Wednesday, December 26, 2012

This Year at the Movies: The Commercial View

Since the 1970s Americans have typically gone to the movies four to five times a year. When the figure falls toward four, the entertainment press screams that This is the End, as happened last year at the industry's recent low point (the 1.28 billion tickets sold in 2011 making for a per capita average of 4.15 that year). When it rises toward five (or on very rare occasions, passes it slightly), the talk of bust turns to talk of boom.1

In 2012, American theaters sold an estimated 1.36 billion tickets, a little over 4.3 tickets per capita - hardly a rip-roaring year at the box office, despite some notable successes (like The Avengers). Still, marking as it does the first increase in ticket sales since 2009, and bringing in as it has the record gross of $10.8 billion (helped along by rising ticket prices, and IMAX and 3-D charges), this is being received as good news.

In line with the partial revival of consumer spending seen this year, it is a reminder that the film business does not operate in a vacuum but is subject to the ups and downs of the rest of the economy. It is a reminder too that entertainment journalists have the same tendency as the rest of their profession to wax dramatic over small market fluctuations.

1. The best performance since the 1970s, 2002's 1.575 billion tickets, represented an exceptional 5.5 per capita average, over 25 percent higher than 2012's, 30 percent higher than 2011's. The year 1998 saw a comparable figure.

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