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Record box-office year predicted, anti-piracy efforts touted at CinemaCon

John Fithian predicts at least four movies will cross the $1-billion threshold in global ticket sales in 2015

John Fithian, president of the National Assn. of Theatre Owners, predicted that the motion-picture theater industry would grow to new heights in 2015.

"In 15 years of standing on a Vegas stage, I have never before made this prediction — 2015 will be a record-breaking year in both domestic and global box-office receipts," he told a crowd of theater owners at the annual CinemaCon trade show.

Fithian said at least four movies will cross the $1-billion threshold in global ticket sales in 2015, a feat he said has never happened before.

One movie, Universal's hit franchise "Furious 7," has already crossed that mark. Universal announced that the movie had reached $1 billion in worldwide ticket sales after only 17 days. Most of the box-office revenue has occurred in international markets that increasingly drive ticket sales.

"The remainder of the year is packed with likely commercial success stories," Fithian said.

Other movies expected to drive up big ticket sales this year include franchises such as "Avengers," "Jurassic Park," "Minions" and "Star Wars."

Some analysts predict that ticket sales in the U.S. and Canada, which dropped 5% last year, will climb 8% to $11.2 billion this year, setting a new high-water mark for domestic box-office revenue.

Beyond big action franchises, Fithian said the industry has benefited from a better spacing of movies through the year, such as the surprise January hit "American Sniper" from Warner Bros.

He also credited a broader mix of films that include family titles such as Disney/Pixar's "Inside Out" and several female-led comedies, including Fox's "Spy," starring Melissa McCarthy.

"2015 will rock at the box office because it will be the year for the women," he said. "I'm so pleased that my daughter can see more women in leading roles than ever before."

Theater owners also will benefit by upgrades in sound and equipment, such as laser-illuminated projection systems, and by offering more luxury amenities at the multiplex, Fithian said.

As the industry completes its transition from film to digital formats, studios will be able to strike more favorable deals with exhibitors because they will no longer have to pay fees to theater owners to buy digital equipment, he said.

In his speech to theater owners, Chris Dodd, chairman of the Motion Picture Assn. of America, touted the group's anti-piracy efforts.

He singled out a website that the MPAA launched last year, WhereToWatch.com, that is designed to help consumers find legal channels for watching their favorite TV shows and movies. The site links consumers to theater listings and online sites such as iTunes, Amazon and Hulu.

"We believe WhereToWatch.com is an important opportunity for our industry to directly engage with your customers and, at the same time, support creators by driving audiences to legal sources of content — both in your movie theaters and online," Dodd said.

Showing video clips of a costume illustrator and a car coordinator, Dodd also put the spotlight on the nearly 2 million American workers whose livelihoods are tied to the film and TV industry.

"Where you watch film matters," Dodd said. "It matters to the hundreds of thousands of American workers who are not here in Las Vegas today but whose very livelihoods are threatened by film piracy."

The remarks come just a few days before the MPAA hosts the third annual Creativity Conference on Friday at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., in partnership with ABC News and Microsoft Corp.

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