Ticket sales for movies shown around the globe rose 3 percent in 2011 to $32.6 billion, largely because of growth in booming markets like China.
U.S. and Canadian sales fell.
That's according to the Motion Picture Association of America, which represents the six largest Hollywood studios.
The MPAA said Thursday that theatrical revenue from the U.S. and Canada dropped 4 percent to $10.2 billion as attendance fell last year, for the second year in a row. Revenue from 3-D movies also shrank compared with 2010, when the release of "Avatar" in 3-D gave the box office a big boost.
International ticket sales rose 7 percent to $22.4 billion.
Sales in China grew 35 percent to $2 billion, which put that country behind Japan as the second largest market for movies outside the U.S. and Canada.
The data suggests Hollywood will have to rely more on overseas audiences for future growth. Admissions in the U.S. and Canada fell to 1.28 billion from the peak of 1.57 billion in 2002. A decade ago, the average person in both countries saw 5.2 movies a year. Last year that fell to 3.9.
John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theatre Owners, didn't give an explanation for the attendance decline but said the picture looks better when compared to several decades ago.
"The question is: Does the long-term, 30-to-40-year trend continue? Or does this short-term trend continue? We're very hopeful it's the former," he said.
Technology could be part of the recent drop, as there are more ways to watch movies, including on mobile devices, soon after they appear in theaters. Rising ticket prices, up 36 percent from a decade ago to an average $7.93, could also be a factor.
MPAA chief executive Chris Dodd, a former U.S. senator from Connecticut, said this year that ticket revenue in the U.S. and Canada is up nearly 15 percent. That is expected to get another boost from the Thursday debut of "The Hunger Games," expected to bring in more than $100 million by this weekend.
"There's reason to be very, very optimistic about the future of this industry," Dodd said.