Australia’s gross box office hit $988m (A$1.09bn) in 2009, up 15% on the previous year, and its best year on record. It is also the first time annual ticket sales have exceeded $907m (A$1bn).

The figures, which were released by Motion Picture Distribution Association of Australia yesterday (January 21), show the top ten films, including SlumdogMillionaire and The Twilight Saga: New Moon, grossed $267.2m (A$295m).

MPDAA chair Mike Baard told that admissions were an estimated 90.7 million, up on 2008’s 84.6 million.

But he added: “Everyone acknowledges that admissions weren’t up 15%. A big contributing factor was 3D ticket prices, and the extra cost of gold class and other premium tickets — but there are also discount Tuesdays and kids movie prices and so on.”

Baard also made special mention of Avatar, which was in the top ten list despite being released just two weeks before the end of 2009. It is now the biggest box office hit of all time in Australia – just like it is in many territories worldwide — with a gross of more than $67.9m (A$75m).

Avatar (was) a film which showcased the very best of cinema in every sense – a great story driven by groundbreaking new technology gave audiences a look at the future of film,” said Baard, who also heads Universal in Australia.

Baard also noted that Australian films enjoyed one of the best years in recent memory. According to Screen Australia, 50 Australian films were released in 2009 and they grossed a total of $49.6m (A$54.8m) or 5% of the total annual gross. It is the biggest domestic share since 2001 and compares favourably to the five-year average of 4 %.

It was a record year for the number of homegrown films in cinemas but only five were released on more than 100 prints. Overall,  418 films were released theatrically in 2009 - 213 from the US, which earned 83% of revenue, and 34 from the UK earned 9%  according to the government agency’s analysis.

Top 10 earners in 2009

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince  (Warner Bros) - $36.7m (A$40.6m)

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen  (Paramount) - $36.4m (A$40.3m)

Avatar  (Fox) - $67.9 (A$75.3)

The Twilight Saga: New Moon (Hoyts) -$33.4m (A$ 37m (38.1))

Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (Fox )- $26.6m (A$29.8m)

Up (Walt Disney) - $25.3m (A$28m)

The Hangover (Warner Bros) - $19.4m (A$21.4m)

Monsters vs Aliens (Paramount) - $18.6m (A$20.6m)

2012 (Sony) - $18.2m (A$20.1m)

Slumdog Millionaire*  (Icon) - $17.m (A$18.9m (20.3m))

Top 10 Australian earners in 2009

Mao’s Last Dancer (Roadshow/Hopscotch) - $13.5m (A$15m) (15.2))

Australia*  (Fox) - $9.6m (A$10.6m (37.6))

Knowing (Icon) - $6.9m (A$7.6m)

Charlie & Boots (Paramount/Transmission) - $3.5m (A$3.9m)

Samson & Delilah (Transmission/Transmission/Footprint) - $2.9m (A$ 3.2m)

* Released in 2008