Russian b.o. growth keeps pace in early 2007

Strong local product helps '06 climb

LONDON -- Detailed Russian boxoffice figures to be released Monday show continued growth in the territory, with the latest holiday season results suggesting the upward trend will continue this year.

The figures show that 293 titles released across Russia and its neighboring former Soviet territories grossed $455 million, up nearly a third from 2005's total of $349 million.

The average gross per film climbed to $1.4 million in 2006 from just over $1 million the year before, according to detailed figures collated by Russian Film Business Today.

The figures -- collected from distributors, cinema chains and a network of industry observers -- are considered the most reliable available in a country where official statistics for the industry are patchy at best.

The record-breaking performance of fantasy-action hit "Day Watch" -- which earned nearly $35 million -- exemplifies a trend toward stronger local product. Produced by Russia's First Channel, the film earned nearly $10 million more than the top Russian grosser of 2005, war drama "The 9th Company," which brought in $25.6 million.

A chart accompanying the report reveals a marked advance in the territory, where in 1996 the top-grossing Russian film, "Prisoner of the Caucasus," struggled to break $100,000.

The figures show that, in 2006, a total of 83 films in the region -- apart from Ukraine -- earned at least $1 million, the same number as in 2005. Five films made more than $10 million, two more than the three that passed that milestone in 2005.

Led by "Day Watch," the territory's leading distributor, 20th Century Fox CIS/Gemini, broke the $100 million mark, earning $106 million and a 25.7% market share, figures show.

Gemini -- which also was the top-performing distributor in 2005 ($77.2 million) -- was one of seven distributors to collect more than $10 million at the boxoffice during 2006.

Taking second in the local distribution derby was Cascade ($96.7 million/market share 23.5%). Its top-grossing film was "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest," which took in $27.5 million. In third place was UIP ($54 million/13.1%), which tallied $9.9 million from its top title, "King Kong."

Finishing in fourth and fifth place were Central Parternship/CP Classics ($33.4 million/8.1%) and Nashe Kino/Caroprokat ($26.9 million/6.5%). Homegrown hits featured in both companies' release schedules.

Action-adventure "Piranha Hunt," made for $3.1 million, grossed $6.2 million for Central Partnership, while road movie "Bimmer: Part Two," which cost $2.5 million to make, earned a strong $13 million at the turnstiles.

Early figures from holiday openings that will count toward 2007 totals indicate that Russian-made films are off to a strong start, including the two top-scoring films in wide release.

Fantasy movie "Wolfhound," released Dec. 28 on 601 prints in Russia, was the top boxoffice earner, pulling in $15.3 million through Jan. 7. Second-place "Zhara" (Heat), also released Dec. 28, rolled out on 596 screens and had grossed $11.8 million by the same date.

The local hits knocked current global boxoffice champion "Night at the Museum," which also opened Dec. 28, into third place.
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