Domestic box office picked up just enough steam in the latter half of December to finish the calendar year with a tally of $9.68bn - just $2m up on 2007. *

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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 $1.77bn 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 premiere ticket pricing with the renewed popularity of 3D movies and large format versions of action films including The Dark Knight that 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 indeed spring up to fill the gap. Summit and Overture 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 that 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 sense strategically; allowing the company to set up a beachhead in North America that could be capitalised internationally where access in general is more receptive.

Initial numbers trickling in from major countries bode well for a significant spike in revenues outside the U.S. and Canada.

However, it's clear that 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 and operation of new screens.

Historically growth in the domestic marketplace has favored slates where the balance favored 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 upcoming year appears to be banking on a stepped up number of retreads and that has to ramp up anxiety levels.

What hasn't been addressed in any serious fashion are the huge losses being experienced from an aging audience that no longer or rarely goes out to the movies.

The response globally to both Sex And The City and Mamma Mia! caught the majors off guard and based on upcoming release schedules there's little evidence that game plans have been altered to reach out beyond what's 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.