Box Office Receipts Soar to Record in '04

Box office (search) receipts soared to a new record in 2004, although the actual number of moviegoers declined for a second year in a row.

Movies took in $9.4 billion in 2004 at the domestic box office, according to tracking firm Exhibitor Relations (search). Revenue for the year was lagging last year going into the final weeks, but "Meet the Fockers," (search) the sequel from Universal Pictures, propelled gross revenues with total ticket sales of $162.5 million in the last two weeks of the year.

But the record gross was due more to rising ticket prices than attendance.

Factoring in the nationwide average ticket price of $6.22, attendance fell about 1.7 percent in 2004 to 1.51 billion. Attendance in 2003 was 1.54 billion, down 4.3 percent from 2002. The average ticket price last year was $6.03.

Analysts say the two-year decline is no cause for alarm because 2002 was an anomaly with such blockbuster hits as the first "Spider-Man" film and "My Big Fat Greek Wedding."

That year also included the latest installments in three huge franchises: "Star Wars," "Harry Potter" and "Lord of the Rings."

"This is a great year," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations. "We saw such massive increases in revenue and attendance in 2001 and 2002, there is just no way we're going to see increases sustained at that rate."

Two big unexpected successes in 2004 were Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" and the Michael Moore film "Fahrenheit 9/11," which took in $370.3 million and $119.1, respectively.

The highest grossing film of the year was "Shrek 2," which earned $436.5 million.

"That's even more impressive when you realize that many of those admissions were at children's prices," Dergarabedian said.

This year holds the promise of several large potential blockbusters which could boost attendance.

Among the films expected to do well are "Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith," the last in the George Lucas series; "Batman Begins," starring Christian Bale; "King Kong," directed by Peter Jackson; and the Steven Spielberg version of "The War of the Worlds," starring Tom Cruise.