Cinema ticket sales generated more than $170 million in New Zealand last year, with $6.1m spent in the last two weeks of the year on the first film in the Hobbit trilogy.

The Motion Picture Distributors' Association of New Zealand (MPDA) today released a list of the top 10 grossing new release movies to hit New Zealand cinemas in the year to December 26.

The Avengers, a superhero film based on the Marvel comics, was the highest grossing release last year, pulling in $8.8m.

The latest James Bond flick, Skyfall, came in second, making $6.4m.


In third place was Sir Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which made $6.1m in the two and a half weeks after its release. It has gone on to gross more than $10.6m.

The 2012 total gross box office of $173.1m was the second highest and just behind the $176.5m generated in 2010, NZ MPDA president Peter Garner said.

"It is terrific to see the level of bounceback in box office achieved in 2012 after the industry experienced two significant events that understandably impacted business negatively in 2011, namely the Christchurch earthquake in February 2011 and the Rugby World Cup in September the same year.''

The 2012 figures were up seven per cent on 2011.

Mr Garner said this year's focus should be on converting the remaining 43 per cent of the screens operating in New Zealand which do not have digital capability, to digital.

"The cinema industry continues to combat the impact that film piracy presents and is fully cognisant of the challenges ahead.

"The industry must continue to provide first-class facilities and quality films to ensure ongoing support from New Zealand audiences, whom clearly have many choices in how they spend their discretionary income,'' he said.

There are currently 407 cinema screens operating in New Zealand.

The New Zealand Herald's Time Out editor Russell Baillie said the top 10 list was interesting in that it was not dominated by major stars.

"There's not a movie that you go `yes that was sold on the basis that Tom Cruise was in it'.

"Most of the popcorn movies are based on old properties, whether The Avengers as a comic book or Bond as a film franchise ... right down to Ice Age which has been a cartoon for years.''

Movie stars did not sell movies as much as they used to, he said, rather it was "big pop culture'' concepts which did.

There were always good and bad years for the amount of money generated, and Baillie was not surprised by last year's figures.

''[Last year] you've actually effectively got two Peter Jackson movies on the list, given Tintin and his involvement in that. He always tends to help the New Zealand box office. There's quite a lot of enthusiasm for him.''

Top 10 grossing films of 2012, until December 26

1. The Avengers - $8,820,927

2. Skyfall - $6,416,063

3. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - $6,082,013

4. The Hunger Games - $5,796,417

5. The Dark Knight Rises - $5,703,716

6. The best Exotic Marigold Hotel - $5,374,584

7. The Adventures of Tintin - $5,341,671

8. Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 - $4,976,773

9. Ice Age Continental Drift - $4,564,065

10. Ted - $4,268,154