LOS ANGELES — The big deal for Hollywood is not the record $10.8 billion that studios took in domestically in 2012. It's the fact that the number of tickets sold went up for the first time in three years.

Thanks to inflation, revenue generally rises in Hollywood as admission prices climb each year. The real story is told in tickets, whose sales have been on a general decline for a decade, bottoming out in 2011 at 1.29 billion, their lowest level since 1995.

The industry rebounded this year, with ticket sales projected to rise 5.6 percent to 1.36 billion by Dec. 31, according to box-office tracker Hollywood.com. That's still well below the modern peak of 1.6 billion tickets sold in 2002, but in an age of cozy home theater setups and endless entertainment gadgets, studio executives consider it a triumph that they were able to put more butts in cinema seats this year than last.

"It is a victory, ultimately," said Don Harris, head of distribution at Paramount Pictures. "If we deliver the product as an industry that people want, they will want to get out there. Even though you can sit at home and watch something on your large screen in high-def, people want to get out."

Domestic revenue should finish up nearly 6 percent from 2011's $10.2 billion and top Hollywood's previous high of $10.6 billion set in 2009.

The year was led by a pair of superhero sagas, Disney's "The Avengers" with $623 million domestically and $1.5 billion worldwide and the Warner Bros. Batman finale "The Dark Knight Rises" with $448 million domestically and $1.1 billion worldwide. Sony's James Bond adventure "Skyfall" is closing in on the $1 billion mark globally, and the list of action and family-film blockbusters includes "The Hunger Games," "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part Two," "Ice Age: Continental Drift," "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted," "The Amazing Spider-Man" and "Brave."

Before television, movies were the biggest thing going, with ticket sales estimated as high as 4 billion a year domestically in the 1930s and `40s.

Movie-going eroded steadily through the 1970s as people stayed home with their small screens. The rise of videotape in the 1980s further cut into business, followed by DVDs in the `90s and big, cheap flat-screen TVs in recent years. Today's video games, mobile phones and other portable devices also offer easy options to tramping out to a movie theater.

It's all been a continual drain on cinema business, and cynics repeatedly predict the eventual demise of movie theaters. Yet Hollywood fights back with new technology of its own, from digital 3-D to booming surround-sound to the clarity of images projected at high-frame rates, which is being tested now with "The Lord of the Rings" prelude "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," shown in select theaters at 48 frames a second, double the standard speed.

For all of the annoyances of theaters – parking, pricy concessions, sitting next to strangers texting on their iPhones – cinemas still offer the biggest and best way to see a movie.

"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."




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  • 30. 'Ruby Sparks' & 'Celeste & Jesse Forever' (TIE)

    Two actress-scripted, unconventional indie love stories co-starring Chris Messina for the price of one! "Ruby Sparks" and "Celeste & Jesse Forever" were released within nine days of each other over the summer, and while both owe a lot to previous films -- "Sparks," written by and starring Zoe Kazan, was like the love child of "Adaptation" and "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind"; "Celeste & Jesse," co-written by and starring Rashida Jones, was like "(500) Days of Summer" and "Scenes from a Marriage" -- each was a fresh take on the tired rom-com genre. More like these, please. -- Christopher Rosen

  • 29. 'The Is 40'

    Someday, we'll look back at this movie and give thanks that Judd Apatow and Leslie Mann had the guts to not only bare the ugly underbelly of their generally blessed and loving marriage but also invite us to laugh at it. For now, though, we're condemned to suffer through critical sniping about "west of the 405" privilege (that's Los Angelese for "I wish I could afford to live in Brentwood") and the 30 minutes Apatow should have left on the cutting room floor. Can Hollywood's king of comedy help it if Melissa McCarthy, Megan Fox, Charlyne Yi, Jason Segel, John Lithgow, Albert Brooks and Chris O'Dowd <i>all</i> insist on being in his movie? Then there are Mann and Paul Rudd, who portray the ups and downs of contemporary middle-aged marriage with a level of accuracy that's liable to induce PTSD episodes in any parent born between 1962 and '72. -- Michael Hogan

  • 28. 'The Sessions'

