MPAA Box Office The Hunger GamesUPDATE, 12:35 PM: The basic message from the MPAA and the National Association of Theatre Owners is that there’s nothing wrong with the movie business that a couple of hits can’t fix. “We needed a few more good movies” in 2011, NATO chief John Fithian says, describing the reason for last year’s 3.8% downturn in domestic ticket sales. “There wasn’t any Avatar in 2011.” But this year’s different, which is especially evident on the eve of Lionsgate’s release of The Hunger Games. Fithian says it could generate as much as $120M domestically this weekend, which would make it “the biggest opening for the month of March….We’re adding screens every minute.” With domestic sales up about 14% year to date, “we’re very confident about 2012 being an up year domestically as well as globally.” What about Disney’s debacle with John Carter, which just resulted in a $200M write down? “I admire Disney taking a chance,” MPAA chief Chirs Dodd says. But theater owners want to see studios take fewer chances when it comes to creating a new premium VOD window on pay TV. “Last year we had a public food fight,” Fithian says. “The attitude is much different in 2012….I’m very encouraged.”

As for the 2011 data, the industry execs said they’re excited about the overseas results — expecially in China and Latin America. They noted that Hispanics were among the most active ticket buyers domestically measured in sales per capita. Still, they saw no reason to be alarmed by the nearly 18% drop last year in the number of Hispanics classified as frequent moviegoers — those who buy tickets at least once a month. It was the only group to show such a drop. That could simply reflect the appeal of the particular titles released last year, execs said, not a trend. Last year 35M people were classified as frequent movie goers, down 2.2% vs 2010. One other notable change: There was a steep increase in the number of venues with digital projectors. 31.8% of all screens could handle digital 3D, and another 32.8% offered digital without 3D. Only 35.4% of the screens were analog, down from 60.1% in 2010.

PREVIOUS 11:03 AM: Overseas theaters accounted for a record 68.7% of the $32.6B in ticket sales in 2011, the MPAA reports. The total is up 3.2% vs 2010. But the data is more bracing for moviegoing in the U.S. and Canada. Revenues dropped 3.8% to $10.2B as admissions fell 4.5% to 1.28B, the lowest figure in at least a decade. Revenues for 3D movies fell $400M to $1.8B, but the MPAA says that’s “not surprising” since 2010 included extraordinary sales for Avatar. The average ticket cost $7.93, +1% vs. last year — and +37% since 2002. “The figures on box office reflect only one indicator of an extremely complex, and evolving movie industry,” MPAA chief Chris Dodd says. “We’re working harder and smarter to keep moviegoers coming back for more, whether at the cinema, at home or on the go.” We’ll have more later, after an MPAA briefing for reporters about the results.