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Global Box Office Hit $32.6 Bil in 2011, Fueled by Exploding International Growth

Movie Theater
Daniel Acker/Bloomberg/Getty Images

While the domestic box office was down a sobering 4 percent, the foreign take grew by 7 percent to $22.4 billion; China now second-biggest international market after Japan.

The foreign box office rescued Hollywood in 2011, with international ticket sales reaching $22.4 billion, a healthy 7 percent increase over 2010, according to the MPAA's annual Theatrical Market Statistics report.

Globally, ticket sales reached $32.6 billion in 2011, only a 3 percent gain. That's due to a marked downturn at the North American box office, where revenue reached $10.2 billion, down 4 percent over 2010. International reveneus made up nearly 69 percent of the pie.

"The figures on box office reflect only one indicator of an extremely complex and evolving movie industry," MPAA chairman and CEO Chris Dodd said. "We're working harder and smarter to keep moviegoers coming back for more, whether at the cinema, at home or on the go."

The North American box office is showing strong signs of recovery this year, helping to soothe concerns over 2011's woes.

"In mature markets such as the United States, the business can more cyclical in the short term, driven by product supply and distribution patterns," National Association of Theatre Owners president John Fithian said. "In the long term, however, domestic revenues continue to grow. Though the 2011 U.S. box office was down 4 percent, 2012 looks to be another growth year. Box office is up nearly 14 percent year-to-date, with a strong slate of summer movies coming."

Overseas, box office was up across almost all markets in 2011. China saw enormous growth, with ticket sales reaching $2 billion -- second only to Japan, where revenue reached $2.3 billion. Japan was flat last year because of the earthquake and tsunami in March.

France virtually tied with China in reporting $2 billion in ticket sales, followed by the U.K. with $1.7 billion and India with $1.4 billion.

In confirming last year's troubled domestic box office, the MPAA said admissions were down 4 percent in 2011, with 1.28 billion tickets sold--the lowest level in a decade. The national average of tickets sold per person also lagged, topping out at 3.9, compared with 4.1 in 2010 and 4.3 in 2009.

The average cinema ticket price increased by 4 cents in North America, a 1 percent increase, compared with a 3 percent increase in inflation, according to the report.

More than two-thirds of the population in the U.S. and Canada, 221.2 million people, went to the movies at least once in 2011. Frequent moviegoers -- defined as those going to the cinema once or more a month -- continued to drive the domestic box office, buying half of all movie tickets sold in 2011, even though they only made up 10 percent of the population.

Frequent moviegoers in 2011 were older, reflecting the widely reported dip in attendance among younger demos. In the 25-39 age group, more people went to the movies frequently (9.7 million versus 7.7 million in 2010). In contrast, the number of frequent moviegoers in the 18-24 age group fell by nearly 1 million, particularly among females.

In terms of gender, females and males showed up in equal numbers overall. Among ethnicities, Hispanics continued to overindex in terms of moviegoing.

Part of the reason for the downturn in domestic revenue was a noticeable dip in attendance for 3D films, for which revenue fell by $400 million year-over-year.

Globally, the number of cinema screens grew by 3 percent, thanks in large part to the boom in new theaters in markets including China and Russia. Growth in the number of new 3D screens slowed in 2011 overall but increased by a massive 97 percent in Latin America and 58 percent in Asia Pacific markets.

One bright spot: Movie theaters in North America continued to draw more people than theme parks and U.S. sports combined, according to the MPAA report.