In a Surprise, the Overseas Movie Box Office Shows No Growth

In a Surprise, the Overseas Movie Box Office Shows No Growth

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A promotion for “Iron Man 3” in Beijing in 2013. Growth in Chinese ticket sales last year was held back by factors including a crackdown on box office fraud and fewer ticket subsidies.

Credit
Wang Zhao/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

LOS ANGELES — Hollywood’s overseas engine conked out in 2016.

For the last decade, movie studios have relied on the international box office for most of their growth. From 2006 to last year, ticket sales in the United States and Canada increased 20 percent, to $11.4 billion. The foreign box office increased 67 percent in that period, to $27.2 billion.

In some years since 2006, the annual increase in overseas sales has been as high as 14 percent, with markets like China growing rapidly.

So it was startling Wednesday when the Motion Picture Association of America said overseas ticket sales had zero growth last year as increases in countries like Brazil and Japan could not offset steep declines elsewhere. Germany was down 13 percent. Britain dropped 10 percent. Mexico plunged 15 percent.

China was flat.

Growth in China was held back by a variety of factors, including a crackdown on box office fraud, fewer ticket subsidies and more discerning consumers. With an eye toward future growth, American studios are trying to increase the number of their films that China allows to be shown. The annual quota is 34 foreign films.

Still, a stronger dollar was the primary culprit for the foreign falloff, the Motion Picture Association of America and the National Association of Theater Owners said Wednesday on a conference call. “We believe it’s purely based on currency issues,” said John Fithian, president of the theater owners’ association.

Mr. Fithian and Christopher J. Dodd, chief executive of the film association, which represents Hollywood’s six biggest studios, emphasized that global ticket sales had increased 1 percent, to $38.6 billion, because of a 2 percent increase in sales in the United States and Canada. Mr. Fithian called that result “outstanding” and a “huge accomplishment,” particularly since many analysts had predicted a domestic decline.

Mr. Dodd, a former United States senator from Connecticut, used words like “robust,” “thriving” and “continued strength” to describe global ticket sales.

Even so, the increase in domestic sales was caused by higher prices; movie theater attendance in the United States and Canada was flat at 1.32 billion.

One unabashedly positive statistic in the 2016 report: After three consecutive years of declines, the number of frequent moviegoers ages 18 to 24 increased 26 percent, to 7.2 million. (Frequent moviegoers are those who went to see one or more films a month.) Improved sound systems, screens and seating options may be helping, the associations said.

“There are key indicators to suggest the future may be even brighter, with increases in attendance among younger demographics,” Mr. Dodd said.

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