| LOS ANGELES
LOS ANGELES Audiences have given Hollywood a big present in advance of Christmas -- U.S. and Canadian movie ticket sales for 2009 were expected to cross the annual $10 billion mark on Tuesday night for the first time.
Already, ticket sales have topped 2008's $9.63 billion as moviegoers flocked to "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen," the year's top seller in the United States and Canada and "The Twilight Saga: New Moon," among many others.
Outside the United States and Canada, ticket sales have reached $15 billion, up about 5 percent from 2008, showing industry strength in a global recession as audiences turn to movies as an inexpensive form of entertainment, box office watchers said.
Through Sunday, the total U.S. and Canadian box office stood just $36 million short of crossing the $10 billion mark, said tracking firm Hollywood.com Box Office.
With Monday generating $29 million in ticket sales, led by strong results for "Avatar," the industry was expected to cross $10 billion on Tuesday.
"We're looking at some huge numbers for the next 10 days or so that will put us well over that $10 billion mark" for the year, said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Hollywood.com Box Office. He expected the 2009 total to come to more than $10.4 billion as the busy Christmas holiday unfolds.
Ticket sales on Christmas Day last year were $76 million, and Dergarabedian expects this year's total to surpass that with "Sherlock Holmes," "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel," and "It's Complicated" hitting theaters.
Through Sunday, Time Warner Inc-owned Warner Bros, which had two big hits in "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" and "The Hangover," was the top studio at U.S. and Canadian box offices with 19.6 percent market share and more than $1.9 billion in ticket sales, said researcher Rentrak Corporation.
Sales outside the United States and Canada had reached $15 billion through Sunday, compared with $14.3 billion for all of 2008, Rentrak said.
"In this era right now, where job creation is so critical, our industry is one that is showing some major benefits to this economy, partly because of the growth of the international market," said Dan Glickman, chairman and chief executive of Hollywood trade group the Motion Picture Association of America.
Hollywood generated a positive trade surplus of $11.7 billion for the United States in 2008, according to the association.
Hollywood's six major studios dominate box offices overseas almost as much as the domestic markets. For instance, of last year's top 20 box office hits, only one was financed completely outside the United States -- the French film "Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis".
Jack Kyser, founding economist with the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation, an agency that closely tracks Hollywood, said he expects continued success for the U.S. movie industry in appealing to international audiences.
"As you have emerging middle class consumers around the world, that means there is going to be an increased demand for filmed entertainment," Kyser said.
(Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Mohammad Zargham)