"Every home has a kitchen, but you can't get into a good restaurant on Saturday night," said Dan Fellman, head of distribution for Warner Bros. "People want to escape. That's the nature of society. The adult population just is not going to sit home seven days a week, even though they have technology in their home that's certainly an improvement over what it was 10 years ago. People want to get out of the house, and no matter what they throw in the face of theatrical exhibition, it continues to perform at a strong level."
Even real-life violence at the movie theater didn't turn audiences away. Some moviegoers thought twice about heading to the cinema after a gunman killed 12 people and injured 58 at a screening of "The Dark Knight Rises" in Colorado last summer, but if there was any lull in attendance, it was slight and temporary. Ticket sales went on a tear for most of the fall.
While domestic revenues inch upward most years largely because of inflation, the real growth areas have been overseas, where more and more fans are eager for the next Hollywood blockbuster.
Rentrak, which compiles international box office data, expects 2012's foreign gross to be about $23 billion, 3 percent higher than in 2011. No data was yet available on the number of tickets sold overseas this past year.
International business generally used to account for less than half of a studio film's overall receipts. Films now often do two or even three times as much business overseas as they do domestically. Some movies that were duds with U.S. audiences, such as "Battleship" and "John Carter," can wind up being $200 million hits with overseas crowds.
Whether finishing a good year or a bad one, Hollywood executives always look ahead to better days, insisting that the next crop of blockbusters will be bigger than ever. The same goes this time as studio bosses hype their 2013 lineup, which includes the latest "Iron Man," ''Star Trek," ''Hunger Games" and "Thor" installments, the Superman tale "Man of Steel" and the second chapter in "The Hobbit" trilogy.
Twelve months from now, they hope to be talking about another revenue record topping this year's $10.8 billion.
"I've been saying we're going to hit that $11 billion level for about three years now," said Paul Dergarabedian, a box-office analyst for Hollywood.com. "Next year I think is the year we actually do it."