Oz '08 b.o. proves recession-proof

Ticket sales hit high of $662 mil, up 6% from '07

SYDNEY -- Falling just shy of the billion dollar mark, Australian 2008 boxoffice earnings reached an all-time high of AUS$946 million ($662.2 million) in 2008.

Australian boxoffice rose 6% from 2007 and was 4% above earnings from its previous best year, 2004, the Motion Picture Distributors Association of Australia said Friday.

Warner Bros.' "The Dark Knight" topped the Australian boxoffice with AUS$45.7 million ($32 million), "exceeding all expectations," MPDAA GM Joel Hedrick said, noting that the latest Batman film was the sixth highest-grossing film of all time in Australia.

"Mamma Mia" was the second-most popular film in the country, taking $22.2 million, while the return of Indiana Jones in "The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull finished at No. 3 with $20.5 million.

"Quantum of Solace" ($20.2 million) and "Sex and the City" ($18.8 million) rounded out the top five.

Despite a massive build up and predictions from Fox Australia that it may overtake "Titanic" as the top-grossing Australian film of all time, homegrown epic "Australia" came in sixth overall, grossing $18.8 million through Dec. 31.

"Australia" is now director Baz Lurhmann's top-ranking Australian feature, though it still sits well behind the all-time record of $47.7 million ($33.4 million) set by "Crocodile Dundee" in 1986.

Paramount's "Kung Fu Panda" was the top animated film of 2008 at No. 7, with a gross of $18 million. Will Smith proved a major draw with combined earnings of $30.6 million for "I Am Legend" and "Hancock" at eighth and ninth, respectively. Paramount's "Iron Man" rounded out the top 10 with $14 million.

Expectations are high for 2009, despite the economic downturn, underpinned by the number of releases coming in giant-screen and digital formats, Basil-Jones said.

Hedrick noted that the boxoffice totals in the last quarter of 2008, when the global financial crisis really started to bite, was up year to year following an increase in the number of high-profile releases in November and early December.

"It proves too that cinema is still a cheap and 'value for money' family entertainment option," Hedrick said.