After a weak performance earlier in the year, Hollywood rounded out the summer on a high note.
Box-office revenue in the U.S. and Canada hit $4.4 billion between May and Labor Day, up 4.5% from the same time a year earlier, according to the National Assn. of Theatre Owners. That is a record not accounting for ticket price inflation.
However, box-office attendance, or admissions — the number of tickets sold — rose a more modest 1% to 546 million.
Higher ticket prices and premium-priced 3-D tickets accounted for the stronger increase in revenue than attendance.
Domestic receipts during Hollywood's lucrative summer season were fueled by a crop of R-rated hit comedies including "Bridesmaids" and "Bad Teacher" as well big-budget sequels that included "Transformers: Dark of the Moon," "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" and "The Hangover Part II."
Those movies performed even better overseas, where fast growing markets such as Russia, China and Latin America are accounting for an increasing majority of the film industry's box-office revenue.
But not every expensive event movie hit such lofty heights. This summer's most prominent box-office disappointments included "Green Lantern," "Cowboys & Aliens" and "Conan the Barbarian."
The strong summer comes as welcome relief to an industry that saw a steep drop in business earlier this year, when movie theater attendance and revenue were each down about 20%.
Admissions are down 5.1% so far this year compared with the same period in 2010, while year-to-date revenue through the Labor Day weekend is down 4.3% from a year earlier.
Nonetheless, film industry officials are optimistic that the box office will make up much of the lost ground by the end of the year, particularly with sequels to hits including "Sherlock Holmes," "Mission Impossible" and "Alvin and the Chipmunks" debuting during the holidays.
"In the midst of 9% unemployment and a continuing weak economy, it is striking that the movie theater industry can continue to grow revenues and admissions,'' John Fithian, president and chief executive of the National Assn. of Theatre Owners, said in a statement. "In a weak economy or strong, the movie theater remains the first and most affordable choice in out-of-home entertainment."