Page last updated at 01:07 GMT, Thursday, 1 January 2009

Hollywood's rollercoaster year

By Peter Bowes
BBC News, Los Angeles

Heath Ledger as the Joker
The late Heath Ledger is expected to get a posthumous Oscar

There have been some box office highs, but it has been a difficult year in Hollywood.

While a few notable successes - The Dark Knight or Mamma Mia! for example - have kept the industry afloat, the recession is hitting home and hundreds of jobs losses are expected at the major studios over the next few weeks.

"It's been a series of struggles and triumphs," says actress Thora Birch, who is best known for her role in the 1999 drama, American Beauty.

"We've seen some great films amid some really serious struggles and I think it will continue into the next year."

The year started in the midst of an increasingly bitter screenwriters strike.

The dispute, over residual payments and new media, led to some of Hollywood's highest profile stars abandoning their shows to join fellow union members on the picket line.

The strike lasted 100 days and cost the Los Angeles area an estimated two billion dollars.

One of the entertainment calendar's highest profile celebrations, the Golden Globe Awards, was cancelled and replaced with a news conference.

'Blockbuster summer'

Hollywood's biggest night, the Academy Awards, went ahead, but in a muted fashion and minus the usual glitzy parties.

Los Angeles was in no mood to celebrate in the wake of the damaging strike - and Hollywood remained in the doldrums for much of the year.

Behind-the-scenes workers struggled to find jobs as many productions failed to get back into the studio.

But the mood changed during the summer months.

TV presenter Dayna Devon at the Golden Globe annoucements
The Golden Globes was rapidly scaled down this year

"We got the blockbuster summer we definitely needed after a writers strike in the early part of the year which was riddled with uncertainty about the future of the film industry," says Paul Dergarabedian, a box office analyst with the website

"The summer kicked off enormously with Iron Man and that gave us an indication of what was to come with what ultimately wound up being the biggest box office summer of all time."

June, July and August were dominated by comic books and big screen heroes - and the Box office dollars came rolling in.

After Iron Man came Hellboy II: The Golden Army, Hancock and the Incredible Hulk, but the summer belonged to The Dark Knight.

The latest Batman adventure enjoyed a record debut weekend and went on to become the second-highest grossing movie of all time behind Titanic.

"It just stirred the whole country and the whole world," says Mr Dergarabedian.

'Great legacy'

"It was really Heath Ledger, the mystique about him, the great performance, everything kind of fell into place."

Ledger, who died of an accidental drug overdose in January, is expected to receive a posthumous Oscar nomination for his role as The Joker.

"We lost a great artist and somebody who would give great performances into the future but nonetheless we're left with a great legacy, a great movie," adds Mr Dergarabedian.

Mamma Mia!
Mamma Mia! helped pull in large female audiences to the cinema

This year was also the year girl-power solidified itself as a formidable force at the box office.

Hits such as Sex and the City, Mamma Mia! and High School Musical 3 all pulled in huge female audiences.

But the year is ending with another dark cloud hovering over Hollywood.

The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) is planning to ballot its membership of 120,000 actors to try to secure a mandate for strike action.

Unlike the Writers Guild and other Hollywood unions, SAG has failed to reach an agreement with the studios on a new contract which embraces new media.

Several big profile actors, such as George Clooney and Tom Hanks have urged the union's top brass not to call a strike in the current economic climate - which is likely to impact Hollywood's ability to secure funding for big projects over the next few years.

The studios may resort to concentrating their efforts on lower budget, crowd-pleasing flicks that pull in audiences without breaking the bank.

"I think Hollywood is very strong," says David Harbour, who appears in Revolutionary Road with Kate Winslet.

"You don't see studios coming for government bailouts. Studios are very secure and the entertainment industry is a very strong industry so they'll be alright, regardless of what happens," he says.

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