Without Avatar or Alice In Wonderland to set the pace, the first quarter global box office in 2011 was down on 2010. Screen examines what the numbers reveal.

The sky is not falling just yet as global theatrical box office for the first quarter of 2011 generated $7.4bn. It is approximately 7% off the record-setting pace of last year’s $7.9bn and ranks as the second-best gross for the period spanning the first three months of the year.

While most major territories experienced revenue declines, the presence of strong, indigenous movies helped soften the blow

However, the pluses and minuses become considerably more complex and conclusions prove elusive once one begins to wade through the statistics. North American revenues of $2.1bn (and representing just 28% of the global gross) were down an alarming 22% from the comparable period in 2010. The US majors, anticipating an even more precipitous drop in the international arena, hastily prepared projections which foresaw a 32% plunge in US studio revenues outside North America.

When the dust settled, the actual erosion at the international box office eased back to a still-unnerving drop of 24% for the first three months of 2011, in the absence of Avatar, Alice In Wonderland and Clash Of The Titans.

But in spite of the lack of worldwide blockbusters of that particular magnitude, the total international market was up a slight 1% on the previous year. While most major territories experienced year-on-year revenue declines, the presence of strong, indigenous movies helped soften the blow.

China flies

The one undisputed bright spot is China. Action comedy Let The Bullets Fly grossed more than $100m in the opening weeks of the year, and with a handful of other local movies helped to more than double last year’s revenues (Avatar remains the nation’s all-time box-office champ).

Similarly, intermediate territories such as Brazil, the Philippines and Turkey each had a run of strong local product which translated into a boost in revenues and admissions.

Still, the situation in most mature markets is that despite the presence of films such as Nothing To Declare in France and Kokowaah in Germany, total box office declined generally in the low double-digits. There is also little evidence non-English-language productions found access to new markets outside their home territory during the malaise. The exception is animated 3D features which simply dub in the local tongue.

Stereoscopic films outside of North America continue to draw on the basis of novelty, though the likes of Mars Needs Moms and Drive Angry failed to pick up sufficient slack from an indifferent US response. The other factors fuelling the top international releases were reliable elements such as awards recognition (The King’s Speech, Black Swan) and marquee performers (The Tourist, Little Fockers). The latter element skews significantly from trends of the past decade in North America.

The volatility and unpredictability of the past quarter has raised anxieties as theatre operators prepare for a summer packed with high-profile blockbusters. Those films will dominate screens in the upcoming months and should any falter there is little opportunity to implement a back-up plan.

Box office growth, Q1, 2010-11

Territory% change from 2010

North america: distributors’ Q1 Market Share (Jan 1-March 31, 2011)

RankDistributorGrossMkt share% change from 2010Rank 2010
1Paramount Pictures$406.1m19.3%+28%4
2Sony Pictures Ent$364.9m17.3%+106%6
3Warner Bros$261.1m12.4%-51%2
4Walt Disney Studios$253.2m12%-34%3
5Universal Pictures$220.9m10.5%+8%5
6The Weinstein Co$131.7m6.2%+281%11
720th Century Fox$114.8m5.4%-85%1
8Fox Searchlight$80.9m3.8%+37%9
9Relativity Media$78.1m3.7%+20%8
10CBS FIlms$55.5m2.6%N/AN/A
12Focus Films$23.3m1.1%N/AN/A

% change 2010 (other distributors) Summit: -83%, Sony Classics: -52%

worldwide Box office top 20 titles Q1 (Jan 1-March 31, 2011)

1The King’s SpeechTWC/FilmNation$366.1m
3Black SwanFox Searchlight$248.6m
4The Green HornetSPE$228m
5Little FockersUPI$224.8m
7Tron: LegacyWDSMPI$193.1m
8True GritPPI$174.9m
9The TouristSPE/StudioCanal$171.2m
10Gulliver’s Travels20th Century Fox$171m
11Gnomeo & JulietWDSMPI/Pathe$168.1m
12Just Go With ItSPE$166.2m
13Battle: Los AngelesSPE$160.7m
14Yogi BearWarner Bros$145.6m
15The Chronicles Of Narnia:…The Dawn Treader20th Century Fox$143.1m
16No Strings AttachedPPI$136.7m
17I Am Number FourWDSMPI$125.5m
18UnknownWarner Bros/StudioCanal$115.2m
19Let The Bullets FlyEmperor Films$105.4m
20The Adjustment BureauUPI$97.9m

International: Distributors’ Q1 market share (jan 1-March 31, 2011)

RankDistributorGrossMarket share% change from 2010
120th Century Fox$652.4m12.3%-58%
2Sony Pictures Entertainment$537.3m10.2%+209%
5Warner Bros$345m6.5%-38%
14Europa Corp$59.4m1.1%+2%
15Nu Image$55m1%N/A
17Focus Films$48.4m0.9%+123%
18Wld Bunch$41m0.8%+532%