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December 28, 2013

Hollywood poised for best-ever box-office year

LOS ANGELES — Despite a string of summertime flops, Hollywood is expected to have a banner year at the domestic box office, coming in just shy of $11 billion, the largest annual take ever. But because of higher ticket prices, actual attendance at North American theaters remained flat after a decade of decline.

With the current domestic box-office tally nearly 1 percent ahead of last year at this time, 2013 could surpass 2012’s overall haul of $10.8 billion by more than $100 million, according to box-office tracker Rentrak.

High-profile flops such as “The Lone Ranger,” “After Earth,” “R.I.P.D.” and “Turbo” were offset by mega-hits like “Fast & Furious 6” and “Iron Man 3,” which consistently filled theaters last summer.

More recently, Warner Bros.’ space epic “Gravity” has earned $254 million domestically, Lionsgate’s sci-fi sequel “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” has grossed $378 million and fantasy prequel “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” has brought in $150 million for Warner Bros.

A strong holiday slate is also boosting the year’s box-office total. “There has virtually been every kind of genre of film available,” said Rentrak box-office analyst Paul Dergarabedian. “You have blockbusters like ‘Hobbit’ and esoteric, challenging films like ‘Nebraska,’ ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ and ‘Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.’ All of these films get people to the movies.”

But the National Association of Theater Owners projects that the actual number of tickets sold domestically in 2013 will remain about the same as last year’s 1.36 billion. That’s down from the all-time high of 1.57 billion admissions in 2002.

Entertainment available on countless portable devices continues to threaten multiplex attendance, as do advanced home theater systems and video-on-demand services offering original premium programming and films the same day as their theatrical release.

But Hollywood is fighting back with the premium multiplex experience. Movie attendance may be tepid, but the audience is willing to pay more for theater extras, which keep the bottom line growing, even as admissions remain flat.

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