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Sat 21 May 2011 10:42 AM

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UAE movie ticket sales slide in Q1 on Avatar effect

Film industry expert says lack of Avatar-type blockbuster sees sales fall by 6% to April this year

UAE movie ticket sales slide in Q1 on Avatar effect
Cinema admissions in the UAE were down six percent in the first four months of 2011. (Getty Images)

The number of UAE cinema admissions in the first four months of this year has fallen by six percent compared with 2010, industry data showed.

As many as 3,770,000 people went to the cinema between January and April last year, compared with just 3,515,000 movie-goers during the same period this year – a fall of 255,000.

Movie promoters say this is no reflection of a worsening cinema industry, but claim figures were heavily impacted by the release of the award-winning movie Avatar.

The smash hit, which broke several box office records and became the highest grossing film of all time in the US, drew in 635,633 admissions in the UAE, more than any other film on record.

“From the figures it might look like admissions are decreasing but actually they are not,” said John Chahine from movie marketing company Italia Film.

“Avatar was a world and UAE-record which opened at the end of 2009 and accumulated 60 percent of admissions in beginning of 2010.”

In the first quarter of 2011, there were no blockbusters until the release of Thor in April, which netted 161,475 admissions.

This was followed by Fast 5, the most popular film of the year with 295,326 admissions; a figure likely to be surpassed this month with the release of the latest Pirates of the Caribbean film. “Every week between now and the end of July we have a new blockbuster movie so the second quarter will one hundred per cent make up for the first and we will bypass 2010,” he added.

Cinema owners are equally positive. Reel Cinemas, the 22-screen megaplex in Dubai Mall reported more than two million film-goers by the end of 2010 and a 20 percent market share after only 18 months of operation.

Their main concern is cinema attendance in August, when the Holy Month of Ramadan is likely to drive down ticket sales.

In 2009, UAE cinema attendance slumped 68.1 percent during the Ramadan, sending box office down 68.4 percent.

“Every year Ramadan is a quiet month for UAE cinema,” said Grant Bishop from Prime Pictures in Dubai, promoters of Cinemacity in the Arabian Cener in Mirdiff, Dubai. “Attendance is always down across all cinemas.”

So far in 2011, the top five films are Fast Five (295,326 admissions), Thor (161,475 admissions), Rio (150,734 admissions), Zahaymer – Arabic (132,098 admissions) and Big Momma's House 3 (123,703 admissions).

According to Chahine, film popularity in the region is largely similar to the USA and European markets, though locals tend to favour straight action movies and direct simply comedy, rather than horror films.

“In the UAE, the market is still performing and with strong potential,” said Kifah Ghraizi from Empire. “A good example would be Fast 5. However, we have noticed that nowadays movie goers want better quality movies.”

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