As expected, Australian exhibitors broke through the A$700m barrier in 1999 giving the territory an extraordinary twelfth consecutive year of box office growth.

An estimated 88 million tickets were sold at an average ticket price of A$7.93 -- Australia's 19 million people have access to 1,740 screens. The final gross of A$704,117,000 represented an 11.9% increase on the previous year, the biggest since 1994.

Chair of the Motion Picture Distributors Association of Australia, Roadshow's Ian Sands, attributed the buoyancy to the continued increase in screens - often at existing, rather than new sites - and the outstanding performance of several key blockbusters. In 1999 five films topped A$20m lead by Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, compared to only one in 1998 (Titanic), three in 1997 (Men In Black, Liar Liar, The Lost World), one in 1996 (Babe) and none in 1995.

Sands says while the market is approaching saturation in high density areas, many exhibitors in suburban and provincial areas have drawn up plans for expansion. He sees no reason why growth will not continue into 2000 but expects growth to be a less impressive 6%. While admissions and screen numbers have more than doubled in the past decade, seat numbers have risen by less than half.