Pulling power of Hollywood's never-ending stories

Franchise movies dominated the Australian box office in 2012, with end-of-year data showing that all but two of the 10 highest-grossing films released this year were instalments in ongoing Hollywood properties.

Motion Picture Distributors Association of Australia figures show comic-book blockbusters The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises were the most popular movies this year, with Daniel Craig's third James Bond thriller, Skyfall, in third spot.

The Avengers, an all-star superhero caper featuring Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and The Hulk, sold $53.3 million worth of tickets ahead of the Batman sequel's $43.3 million.

With its takings boosted by premium prices for 3-D tickets, The Avengers now sits at No.3 on the list of Australia's all-time money-spinners, behind only Avatar ($115.6 million) and Titanic ($57.6 million) but ahead of last year's top-grossing film, the second part of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows ($52.6 million).

The Avengers 2 is due in cinemas in 2015, following Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World next year and Captain America: The Winter Soldier in 2014.

Of the top 20 ticket-sellers of the past 12 months, only five were not sequels, prequels, spin-offs or opening chapters of new movie series.


The top franchise opener was The Hunger Games, with its plucky teen heroine Katniss Everdeen taking up where the similarly female-skewing The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2 finished.

But Twilight star Kristen Stewart may yet return in a sequel to her other hit of this year, Snow White and the Huntsman.

The only original films among Australia's top 10 this year were Ted, the MA-rated comedy about a potty-mouthed bear by Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane, and Judi Dench's retirees-abroad charmer The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

This year's official figures will not be released until next month, but the Motion Picture Distributors Association of Australia says ticket sales have passed $1 billion for the third straight year.

Association chairman and managing director of Twentieth Century Fox Film Distributors Marc Wooldridge said this week's Boxing Day releases would propel this year's takings past last year's tally of $1.1 billion.

"Going into Boxing Day, 2012 was tracking at 3 per cent up versus 2011,'' Mr Wooldridge said.

Having sold a record $5.913 million worth of tickets on its opening day, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey may yet sneak into the list of this year's highest-grossing films after less than a week showing on 560 screens across the country.

Despite the predominance of sequels, Mr Wooldridge described this year's films as a ''diverse and consistent mix''.

''The strong growth versus 2011 in a challenging economic climate clearly demonstrates the on-going appeal of watching movies on the big screen,'' he said.

The top-grossing Australian-made film was another feel-good crowd pleaser in the tradition of Kenny and Red Dog, Wayne Blair's comic musical The Sapphires.

Based on the true story of a 1960s all-female indigenous singing group that toured Vietnam, it took almost $14.3 million. Starring Jessica Mauboy, The Sapphires has 12 nominations in the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts awards to be announced next month.