    Having banked boucoup cred with his creepy/terrifying supporting roles in "Winter's Bone" and "Martha Marcy May Marlene," John Hawkes takes on leading-man duties in "The Sessions." This being a John Hawkes movie, however, that leading man sleeps in an iron lung. Based on the life of Mark O'Brien, a poet and journalist paralyzed from the neck down by polio, the film follows O'Brien's sexual awakening, at age 38, and subsequent effort to lose his virginity with the help of a "sexual surrogate" played by a frequently naked Helen Hunt. Along the way, O'Brien shares his hopes and doubts with his priest, the blessedly open-minded Father Brendan (William H. Macy). Given the cuckoo premise, it's amazing how gentle the film turns out to be. -- MH

  • 27. 'Sleepwalk With Me'

    Comedian Mike Birbiglia based "Sleepwalk With Me" on his stand-up routine-turned-"This American Life" episode about his relationship issues and the pesky sleepwalking problem that once caused him to jump through a hotel window. That grim tale aside, "Sleepwalk With Me" is the funniest movie of the year. -- Mike Ryan

  • 26. 'The Grey'

    Remember this movie? Yeah, the one where Liam Neeson fights with wolves. Released <em>way</em> back in January -- a month not exactly known for its stellar movie slate -- "The Grey" surprised audience by <em>not</em> being a schlocky vehicle for Liam Neeson to fight wolves. Instead, it's a much more surreal, almost-meditation on the human instinct to survive. There were complaints about the ending -- <strong>spoiler</strong>: it never actually showed the human versus wolf fight the trailers teased -- but those of us who had been paying attention to the rest of the movie already knew that a literal fight wasn't the point. -- MR

  • 25. 'The Cabin In The Woods'

    "The Cabin in the Woods" -- filmed before Chris Hemsworth became Thor, but released a year after because of financial troubles at MGM -- is the most surprising "horror" movie to be released in the last decade. "Horror" would not be the accurate genre to define "Cabin," really, but there's never been a movie quite like "Cabin" before. Now, if the last 58 words look like a filibuster for blurb writing purposes, they very much are. Because even nine months after the film's release, we still wouldn't dare spoil anything about this gem. -- MR

  • 24. 'Magic Mike'

    This was the Year of Channing Tatum, and "Magic Mike" was the most Channing Tatum of all Channing Tatum movies. Tatum co-wrote the stripper drama and based it on his own experiences as a dancer. (Of course he did.) Credit to director Steven Soderbergh for bathing the film in dingy yellows (a color that will forever recall Tampa) and getting the most out of Matthew McConaughey. As Dallas, the strip club's emcee, McConaughey is playing McConaughey playing McConaughey. All right, all right, all right. -- CR

  • 23. 'Promised Land'

    Free from the shackles of Jason Bourne, Matt Damon gets back to his "Good Will Hunting" roots in "Promised Land," a folksy yarn masquerading as a social statement about the dangers of fracking and the decline of America's small towns. Directed by Gus Van Sant and co-written by Damon and co-star John Krasinski (from a story by Dave Eggers, obviously), "Promised Land" is like Frank Capra by way of "How do you like them apples?" -- CR

  • 22. 'ParaNorman' & 'Wreck-It Ralph' (TIE)

    For adults, "Wreck-It Ralph" and "ParaNorman" are two of the most interesting animated films of the year, but for different reasons. "ParaNorman" disguises itself as a children's movie, then unleashes a deeply disturbing and emotional third act; "Wreck-It Ralph," with it's sappy-sweet story, is very much a movie for kids, but the movie is littered with so many classic arcade and gaming Easter eggs that ... well, let's just say, if you've forgotten the "Contra" code, you'll know it again after "Wreck-It Ralph." (OK, fine: it's up-up-down-down-left-right-left-right, B, A, Start.) -- MR

  • 21. 'The Impossible'

    The true story of a Spanish family who gets torn apart by the tsunami that struck Thailand in 2004, "The Impossible" looks like one of those schmaltzy, triumph-of-the-human-spirit movies that make audiences cry. What sets it apart is that director J.A. Bayona stages the tsunami like Roland Emmerich and the aftermath like Eli Roth -- all on a budget of less than $40 million. Held up by a strong performance by Naomi Watts -- pushed to physical limits in ways that recall James Franco's work in "127 Hours" -- "The Impossible" works because it stays small. It's not about the millions of people displaced by the natural disaster; it's just about a family. -- CR

  • 20. 'Holy Motors'

