Australian films took only 4.9% or $24.7m (A$41.8m) of the total $498.9m (A$844.8) gross box office for 2002, compared to 7.8% in 2001 and 8% in 2000.

However, according to the Australian Film Commission, the good news is that in only one other year on record did more films gross $590,000 (A$1m) or more. In 1982 there were 11 that crossed the A$1m mark and in both 1998 and last year there were 10.

The AFC also found another way to put a positive spin on the figures released today and that was on the basis of budget. The total production expenditure on the 19 Australian features and co-productions released was $87.4m (A$148m), giving them an average budget of $4.6m (A$7.8m), compared to the average budget of a major and minor US studio film being $50.7m (A$85.8m) and $33.4m (A$56.6m) respectively.

"As always, this is a David and Goliath story," said AFC chief executive Kim Dalton. "Australian films represent 8.5% of total films released (258) during 2002. Total budgets of Australian films represent one per cent of the total budgets of the US films released during the year. In this context, a 4.9% box office share is an impressive result."

The AFC pointed out that in almost all markets outside the US, a high local box office share is usually reliant on at least one huge hit. This year there was no Moulin Rouge as in 2001 - or no The Dish in 2000.

"In the context of the current negotiations for a Free Trade Agreement between the Australian and US governments, the box office figures are a potent reminder that the US is the dominant force in the audiovisual industry, capturing over 50% of worldwide revenue and taking more than 80% of the annual gross Australian box office."

Two-thirds of all the films released in 2002 were from the US. Somewhat surprisingly, the AFC made no mention of the difference between total print and advertising budgets on Australian and US films.

Top Australian Films at the Local Box Office in 2002

Film/ Released / Distributor/ Box office

Crackerjack/ November/ Roadshow/ $4.6m
Rabbit-Proof Fence/ February / Becker/Ocean /$4.4m
Dirty Deeds/ July / Hoyts / $3m
Charlotte Gray (Aust/UK) / May / UIP/ $2.5m
The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course/ September / Fox / $2.3m
The Hard Word / May / Roadshow/ $1.7m
Lantana*/ October/ Palace/ $1.4m
The Nugget / October/Roadshow /$1.1m
Blurred / October/ Becker/Magna /$827,000
Garage Days / October/ 20th Century Fox/ $768,000

* Earned in 2002: total box office was $7.3m