound success story of 2008 was Twilight, Summit Entertainment's adaptation of Stephenie Meyer's vampire saga that raced past $135m in its first three weekends. Summit acquired the project in turnaround from MTV Films and translated a live-event phenomenon at Comic-Con last July into a $69.6m opening weekend in late November, giving Catherine Hardwicke the biggest ever launch weekend for a film directed by a woman. The second film in the series, New Moon, has already been greenlit and Summit is the envy of franchise builders everywhere.
Digital conversion continues to lag behind schedule and roll-out will need to build rapidly on the approximate 5,000 North American screen count to allow 3D systems to deploy. More than 15 films are set to open in 2009 on 3D, a format that has demonstrated its potency twice this year: 3D screenings of Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best Of Both Worlds Concert Tour grossed more than $65m. And 3D screenings accounted for approximately two-thirds of the $101.7m generated by Journey To The Center Of The Earth.
According to Screen Digest, ticket sales for 3D films accounted for roughly 1.8% of total North American box office in 2008 by the beginning of December. The figure is projected to climb to 15% by the end of 2009.