Domestic box office picked up just enough steam in the latter half of December to finish the calendar year with a tally of $9.685bn - just $2m up on 2007*.
The more worrying news is that admissions continued to decline with early estimates showing a drop between 7% and 8% on last year's 1.4 billion total.
Bragging rights went to Warner Bros (last year's runner up) on gross revenues of approximately $1.8bn and a market share of 18.3%. Warner Bros also had the top grossing movie of the year, with The Dark Knight posting $530.9m.
For the second year in a row, the six majors all rang in with revenues of more than $1bn. However, apart from Warner Bros on the plus side and Buena Vista on the negative end, the gross figures for the studios hardly budged from last year's report.
The past year has seen a spike in premier-rate ticket pricing with the renewed popularity of 3D movies and large-format versions of action films, including The Dark Knight which grossed close to $50m on Imax screens. But the higher prices to an extent disguise the admissions drop.
The studios this year seemingly left open opportunities for bigger-budget indies by pulling out of specialty production labels. Even before the crisis in financial sectors, Warner Bros had closed down its alternative labels Warner Independent and Picturehouse and stripped New Line of its domestic distribution, marketing and publicity divisions. There was also a radical restructuring of Paramount Vantage and rumours of change elsewhere.
Several new distributors did spring up to fill the gap. Summit Entertainment and Overture Films were the most prominent, with the former scoring one of the biggest success stories of 2008 with the teen-targeted vampire romance Twilight. But breaking through the stranglehold the majors have on high-profile screens is proving to be tough.
Summit's emergence from the ranks of foreign sales and investment would at least on the surface make strategic sense, allowing the company to set up a beachhead in North America that could be capitalised internationally where access in general is easier. Initial numbers trickling in from major countries bode well for a significant spike in revenues outside the US and Canada. However, it is clear the expansion in the international marketplace has also slowed down as areas that just a few years ago were seen as emerging powerhouses are now approaching a maturation level with the construction of new screens.
Historically, growth in the domestic marketplace has favoured slates where the balance emphasised new ventures over sequels and remakes. On paper that boded well for 2008 but despite the presence of a record number of films grossing more than $100m, the overall impact was box-office stasis and eroding viewership. The coming year appears to be banking on an increased number of retreads and that has to ramp up anxiety levels.
What have not been addressed in any serious fashion are the huge losses being experienced from an ageing audience that no longer or rarely goes to the movies. The response globally to both Sex And The City: The Movie and Mamma Mia! The Movie caught the majors off guard, and based on upcoming release schedules there is little evidence that game plans have been altered to reach out beyond what is perceived as the core under-25 male audience of avid ticket buyers.
* Screen International gauges box office on a calendar year while much of the industry will include current weekend figures through January 4.
|US MARKET SHARE, 2008|
|1||Warner Bros (29)||$1,768.2m||18.3%||25%||2|
|6||Walt Disney SMP (18)||$1,012.3m||10.5%||-25%||3|
|8||Summit (5) *||$226.4m||2.3%||N/A||N/A|
|9||Fox Searchlight (9)||$214.7m||2.2%||62%||10|
|12||Overture (8) *||$103.1m||1.1%||N/A||N/A|
|13||Paramount Vantage (13)||$87.2m||0.9%||44%||13|
|15||Picturehouse (7) **||$63.3m||0.7%||11%||14|
|16||New Line (4) **||$61.8m||0.6%||-87%||7|
|17||Weinstein Company (12)||$50.7m||0.5%||37%||16|
|18||Sony Classics (20)||$40.7m||0.4%||4%||15|
|*New distributor **Ceased distribution during 2008 Source: Screen International|
|TOP US GROSSERS, 2008|
|1||The Dark Knight (WB)||$530.9m|
|2||Iron Man (Par)||$318.3m|
|3||Indiana Jones And The Kingdom ... (Par)||$317m|
|5||Wall.E (Walt Disney SMP)||$223.8m|
|6||Kung Fu Panda (Par)||$215.9m|
|7||Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (Par)||$175.7m|
|9||Quantum Of Solace (Sony)||$165.3m|
|10||Horton Hears A Who! (Fox)||$154.5m|
|11||Sex And The City: The Movie (WB)||$152.6m|
|12||Mamma Mia! The Movie (Uni)||$144.2m|
|13||The Chronicles Of Narnia: Prince Caspian (Wdsmp)||$141.7m|
|14||The Incredible Hulk (Uni)||$134.6m|
|16||Get Smart (WB)||$130.3m|
|17||Juno (Fox Searchlight)||$115.6m|
|18||Four Christmases (WB)||$114.2m|
|19||Tropic Thunder (Par)||$110.6m|
|20||Bolt (Walt Disney SMP)||$105.4m|
|Source: Screen International|