Box-office takings edged above Dh230 million in the first six months of 2012, boosted by the popularity of 3D movies in the UAE.
3D craze drives box-office gains
The craze for 3D blockbusters such as The Amazing Spider-Manresulted in UAE box-office revenues climbing in the first six months of this year.
Big-budget three-dimensional movies including Ice Age: Continental Drift, Titanic 3D and The Avengers helped cinema takings to rise to Dh231 million (US$62.8m) by the end of June.
That compares with Dh212m takings in the first six months of last year, according to figures from Empire International Gulf, a regional distributor of films on behalf of 20th Century Fox and Columbia Pictures.
"This year we had more 3D releases," said Kifah Ghraizi, the regional manager at Empire International. "The 3D ticket price is more expensive than the normal ticket price. So that gave it a push at the box office."
Despite higher box-office takings, there were actually fewer tickets sold at the beginning of this year.
In the first six months, there were 5.77 million admissions to UAE cinemas, compared with about 5.8 million during the same period last year.
But the higher ticket prices for 3D films made up for fewer tickets being sold.
"Fewer people came, but the box-office [takings] were higher," Mr Ghraizi said. "For 3D, the price is almost 50 per cent more than the standard ticket price."
In full, last year's box-office takings in the UAE were Dh425m, with 11.5 million admissions, according to Empire International.
Mr Ghraizi said the picture was likely to be better this year, especially given the release of big blockbusters such as The Dark Knight Rises this month.
"We're still promised more blockbusters this year," he said. "I'm expecting [total admissions to rise] by maybe 5 to 6 per cent".
Globally, there has been a boom in the number of 3D-compatible cinemas since the release of James Cameron's blockbuster Avatar in 2009.
In 2010, 21 per cent of box office revenues in North America came from 3D movies, nearly double the 2009 total, according to the Arab Media Outlook, which was published in April in collaboration with the Dubai Press Club and Deloitte.
That proportion is higher in the UAE, where an estimated 35 per cent of box-office revenues came from 3D films.
"Although the number of 3D screens in the Arab region remains low for now, we expect this to pick up as the industry continues to gain momentum at an international level," the report said.
Other film-industry executives also said they expected a slight boost in the UAE cinema industry this year.
John Chahine, the general manager of the UAE branch of the film distributor Italia Film, said that a boost in tourism to the UAE was partly behind this.
"Right now, we are 2 or 3 per cent higher than 2011," he said of box-office takings.
Gordon Kirk, the general manager of the Dubai-based chain Reel Cinemas, agreed that there was an upward trend in the industry.
"With Reel Cinemas welcoming over 2.2 million patrons in 2011, and the retail and leisure sector of Dubai recording consistent growth, we expect to sustain the momentum," he said.
For the country's cinema industry there is an annual lull in admissions during Ramadan, especially when it falls in the hot summer months while many expatriates are away on holiday.
This is exacerbated by the delay in the release of summer blockbusters - which this year included The Dark Knight Rises - until the end of the Holy Month.
However, the UAE cinema industry has enjoyed meteoric growth during the past decade, given that there were just two million admissions recorded in 2002.
Cinema chains in the Emirates are now looking to expand overseas, with VOX Cinemas, Grand Cinemas and Reel Cinemas all eying new markets.