Oz 2006 b.o. rebounds to near record

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MELBOURNE -- After a dip in 2005, the Australian boxoffice recovered last year to reach its second-highest level on record.

An increase of 6% from the previous year lifted 2006's boxoffice total to AUS$866 million ($671 million), an encouraging return from the previous year's low of AUS$817.5 million, but not quite as lustrous as 2004's record AUS$907 million.

"Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" ($38 million), "The Da Vinci Code" ($27 million) and "Ice Age 2: The Meltdown" ($24.5 million) were the top three earners for the year. Other U.S. entries logging top-10 berths included "Borat" (No. 7) and "The Devil Wears Prada" (No. 9).

Overall, the top 10 films for 2006 captured a smaller share of the boxoffice than in previous years, earning slightly less than AUS$217 million ($168 million), compared to almost AUS$232 million in '05.

In a statement, Mike Selwyn, chairman of the Motion Picture Distributors Association of Australia, noted the "broad range of films that have recorded strong results ... and their appeal to very different audiences."

Data to be released soon by the Australian Film Commission is expected to show that Australian films accounted for just 3%-4% of the 2006 boxoffice. The top Australian performers for the year were "Jindabyne," "Kenny" and "Happy Feet," whose record-breaking first-week domestic take factors into the 2006 numbers.

"Happy Feet," George Miller's animated dancing penguins tale, is still wowing summer-holiday audiences in Australia, where it has taken more than $20 million ($15.5 million) on approximately 400 screens since its debut. The film already has broken the international performance record for an Oz film held by "Crocodile Dundee" since 1986.
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