LOS ANGELES (AFP) – Hollywood recovered strongly from a devastating screenwriters walkout in 2008 and finished the year anxiously battling to avert a blockbuster sequel that few want: The Actors Strike Back.
The paralyzing 100-day work stoppage by writers ended in February with a historic deal that gave writers a slice of profits from new media and Internet sales, an area where they had once received nothing.
The deal negotiated by the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) was described as a "groundbreaking" achievement by movie industry experts.
"Establishing the principle that the WGA has jurisdiction over Internet and new media is a groundbreaking step forward," said Jason Squire, a lecturer at University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts.
Yet the result, hailed as a victory by the writers union leaders, came at a price, with some economists putting the cost of the dispute at around two billion dollars in losses.
Among the hardest hit were owners of Los Angeles-based limousine companies: with actors boycotting awards shows such as the Golden Globes in support of writers, chauffeurs were left idling in their busiest months of the year.
But with the US economy sliding into a recession of epochal severity, the film and television industry is now anxiously contemplating the possibility of another walkout, this time by Hollywood's biggest actors union.
A tense standoff has been in place between the 120,000-strong Screen Actors Guild and the AMPTP after negotiations to replace a contract which expired in June foundered with no agreement.
Ominously, SAG's leaders have adopted a hawkish stance over the possibility of calling a strike.
The union announced plans to conduct a strike authorization ballot on January 2, however they later postponed the vote to mid-January after a storm of protest by heavyweights including George Clooney, Matt Damon and Tom Hanks. "We support our union and we support the issues we're fighting for, but we do not believe in all good conscience that now is the time to be putting people out of work," said more than 130 stars in a joint letter to SAG.
The behind-the-scenes industrial disputes did not have a noticeable effect on the box-office figures, however, where a slew of comic-book adaptations and the return of Indiana Jones ensured some solid numbers.
The star performer was Batman sequel "The Dark Knight", which recorded a record opening weekend of 158.4 million dollars before going on to become the second highest grossing movie of all time with 530 million in North America.
Preceding "The Dark Knight" had been one of the year's surprise hits, "Iron Man", a superhero vehicle featuring Robert Downey Jr, which finished with 318 million dollars.
"Iron Man" ended up squeezing ahead of cinema's favorite swashbuckling archeologist in "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal", taking 317 million dollars.
By early December, overall North American box office figures were up on year-on-year by some 1.4 percent at 8.96 billion dollars, but it was unclear if the year would manage to surpass 2007's total haul of 9.66 billion dollars.