    Premiering at the Cannes Film Festival in May to rave reviews, "Holy Motors" is, well, bizarre. But not bizarre in the sense that it leaves the viewer bewildered as to what just happened. As we see our protagonist, Mr. Oscar (Denis Lavant), chauffeured around Paris acting out elaborate, strange scenes that he calls "appointments," we, as a viewer, just accept that this is Mr. Oscar's life. It's a movie better absorbed than analyzed. Not to mention that it's worth watching just for the midway impromptu accordian jam session. Did I mention that this is a bizarre movie? -- MR

  • 19. 'The Perks Of Being A Wallflower'

    Faithfully evoking the glorious moment in American teenage history when geeks suddenly became cool, Stephen Chbosky's adaptation of his own novel tells the story of Charlie (Logan Lerman), a confused loner who finds acceptance among a group of arty proto-hipsters led by two step-siblings, Patrick (Ezra Miller) and Sam (Emma Watson, in her first major post-Hermione role). Despite the occasional corny miscue -- and Watson's wavering allegiance to her character's American accent -- the film strikes all the right emotional chords, bringing us back to a time when the right song, played in the right person's car, really could change everything. -- MH

  • 18. 'Flight'

    There's not a lot about "Flight" that's inherently remarkable: man has an addiction problem, man struggles with addiction problem, man reconciles addiction problem. But! That man happens to be played by Denzel Washington, who gives a driven performance as a commercial airline pilot. And, most important, the first act of the film -- depicting a harrowing plane crash sequence -- will make you think four or five times before booking your next flight. -- MR

  • 17. '21 Jump Street'

    Channing Tatum's character curses science during "21 Jump Street," but what else could explain how this reboot of an out-dated television series wound up being one of the year's funniest movies? It <em>was</em> science, along with Tatum's comic timing and puppy dog charm, Jonah Hill's acerbic cockiness and Dave Franco, James' brother, an ambitious stoner for the 21st century. -- CR

  • 16. 'Amour'

    Michael Haneke's last film, "The White Ribbon" (2009), traced the roots of the Third Reich by focusing on daily life in a provincial German town in the years before World War I. (Spoiler alert: The kids are proto-Nazis.) His latest, "Amour," may show more compassion to its characters, but the upshot is no less grim. Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva play a loving elderly couple whose lives are disrupted by illness and the inevitability of death. Trintignant, Riva and Isabelle Huppert, as their daughter, are in top form, and Haneke approaches the story -- based on a situation that befell his own family -- with oh-so-European seriousness. You may not want to watch, but you won't be able to turn away. -- MH

  • 15. 'Pitch Perfect'

    There were certainly better movies released in 2012, but none were as aca-perfect as "Pitch Perfect." An intoxicating amalgam of "Bring It On," "Glee" and "Mean Girls," "Pitch Perfect" made Rebel Wilson a star, put "Bright Lights Bigger City" on perma-repeat (just me?) and included <em>two</em> stand-up-and-cheer moments: Wilson's rendition of "Turn the Beat Around" and the rousing, John Hughesian finale. -- CR

  • 14. 'The Dark Knight Rises' & 'The Hunger Games (TIE)

    When blockbusters get serious. Both Gary Ross and Christopher Nolan proved that not all superhero movies have to be brightly-colored, all-ages romps like "Marvel's The Avengers." "The Hunger Games" and "The Dark Knight Rises" were serious endeavors that managed to be entertaining <em>films</em>. Thanks to Ross' direction, "The Hunger Games" was like Terrence Malick-light; Nolan, meanwhile, turned the most superhero-y entry of his Batman trilogy into an epic worthy of those directorial comparisons he gets to David Lean. Also, can Selina Kyle and Katniss Everdeen team up for a spinoff? -- CR

  • 13. 'The Master'

    For a brief moment in September, after its heavily hyped debut at the Toronto International Film Festival, "The Master" looked like the film to beat this awards season. Then the public got a chance to weigh in and decided there was no there there: the performances were too weird, the story made no sense, the Scientology stuff wasn't juicy enough. But there are reasons to think that P.T. Anderson's long-anticipated follow-up to "There Will Be Blood" will enjoy an afterlife as a "Vertigo"-style critical darling. For one thing, the 70-mm cinematography is drop-dead gorgeous. And the same unconventional storytelling that confused viewers makes this a film of daring originality, one whose unanswered questions -- about kinship, addiction, mind control and fate -- resonate long after its flaws have been forgotten. -- MH

