UK distributors were braced for “the huge challenge” represented by the Olympics, but box office has remained solid despite record numbers staying in to watch TV coverage.

Domestic box office didn’t suffer during the Athens or Sydney Olympics and neither is it during London 2012.

The box office has fared surprisingly well in the face of the largest sporting event ever seen in Britain. The same is largely true across the globe.

Distributors were bracing themselves before the games for what one UK studio head called “the huge challenge” represented by the games and the “all-consuming coverage” that goes with it.

But the UK box office was down only 18% year-on-year in the week of the opening ceremony (July 27-Aug 2), despite the BBC recording huge viewing figures for Danny Boyle’s celebrated event: “Box office was definitely down for the first week of the games,” says Rentrak’s Lucy Jones. “However it’s hard to prove the cause: distributors tend not to release so many strong titles during the Olympics, so it’s difficult to know whether lower box office is caused by audiences watching the games, or the lack of strong product.”

The first weekend saw only one saturation release, for Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax. The same period last year saw three saturation releases for Captain America: The First Avenger, The Zookeeper and Horrid Henry: The Movie.

The Dark Knight Rises, The Bourne Legacy, The Expendables 2 and Brave all sidestepped the games. And this coming weekend will see only one saturation release in the form of Step Up Revolution.

But despite the lack of blockbusters the second weekend of the games (Aug 3-5) saw a 48% yearly boost.

“Is this because of games overload, following the blanket media coverage of the first week, or the release of new high-profile titles Ted and Diary Of A Wimpy Kid: Dog Days?”, wonders Jones.

The UK certainly wasn’t suffering games fatigue last weekend, when the BBC posted record viewing figures on ‘super Saturday’ and during the men’s 100m final on Sunday.

“It’s a challenging environment,” says the Film Distributors’ Association CEO Mark Batey. “But Ted benefitted from a really strong campaign identity. It was brilliantly flagged to its target audience.”

“Another key is that people are going to the cinema in the afternoons and getting back in the evenings to see the blue-ribbon events. You can do both,” he says.

The theory is proved in the numbers from last weekend. “There was definitely a skew towards pre five o’clock business on the middle Saturday and the proportion of cinemagoers after 5pm was lower than it would be normally,” confirms Batey.

The weekly UK results during the Olympics compare favourably with those from June when the box office dropped a hefty 58% in the week of the Euro 2012 final. Then, a regional release of $1.3m (£853,226) for Ice Age: Continental Drift was enough to top the box office.

Similarly, June 2010, the month of the last World Cup, saw the lowest box-office revenues, admissions and distributor media spend of any month in the UK that year.

We’ll know more once we can assess the whole month of August 2012, but it’s fair to say that the international and US box offices have also proven resilient during the Olympics.

An estimated global audience of 900 million tuned in to the opening ceremony and NBC’s US coverage has been raking in record numbers, but the US box office was last week down an unremarkable 24% year-on-year, despite the lack of new tentpoles.

Australia’s MPDAA notes “no discernible change” in Australian box office - figures actually went up 13% year-on-year thanks to the impressive $4m debut of Magic Mike and the continued strength of The Dark Knight Rises.

It’s a similar picture in Russia where year-on-year revenues increased by more than $4m.

Elsewhere in Europe, France remained on par with last year, while Germany suffered only a 13% yearly drop. Both territories benefitted from chart-topping debuts for The Dark Knight Rises.

Meanwhile, Mexico enjoyed a 24% boost predominantly thanks to the $9.8m opening bow for Christopher Nolan’s climactic Batman instalment.

“Worldwide, fewer strong titles were released during the first week of the Olympics,” says Jones. “The only exception was The Dark Knight Rises, which opened in several major territories including Japan, South America and Germany. These territories had better results than the average, suggesting that distributors probably have it about right: they can go up against the games with the event movie of the summer or something for audiences too young for the sports.”

Strong local product is also stepping in to fill the void in some markets. South Korea was 43% up on last year thanks to the sterling performance of local hit The Thieves, which notched a $13m debut ($18.2m with previews) on its way to $44.1m after just two weeks.

And while box office was down 10%, homegrown films in Japan dominated its box office over the week of hte opening ceremony, with seven films in the top ten, including the continued powerful performance of Umizaru 4: Brave Hearts which held off the challenge of The Dark Knight Rises’ debut, to remain top for a third consecutive week; Umizaru 4 currently stands at $59m.

Overall, cinemagoers are finding their theatrical fix in some shape or other, and probably still finding time to watch the games.