Hollywood got the top present on its Christmas list today: a lucrative 2012.
Despite a chilly summer at the box office, 2012 will mark the industry's highest year on record and the first since 2009 when ticket sales increased, according to projections from analysts.
If forecasts hold through the end of the year, the industry will see about $10.8 billion in ticket sales, according to analyses from Hollywood.com.
The previous record was 2009's $10.6 billion. And while the record doesn't mean movies are completely over the slump (inflation helps set high marks at the box office), the industry is showing signs of a turnaround.
The haul would mark a 6% increase over ticket sales in 2011, when Hollywood took in about $10.2 billion.
Increased ticket revenue is bolstered by people returning to the multiplex: Attendance is up about 5% over last year. Though 2012 probably won't challenge 2002's modern-day admission record of 1.7 billion tickets sold, 2012 already has had 1.3 billion people pass through domestic turnstiles.
Paul Dergarabedian, Hollywood.com's box-office chief, says two films opening today, the musical Les Misérables and Quentin Tarantino's spaghetti Western Django Unchained, should ensure that 2012 ends on a high note.
"Unless these movies do vastly different business than we're expecting, 2012 is going to end strongly," Dergarabedian says. "This has been quite the comeback year."
Indeed, ticket sales have been on a slide since 2009, although prices rose from $7.50 then to $7.94 this year, Hollywood.com says. And analysts expected 3-D and IMAX to keep revenue rising.
But a flagging economy and overload of 3-D pictures flatlined sales until this year, which saw the third-highest-grossing film of all time in The Avengers, which took in $623 million.
Other films, including The Hunger Games ($408 million), The Dark Knight Rises ($448 million) and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2 ($282 million) kept revenue afloat, despite slow August and September returns.
"We still have a ways to go to get back to the old days, when movies ruled all entertainment," says Jeff Bock of industry tracker Exhibitor Relations. "But at least we're moving in the right direction."
Scott Bowles, USA TODAY