2017 movie ticket sales the lowest they've been in 25 years

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Dec 17, 2018, 6:00 PM EST (Updated)

As home streaming services continue to expand and change how many people watch movies, actual movie theaters are feeling an acute loss of patronage. 2017 marked the lowest number of movie tickets sold since 1992 (when the highest grosser was Aladdin). Perhaps not coincidentally, those tickets were also the most expensive they've ever been.

Theaters reported selling $1.239 billion worth of tickets, which is down from 2016's tally of $1.315 billion. The last-minute biggest earner of the year, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, certainly helped buoy things (as did 2017's other biggest hits, Beauty and the Beast and Wonder Woman), but in the end, it wasn't enough.

As a comparison, the highest-selling year in this time frame was 2002, which saw sales in the amount of $1,575.7 billion (that year's highest-grossing film was Sam Raimi's first Spider-Man movie). As much as studios are trying to get people to the theater with innovations like IMAX and 3D, those add-ons don't always help. In 2009, Avatar was a movie made expressly for 3D (and was a record-breaking earner), yet the year only had a take of $1,412.7 billion. That doesn't sound bad, but it was a noticeable drop from 2002, 2003, and 2004 -- the only years in this frame to clear the billion-and-a-half mark.

Another unfortunate thing about the disappointing numbers is that sales had mostly been on an increase since Marvel's The Avengers in 2012. Except for 2014, every year since 2012 had seen increases. Though it could be argued that some of the bigger event films of this past year just plain didn't deliver (Justice League, for example), almost all of the top earners were genre films that did perform well.

It could also be said that the all-too-convenient rise in streaming movies makes people feel like they don't need to shell out more cash for increasingly expensive tickets -- especially as the turnaround between a major film hitting the theater and reaching home services has shrunk to merely a month in some cases.

Theater chains in 2018 will doubtless see an upward battle in this area, as reflected by Netflix scoring a big win with its big-budget original Bright. The streaming giant has many more movies where that came from, too, so whether it is more IMAX, more 3D, or stricter rules about rude phone usage (like those the Alamo Drafthouse chain implements), theaters have their work cut out for them. Thankfully, The Avengers will be assembling again, so that might help to make a difference.

(via Box Office Mojo)