A big congratulations to the Korean film industry, which set a new box office record last year — 1.08 trillion won ($948 million), according to KOBIS (according to early numbers, as official stats take a while to finalize).
Quite impressive, although much of that record came from higher ticket prices — admissions in 2009 totaled about 156.5 million, less than 157 million in 2007 and 161 million in 2006 (the best year on record). But with higher ticket prices, 2009 box office was able to overtake 2006, which had been the previous record-holder with 1.03 trillion won.
Korean movies had their second-best year according to revenue (530 billion won), or their fifth-best by attendance (76.6 million), accounting for about 49 percent of the box office. That is a huge improvement over last year’s 42 percent, but still lower than any time since 2001.
In addition, six of the top 10 films last year were Korean (led by HAEUNDAE, of course), and 12 of the top 20. Only one film in the top 20 was neither Korean nor Hollywood, and that was RED CLIFF 2 (with 2.7 million admissions, it was the 14th biggest film of the year).
So, on balance, I would have to call 2009 a pretty solid success.
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By a nice coincidence, the country where I am now living, Spain, also had a record-setting year at the movies. Movies in Spain took in 675 million euros, or about $965 million (just slightly ahead of Korea).
Even moreso than Korea, Spain record came from higher ticket prices. In fact, with 110 million admissions (much less than Korea), it was one of the weakest years for admissions of the past decade.
Spain also features a lot more diversity than Korea, with its top films doing far less spectacularly than Korea. Compare top movies in each country. The top Korean films were HAEUNDAE ($69 million-ish), TAKE OFF ($52 million), TRANSFORMERS 2 ($44.5 million) and 2012 ($33 million).
While in Spain, the top Hollywood films were UP ($35.8 million), AVATAR ($34.5 million) and ICE AGE 3: DOWN OF THE DINOSAURS ($31.2 million), and the top Spanish films were AGORA ($30 million), PLANET 51 ($15 million) and CELL 211 ($12.7 million).
But in Spain, local films do not do nearly as well as they do in Korea. In 2001, they had their best year in quite some time, reaching 18 percent. And in general, they hover around 15 percent.
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When the Korean movie industry went south a couple of years ago, a lot of producers moved into musicals and theater instead. Musicals in Korea grew crazily for much last the last six or seven years, making it an attractive genre. Now, however, it looks like the musical market is reaching a peak, much as movies did. There is a nice overview of the state of the musical industry here.
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UPDATE: China apparently had an amazing year at the movies, too, with their box office soaring 44 percent to $910 million. As recently as 2003, movies made just $110 million in the theaters in China. Looks like this year will finally be the year that China overtakes the Korean movie market (although given that China has 20 times the population of Korea, it is about time, really).