The current health of the North American distribution and exhibition market is generally assumed to be an indicator of the aches and pains that can be expected to occur in many international territories. If so, then the industry can allow itself a cautious sigh of relief.

Here is a breakdown of the latest statistics concerning North American distribution and exhibition as reported to this year's ShoWest by both the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO)..

2001 saw total box office receipts of $8.41bn. A record twenty films released in 2001 soared to more than $10m, with a record five films reaching the $200m threshold. Admissions also rose to 1.49bn, a 4.6% increase from the previous year and a 30% increase from since the beginning of the decade. It was the largest ticket buying total since 1959. Each American sees 5.3 films a year. That is the highest per capita attendance in the world. But if you exclude from the per capital population those who never see movies at all, the per capita viewing rises to 8.6 films per year.

NATO president John Fithian said part of the explanation for the success of 2001 boils down to family-friendly films. The five top films each grossed more than $200m and none were rated 'R' Indeed, of the top 20 films, all of which grossed more than $100m, only three were rated 'R' Despite the commercial success of family films, adult entertainment still rules the greenlight: a full 67% of the 739 movies that were rated by the MPAA last year (of which 482 were released theatrically in 2001) ended up being rated 'R'

Domestic screen count grew to well over 37,000 screens during the 1990s and into the year 2000. Last year, as exhibitors began closing older properties faster than they opened new ones, the screen count began to drop and by the end of 2001 stood at 35,459. There are just over 7,000 theatre sites in the US.

Based on NATO's survey of the majority of theatres in the US, the average movie ticket price was $5.65. Movies still lay claim to being the most affordable out-of-home form of entertainment, and the one with the slowest growth in prices. In 1991, the average price was $4.21; since then it has increased 34% over the last decade, compared to much greater inflation rates for live events such as sports and concerts.

Frequent moviegoers, i.e. those who see at least 12 films per year, drive box office admissions. In 2001, some 27% of moviegoers were identified as "frequent" and they accounted for 82% of all admissions. Almost 60% of moviegoers are either "frequent" or "occasional" attendees. An "occasional" moviegoer sees two to 11 films a year.

The highest percentage of "frequent" movie fans are between the age of 12 to 24, followed by the over-40 age bracket which accounts for 31% of all "frequent" moviegoers. MPAA chief Jack Valenti pointed out that "these are the baby boomers who have never lost the 'movie urge'. Age group 25 to 39 is third with 27%. In 2001, the Hispanic population proved the heaviest moviegoers with a per capita viewing of 9.9 films during the year, representing 15% of admissions. The black population saw 7.6 films last year and comprised 11% of admissions, while the white population watched 8.1 films per year and accounted for 68% of admissions. Statistics for 2001 also confirmed that men go to the movies more often than women - but only marginally.

The average negative cost of a major studio film, a figure that takes into account production budget, studio overhead and interest charges, dropped to $47.7m last year, compared to $54.8m in 2000, a decrease of $7.1m, or 13%. The average cost of prints and advertising for a major studio film, however, showed a jump from $27.31m in 2000 to $31.01m in 2001, an increase of $3.7m. However, in combining the total average cost of making, advertising and marketing a major studio film in 2001, the result was $78.71m, a decrease of $3.4m or 4% from the previous year.

Calling it a "beguiling discovery" Valenti noted that the more that Americans watch movies on DVD and VCR, the more they go to a movie theatre. Nearly 50% of DVD 'watchers' and almost 38% of VCR movie-users are either 'frequent' or 'occasional' movie-goers. "People who love movies are eager to watch them in different environments," he said.