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US film industry has worst January in 20 years

The US film industry has suffered its worst January for 20 years, with a recent slew of critically acclaimed films unable to make up for the lack of a blockbuster.

Critically acclaimed performances by Natalie Portman in Black Swan, and Colin Firth in The King's Speech, have helped make handsome profits for the producers of their relatively low-budget pictures.

But even they were not enough to persuade Americans to eschew DVDs and download services, and brave treacherous weather to reach their local multiplex in their droves.

It is estimated that 79 million film tickets have been sold so far this year, thought to be the lowest total since 1990.

"Thus far, 2011's off to an anaemic start," said Brandon Gray of Box Office Mojo, a respected film industry-watching website, "and prospects aren't much rosier for the near future."

American cinemas have taken a total of $636.7m (€466.7m) this month, down more than 30pc on last January, which saw receipts of $933.9m (€684.5m).

Last year's figure was buoyed by Avatar, James Cameron's groundbreaking animated science-fiction blockbuster, which went on to be the most successful film of all time.

But this January's total is also well down on the takings recorded in the first months of previous years.

Mr Gray said: "2010 ended with a whimper, resulting in weak holdover business for 2011."

The King's Speech, which last week earned 12 Oscar nominations, has itself performed well. Having cost about €12m to produce, it has already earned almost €46.5m in the US alone.

Black Swan, which cost about the same to make and received five Oscar shortlistings, has done even better, collecting about €62.8m across the US.

Mr Gray said that a 2011 release schedule "packed with ever more sequels and adaptations" threatened to see the downturn extend throughout the year.