The UK film industry banked $4.2bn in ticket sales worldwide last year, according to the UK Film Council’s Statistical Yearbook.

The research, which was published today (July 16), reinforces the popularity of films classified as British by the UKFC, finding that one in six viewings at the cinema across the world was a UK product. The UKFC equate the figure to 15% of the global box office.

The Dark Knight was the best performing UK qualifying film at the worldwide box office, earning almost $1 billion and, in Europe, the top British film was the UK/USA production Mamma Mia!, which attracted more than 34 million admissions.

John Woodward, Chief Executive Officer of the UK Film Council, said: “Billions at the box office and billions back to the UK economy – these are big numbers which underline the value of the UK film industry and the strength of our cultural talent.They also highlight just how important it is that we build on the many hard-won achievements and continue to invest in the long-term future of British film.”

At home British films accounted for 31% of the tickets sold in the UK, up from 29% in 2007.  Five of the top 20 films at the UK box office in 2008 were British, led by Mamma Mia!, which earned more than $113.5 million (£69 million) to become the highest grossing film of all time at the UK box office.  The other top British films, according to the UKFC’s definition of British, were Quantum of Solace, The Dark Knight, Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian and Sweeney Todd

The top 20 performing UK films in 2008 – which also includes independent British films such as Adulthood, The Duchess and The Other Boleyn Girl – grossed $438 million (£266 million) at the UK box office, and $36 million (£22 million) more than in 2007.

Despite the onset of the credit crunch in late 2008, cinema-going has remained one of the most popular forms of entertainment in the UK, with an increase in both box office and admissions.  Box office receipts totalled £850 million, a rise of 3.5% on 2007’s $1,398 million (£821 million) and a 50% increase since the UK Film Council was created in 2000.  In addition, audiences for film on DVD and television also remained strong.

Other statistics in the yearbook include:

  • In 2007, the UK film industry had a total turnover of nearly £6.1 billion and its contribution to the UK GDP was £2.5 billion, 0.2% of the total.

  • The UK film industry exported £1,050 million worth of services in 2007, an all time high and a 50% increase compared to 2001. This was made up of £646 million in royalties and £403 million in film production services.

  • The UK film trade surplus (earnings from our exports outweighing expenditure on imports) in 2007 was £232 million.

  • The UK had 3,610 cinema screens (96 more than 2007) in 726 cinemas (one less cinema than in 2007) and 310 digital screens, the highest number in Europe, and 20% of the European total.  240 of these are part of the UK Film Council’s Digital Screen Network.

  • There was a massive growth in digital screens internationally, particularly in North America, with the global total rising to 8,797 compared to only 848 in 2005.

  • 2008 was the year in which 3D began to make an impact; 69 UK screens were 3D capable, a huge increase from just 5 in 2006. This figure is expected to rise significantly with the increase in 3D releases. The top performing 3D title in the UK was Journey to the Centre of the Earth.

  • Alternative content events screened in UK cinemas have more than doubled to 67 from 31 in 2007. Events ranged from live or recorded operas, pop music concerts, as well as film screenings with live ‘virtual’ premieres and Q&A sessions, such as the Lottery-funded premiere of The Age of Stupid.

  • For the first time, the Yearbook has looked at the top films of all time and adjusted them for inflation. Whilst Mamma Mia!’s actual UK box office leads with £69 million to date, adjustments for inflation show that Titanic is still the UK’s highest grossing film of all time with nearly £86 million in 2007/08 terms.

  • Comedy is consistently the UK’s most popular genre with UK audiences and took £222 million, accounting for 24% of the box office share. Musicals, including the massive hit Mamma Mia!, took an average of £113.2 million per cinema, more than any other genre.

  • British films are particularly popular with the over 55s, including The Duchess, Mamma Mia! and In Bruges. Top films for women were Penelope, Wild Child and Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging (all UK films), while men opted for Iron Man, Hellboy II: The Golden Army and Yes Man.

  • Film tastes vary across the regions.  Adulthood was particularly popular amongst London audiences, whilst Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian was a hit with the Midlands, High School Musical 3 was a favourite in Tees/Yorkshire and Scottish audiences preferred Juno, How to Lose Friends and Alienate People and Twilight.

  • A record 258 million films on DVD were sold, whilst DVD rentals at 79 million were 19% down on 2007).  Mamma Mia!was the top over-the-counter rental title and the highest selling DVD, followed by The Dark Knight.

  • The value of the UK film VOD market in 2008 was estimated at £120 million.

  • The UK saw 25 inward investment films go into production last year, including Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Quantum of Solace, The Wolfman, Nine and The Fantastic Mr Fox, with a production spend of £338.2 million.  66 domestic UK films went into production, with a spend of £192 million, including The Boat that Rocked, Green Zone and Dorian Gray. Co-productions included Chèri, Bright Star and Looking for Eric.

  • In 2008 there were nearly 8,000 film and video production companies, 435 distributors and 230 exhibitors. The number of both small and large companies grew: in 2008 there were 150 production companies with a turnover of £5 million or more, compared with only 45 in 1996.