  • 12. 'Life Of Pi'

    How do you film a bestselling book about a boy and a live tiger stranded on a life boat for 227 days? If you're Ang Lee, you hire an unknown first-time actor, build a giant water tank in Taiwan and order up some ground-breaking CGI effects so you don't have to work with an actual jungle cat. And, for good measure, you shoot the whole thing in 3D. The fact that "Life of Pi" even exists is a miracle -- 20th Century Fox tried to pull the plug during preproduction, only to be talked out of it by Lee. The fact that it's one of the most moving, visually sumptuous and financially successful movies of the year is a testament to Lee's singular vision and unflappable spirit. -- MH

  • 11. 'Marvel's The Avengers'

    It's not just that "The Avengers" was good -- it's remarkable that the movie exists in the first place. First planted in the original "Iron Man" as a post-credits scene, the formation of this film made its way though five Marvel movies before it reached a culmination this past summer. What was most impressive about Joss Whedon's direction wasn't so much the action scenes, but the fact that he took so many characters and gave each one a distinct individual arc. -- MR

  • 10. 'Looper'

    If my future self from 30 years in the future suddenly appeared in front of me, I would at least make sure that my future self had seen "Looper" one last time before I shot myself in the chest. -- MR

  • 9. 'Les Miserables'

    Tom Hooper's dreamed dream of mixing live, on-set singing with A-list performers and set pieces straight out of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy succeeds thanks to its cast. Anne Hathaway is a lock to win Best Supporting Actress, and "Les Miserables" provides Hugh Jackman with his best role ever. Forget Wolverine; for the rest of Jackman's career, his name will be Jean Valjean. (Or prisoner 24601 if you're Javert.) -- CR

  • 8. 'Skyfall'

    Mendes. Sam Mendes. That's how the director of the latest James Bond adventure should be introducing himself now that "Skyfall" has become a license to print money, earning a record-breaking $152 million in the UK and close to $1 billion worldwide. The secret to 007's success is simple: leavening the gritty realism of Daniel Craig's first two outings with a bit of the old Bond wit. Mendes also had the wisdom to cast Javier Bardem as a sexually ambivalent villain, give living legend Dame Judi Dench plenty of screen time and enlist Adele to sing the theme song. Best Bond ever? Never say never. -- MH

  • 7. 'Silver Linings Playbook'

    "Silver Linings Playbook" is one of those rare movies that can actually be called "the feel-good movie of the year!" with a straight face. To wit: This dysfunctional family comedy about a mentally unstable former high school teacher (Bradley Cooper, in a career-best performance) and his equally broken love interest (Jennifer Lawrence), actually ends with a <em>dance competition</em>. It's the heart-clutch moment of 2012. -- CR

  • 6. 'Moonrise Kingdom'

    Set in the summer of 1965, "Moonrise Kingdom" marries Wes Anderson's meticulously designed retro-sensibilities with what Don Draper would have described as the pain from an old wound. (You might describe it as nostalgia.) The result is like a perfect summer cocktail: light and fizzy with a sneaky amount of depth that lingers on long after it's finished. Kudos to Anderson for getting great performances out of the two teens at the center of the film (Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman), but veterans like Bill Murray, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton and Frances McDormand hold things together by being appropriately deadpan and melancholy. -- CR

  • 5. 'Django Unchained'

    The embargo on reviews of Quentin Tarantino's follow-up to "Inglourious Basterds" doesn't lift until Dec. 17, so for now we'll just say that Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson and Leonardo DiCaprio star in a pre-Civil War slavery revenge fantasy that will change the way you think about American history. -- MH

  • 4. 'Argo'

    "Argo" has a little bit of everything: spy thriller thrills; real-life political intrigue; a foreign crisis; and, of course, inside Hollywood hijinks. Ben Affleck directs and stars in this (mostly) true story of a joint CIA and Canadian effort to sneak six Americans out of Iran after they fled the now-captured American embassy in 1979. A riveting thriller, "Argo" alleviates its tension (rivaled only by "Zero Dark Thirty") by having Alan Arkin and John Goodman play movie-industry professionals fronting a fake studio, which was created as a cover to sneak the six Americans out of Iran as part of a movie crew. The plan, like the movie, was so crazy, it actually worked. -- MR

  • 3. 'Beasts Of The Southern Wild'

