AS SUPERHERO and spy movies pushed Australian box office to a near-record $1.126 billion last year, the country's films had a modest jump in their market share.
This year's highest grossing movie was The Avengers, which became the third most successful release in Australian cinema history by taking $53.3 million. That left the comic book movie behind only two James Cameron blockbusters - Avatar and Titanic.
The latest James Bond instalment, Skyfall, and director Christopher Nolan's final Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises, also cracked $40 million in ticket sales.
Confirming the market for escapism in tough economic times, there were much stronger than expected takings for two very different comedies that also made the year's top 10 - the ribald Ted ($34.5 million) and the genteel The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel ($21.4 million).
The success of that British charmer, about retirees heading to India, also shows the growing power of older audiences.
Comedies also dominated the Australian films that succeeded during the year.
The Sapphires, the hit comic musical about an indigenous girl group in the 1960s, led the way with $14.5 million followed by the animated Happy Feet Two, Kath & Kimderella, A Few Best Men and Mental.
According to figures released by the Motion Picture Distributors Association and Screen Australia, the Australian share of box office jumped $5 million to $47.9 million - equivalent to just 4.3 per cent of the tickets sold.
Reflecting the dominance of Hollywood, the local share has oscillated between 1.3 per cent and 4.6 per cent over the past decade. The record remains 23.5 per cent when Crocodile Dundee was released in 1986.
While cinema trading remains stronger than many other sectors of the economy, the 2.8 per cent jump in box office last year also reflects higher average ticket prices.
When Avatar drove trading to a record $1.13 billion in 2010, there were 92.4 million visits to the cinema. Last year, as box office almost reached that total again, there were 6.5 million fewer visits.
The chief executive of Screen Australia, Ruth Harley, said the success of The Sapphires was a milestone for indigenous stories in film and television.
''The film's director, Wayne Blair … was also a director and principal cast member of this year's standout drama series Redfern Now, which achieved a national average of more than 1 million people,'' Dr Harley said.
As well as a second series of Redfern Now and The Gods of Wheat Street heading for the ABC, more indigenous films are on the way including Catriona McKenzie's Satellite Boy, Ivan Sen's Mystery Road and Warwick Thornton's The Darkside.
The chairman of the MPDAA, Marc Wooldridge, said last year's results reflected a ''mix of commercial and highly entertaining movies'' as well as the continuing appeal of cinema-going.