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Tom Cruise's Mission: Impossible movie held on to the top of box office charts over New Year's weekend as Hollywood said see ya to a slow-ish year at movie theatres.
As 2011 ended, US and Canadian revenue dipped from last year and attendance slumped to its lowest level since 1995.
Most industry commentators including the Media Man agency put the low numbers down to the struggling economy, with many movie fans staying at home watching commercial or pay TV, and getting the occasional DVD new release to satisfy their new release fix. Movie lovers also satisfied their entertainment desires with internet use and a range of handheld devices.
The year's final weekend saw top movies add to ticket sales from the Christmas holiday one week earlier but no change in the top three chart positions.
The Sherlock Holmes and Alvin and the Chipmunks franchise films took the second and third positions behind Cruise's Mission: Impossible.
From Friday through to Monday, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol netted in an estimated $US38.3 million at US and Canadian theatres, distributor Paramount Pictures advised.
The movie that features the 49-year-old Cruise as special agent Ethan Hunt hanging off the world's tallest building has grossed $US366.5 million globally.
Of that, $US225.3 million has come from international markets, affirming Cruise's place as a solid performer for global audiences and cementing a strong year for Paramount Pictures.
Rocketed along by the third Transformers film, Paramount's movies grossed nearly $US5.2 billion worldwide, the studio said. The total included nearly $US2 billion at U.S theatres and a record $US3.2 billion internationally.
No new movies were released nationwide over the weekend.
In second place, detective sequel Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows grossed $US26.5 million over four days. Third place belonged to family film Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, which pulled in $US21 million.
Rounding out the top five, Steven Spielberg's family film War Horse galloped into fourth with $US19.2 million, and thriller The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo pulled in $US19 million.
Elsewhere, The Iron Lady starring Meryl Streep in a critically praised performance as former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, opened strong with $US280,409 from just four theatres. That's a massive per-screen average of $US70,102, nearly three times higher than the next-closest movie.
U.S ticket sales for all films rose 10 per cent from the same weekend a year ago, but the strong finish could not lift yearly revenues in line with 2010.
U.S revenue for 2011 fell 3.4 per cent to $US10.2 billion, the second-straight yearly decline, according to estimates from Hollywood.com. More troubling for studios and theatre chains is that attendance dropped 4.2 per cent to 1.3 billion, the lowest pace since 1995.
Commentators typically peg low turnout on unappealing movies, but this year studio executives and industry experts have said other factors may be dampening sales. They cite the weak economy and competition from mobile devices, social networking, video games and a range of other entertainment options.
This year also was measured against early 2010 results from Avatar, the top-grossing movie of all time with $US760 million at U.S and $US2 billion at international box offices.
"A confluence of factors contributed to the downturn," said Paul Dergarabedian of box-office tracker Hollywood.com.
The coming year, with a large slate of promising titles, "will be a very pivotal year. It will tell us, is it really just the product, or is something bigger going on," he said.
But the year ended on a positive theme. The final week of the 2011 ranked as the year's second highest with domestic sales of more than $US350 million, said Chris Aronson, senior vice-president for domestic distribution at 20th Century Fox.
"It's not all doom and gloom," he said. "We just had a sensational week of movie-going."
Executives also note global ticket sales remain healthy with several of 2011's biggest titles seeing the bulk of sales from international markets, much like Mission: Impossible.
Looking forward, Hollywood aka Tinsel Town is counting on a packed line-up of big-budget action movies and sequels to bring crowds back in 2012.
The offering will include Batman sequel The Dark Knight Rises, superhero flick The Avengers, young-adult book adaptation The Hunger Games and the first of two Hobbit movies.
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