The $118.93m (NZ$151.74m) worth of tickets sold at New Zealand cinemas in 2007 exceeded the previous year by 3.6%, but fell short of 2003, the country's stand-out year in terms of gross box office.

'All the blockbusters did well in the middle of the year, yes, but business petered out badly at the end of the year,' said Joe Moodabe, chief executive of dominant exhibitor Village SkyCity Cinemas.

'Exhibition was also badly hurt by some distribution decisions. The one we disagreed with violently was Hoyts' decision to hold back Death At A Funeral. It is doing OK and will take NZ$3m-NZ$3.5m ($2.35m-$2.74m) but it would have done NZ$5m ($3.92m) if it had gone out in October.

Moodabe said he is uncertain whether it is possible to out perform 2003 because of competition from other forms of entertainment and the ease with which films can now be accessed outside cinemas.

The 2003 gross was about $122m ($NZ156m) and about $119m (NZ$152m) in 2004. (For a technical reason, 2003 was regarded as a 53-week year). Two films, The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring and The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King, contributed hugely.

Made in New Zealand, they overtook Titanic as the biggest hits ever, taking $11.37m (NZ$14.5m) and $10.59m (NZ$13.5m) respectively. Tickets sale revenue was about $10.59m (NZ$146m) in each of the following two years.

'The 2007 result was very good when you consider that we did not have any films that did huge box office,' said Bill Hood, executive director of the Motion Picture Distribution Association of New Zealand (MPDA). 'It felt like a very long winter and nothing drives the consumer into the cinema more quickly than wet rainy weekends and there was a lot of them. Some credit must go to the exhibitors for smartening up the cinemas and making them consumer friendly.'

The hit of 2007 was Shrek The Third, which sold $5.51m worth of tickets (NZ$7.03m), followed by Transformers and Casino Royale. The latter was released in December 2006 but the MPDA counts films in the year they took most of their revenue when calculating annual figures.

By the end of last year the number of screens in New Zealand had risen from 378 in 2006 to 403, in part because of a new Hoyts complex at Sylvia Park and a new SkyCity complex in Hamilton. Moodabe expects a 'huge' response when SkyCity opens the first major cinema development on Auckland 's north shore on April 24. He also expects to see a jump in admissions when the Manukau cinema relocates to new premises in September. Manukau is also in Auckland, New Zealand 's biggest city.

Local films performed very poorly compared to the previous year with no film attracting ticket sales of more than NZ$1m ($784,000) unlike 2006 when three films reached that benchmark. The horror spoof Black Sheep and the quirky Eagle vs Shark, both released by Icon/Hoyts, performed best.

Possible threats to a good result in 2008 include interest rate rises, an increase in gambling and consumers further developing their interest in downloading films from the internet, Hood said. MPDA president Andrew Cornwell, who heads Sony's local office, also warned against piracy when he released the annual results today. The New Zealand Federation Against Copyright Theft had made several high profile raids and prosecutions throughout 2007, he said.

'I am reasonably satisfied with the trading figures in January given the unprecedented fine weather,' said Moodabe. 'When it gets hot in Australia people look for air-conditioning but here people won't go inside.'

The up-market pre-Oscar films are often too sophisticated for local tastes, he said, but he expects good results mid-year from such films as The Chronicles Of Narnia: Prince Caspian, Get Smart, Sex In The City and the big screen version of The X Files. He also has high expectations for Australia , which will be released later in the year. Mamma Mia! is his tip for the hit of 2007.

New Zealand Top Ten Films 2007

Film (Distributor) Release Date - Gross in US$ millions (NZ$ millions)

1. Shrek The Third (Paramount) June 7 - $5.51m (NZ$7.03m)

2. Transformers (Paramount) June 28 - $5.46m (NZ$6.96m)

3. Casino Royale (Sony) December 7, 2006 - $4.70m (NZ$6.00m)

4. Pirates Of The Caribbean - At World's End (Walt Disney) May 24 - $4.65m (NZ$5.93m)

5. Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix (Warner Bros) July 5 - $4.50m (NZ$5.74m)

6. The Simpsons Movie (Fox) July 26 - $3.43m (NZ$4.38m)

7. Happy Feet (Roadshow) December 21, 2006 - $3.38m (NZ$4.31m)

8. Spider-Man 3 (Sony) May 3 - $2.92m (NZ$3.73m)

9. The Bourne Ultimatum (Paramount/Univeral) August 23 - $2.78m (NZ$3.55m)

10. Mr Bean's Holiday (Paramount/Universal) March 29 - $2.53m (NZ$3.23m)

Source: Motion Picture Distributors Association of New Zealand

Note: all grosses as of December 26, 2007

New Zealand Top Five local films 2007

Film (Distributor) Gross in US$ (NZ$)

1. Eagle vs Shark (Icon/Hoyts) - $742,287 (NZ$946,105)

2. Black Sheep (Icon/Hoyts) - $634,858 (NZ$809,178)

3. The Tattooist (Walt Disney) - $433,876 (NZ$553,017)

4. The Devil Dared Me To (Rialto) - $175,028 (NZ$223,091)

5. Perfect Creature (Fox) - $166,540 (NZ$212,252)

Source: New Zealand Film Commission