Cinema may still prove to be recession-proof but the third-quarter figures for international markets do not suggest people are rushing to the multiplex for escapist entertainment.

Global box office for Q3 generated approximately $7.28bn in ticket sales. Compared with 2007, that translates to a drop of roughly 0.5% and a decline in admissions of 6% or 7%.

Given the economic difficulties, comfort can be drawn from a fairly flat picture year on year. But there are worries in the numbers. The new generation of viewers in countries such as China and Russia had the industry salivating over their annual double-digit growth, but these increases appear to have levelled off and it is unclear whether these consumers will get their movie fix from ancillaries including DVD, cable, satellite and iPod delivery systems.

The international arena accounted for $4.64bn of the total and that sector was in fact a little more than 1% up on the same quarter last year. The domestic sector, however, experienced a 4% comparative year-on-year erosion.

International box office exceeded the North American tally for the period by 75%, another big improvement from the second quarter when the bump was about 35%.

Revenues in the third quarter were largely propelled by summer blockbusters from the US majors. However in the rest of the world, fluctuations in the box office showed which countries had relegated local films to a summer vacation. China and South Korea, for instance, experienced radical drops in theatrical gross after a pared-back schedule of indigenous releases.

The former had Red Cliff and the latter The Good, The Bad, The Weird, with little else to back up those titles. Conversely, India and Japan took an aggressive approach to the summer with such films as Ponyo On The Cliff By The Sea and Boys With Flowers: Final successfully competing with US movies, and Singh Is Kinng emerging as the top grosser in India.

Most European nations sat out the season and wound up seeing slightly diminished returns and a noticeable drop in admissions. Not a single picture in Spanish, French, German or Italian figured in the top 50 grossers for the period, whereas 15 films in Japanese, Korean, Mandarin and Hindi figured in that group.

Universal International ranked first in the international sector with a 19.8% market share and a $921m tally from the likes of Mamma Mia! The Movie, Wanted and the third outing of The Mummy. Toho was the top non-US company, with a 7.2% market share, and Summit was the top independent, with a 1.2% slice of the pie.

The domestic sector was dominated by Warner Bros and The Dark Knight and finished the period with a staggering 29.7% market share.

Much has been said over the last month about the film industry being recession-proof but the evidence on hand indicates the claim may be overblown. Historically, some studies have demonstrated that downturns in movie-going occur belatedly and tend to be less severe than for other industrial and social activities. But they do happen and based on the fluctuations in 2008 alone, it will be a bumpy ride going forward.

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