    Visually stunning and boldly unorthodox, Benh Zeitlin's "Beasts of the Southern Wild" spins a fearsome and intoxicating tale of life beyond the borders of civilization, inviting viewers to an endangered bayou community where freedom, passion and survival trump all other concerns. First-timers Quvenzhané Wallis, who was 6 years old when the movie was filmed, and Dwight Henry, who almost didn't make the movie because he was worried about neglecting his New Orleans bakery, form one of the most unforgettable daughter-father combos in cinematic history, and the first-rate screenplay, score, set design and cinematography seal the spell. -- MH

  • 2. 'Lincoln'

    The first trailer was a dud -- <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/14/lincoln-voice-daniel-day-lewis_n_1883693.html">remember all that noise about Daniel Day Lewis' squeaky voice</a>? But low expectations served "Lincoln" well, allowing it to arrive not with the usual Spielbergian thud of pre-ordained importance but instead with a pleasantly surprising splash. With an unapologetically brainy script by "Angels in America" playwright Tony Kushner and a lead performance by Day-Lewis that history is all but guaranteed to remember as "Oscar-winning," "Lincoln" feels less like a modern multiplex experience and more like a night at the theater when absolutely everything goes right. -- MH

  • 1. 'Zero Dark Thirty'

    How did Kathryn Bigelow follow "The Hurt Locker," which won Best Picture and Best Director at the 82nd annual Academy Awards? With a movie that tops it in almost every way. "Zero Dark Thirty," Bigelow's globe- and decade-spanning docudrama about the search for Osama bin Laden, mixes the obsessive nature of David Fincher's "Zodiac" with the clear-eyed suspense of Michael Mann's "Heat." The result is 2012's best film, a feature that will be studied for years to come -- not just for Bigelow's filmmaking prowess (the third-act raid on bin Laden's compound in particular), but because of Mark Boal's well-researched script and Jessica Chastain's star-making performance. Her character is, after all, the "motherf--ker" who found bin Laden's house. -- CR

  • WILD CARD: 'Cloud Atlas'

    <a href="http://entertainment.time.com/2012/12/04/top-10-arts-lists/slide/cloud-atlas/#ixzz2E8Aab0bx">TIME Magazine called "Cloud Atlas" the worst movie of the year</a>. HuffPost Executive Arts & Entertainment editor Michael Hogan couldn't even make it through to the end. Yet for all its flaws, no film in 2012 was more epic in scope and scale than "Cloud Atlas." The film was so large it needed three directors (The Wachowskis and Tom Twykwer) and about 3,000 years to tell its story. Buoyed by the best Tom Hanks performance in nearly 10 years, and loaded with actors in multiple roles, "Cloud Atlas" seemed to do the impossible: <strike>make Halle Berry interesting</strike> turn David Mitchell's unadaptable novel into first-rate entertainment of the oxymoron variety. "Cloud Atlas" is an intimate epic, an effortless tightrope walk and one of 2012's best, despite people saying it's one of the worst. Sorry, TIME (and Mike). -- CR

  • WILD CARD: 'Battleship'

    "Battleship" is not a "good" movie, per se. But there's an ever-present vibe that "Battleship" <i>knows</i> it's not a good movie. It's not <i>supposed</i> to be a good movie. This is a movie based on a board game. Actually, it's not even a board game -- it's just two people reciting letters and numbers to each other. Really, you think that <i>you</i> could make a better "Battleship" movie? No other movie his year absolutely <i>owns</i> what it is more than "Battleship." -- MR

  • WILD CARD: 'Prometheus'

    It's hard to imagine any movie billed, however informally, as Ridley Scott's sequel to "Alien" living up to fans' impossibly high expectations. So maybe it was inevitable that "Prometheus" would become the subject of angry recriminations and at least one <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/17/whats-wrong-with-prometheus-video_n_1603575.html">hilarious Internet video cataloguing every single WTF moment</a>. But it would be a shame if viewers' occasional (OK, constant) confusion blinded them to the spellbinding cinematography, the mind-bending set design and the terrible beauty of Michael Fassbender's performance as David the amoral android. Moreover, there is still a chance that at least some of the loose ends will be tied up in the sequel, if Scott ever gets around to shooting one. Like "The Master," this is a movie that invites you to watch again and again, if not to ponder its unanswerable mysteries than to visit its entrancing world. -- MH