Action films helped UAE box-office takings to rise 11 per cent to Dh475 million (US$129.3m) last year as movie enthusiasts flocked to see comic book heroes and their favourite spy, James Bond.
Figures from Empire International, a local film distributor, show 11.8 million admissions to cinemas across the country, up from 11.5 million in 2011.
The Avengers, based on the Marvel comic book series, raked in the most with Dh24.6m and more than half a million admissions. Skyfall, the latest James Bond film, grossed Dh17.6m on more than 428,000 admissions. The Amazing Spider-Man, another Marvel hero, brought in Dh17.5m with more than 380,000 admissions.
The growth was modest across the board, but higher ticket prices for 3-D films helped to push up revenues. "It is not like it used to be, people are more selective with movies. Before people would just go into the cinemas, but now they are looking for quality," said Kifah Ghraizi, regional manager of Empire International.
Films in 3-D have been rising up the ranks, as Avatar, Avengers and The Smurfs now feature in the top 10 films of all time in the country.
"3-D films are doing well, but people are no longer watching them just because it's 3-D. That was in the beginning. It is about the movie itself now," said Mr Ghraizi.
Films grossed Dh244m in the second half of the year, compared with Dh231m for the first six months. May was the best month, while March fared the worst in terms of takings. The first weekend of July brought in the most with $3.7m, due mainly to the release of The Amazing Spider-Man. The worst weekend was the second one in August, which coincided with Ramadan in the summer, a time when admissions tend to dip.
With more cinema screens planned to open this year, the outlook is promising. New cinemas are planned for Abu Dhabi, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah and Dubai.
"There are roughly 240 screens, but this year we might have 260 screens," said John Chahine, the general manger of the UAE branch of the film distributor Italia Film. "It is looking very promising because of more commercial and blockbuster movies that will be released in 2013 as well."
With the fifth instalment in the Die Hard series, Wolverine and The Smurfs 2 all set to be launched this year, local cinemagoers can expect similar if not higher-priced admissions, said Mr Chahine. The UAE's taste for action blockbusters is reflective of general trends worldwide.
The Avengers was the highest grossing film last year with $623m, followed by The Dark Knight Rises with $448m. Hollywood films tend to dominate at the box office in the Emirates. While the UAE is thought to be a big market for Bollywood films, distributors do not publish figures for Indian films.
The best-performing Arabic film was the third instalment of the Egyptian comedy Omar and Salma, featuring the pop star and actor Tamer Hosny. It brought in Dh4.8m with more than 140,000 admissions. The second-best performing Arabic film was X Large, which made Dh4m with 127,000 admissions.
"There is demand for Arabic films. In the past they used to do really big numbers, but now the release dates are delayed in the UAE. [Distributors] are releasing Egyptian films three to four months after Egypt because of scheduling," said Mr Ghraizi.