LONDON — “The Full Monty,” the Brit pic about a gang of unlikely male exotic dancers, outstripped “Four Weddings and a Funeral” over the weekend, becoming the most popular British film ever in the U.K., surpassing in eight weeks the $45 million “Weddings” took in 22.

The pic’s performance pushed cinema admissions in the U.K. through the roof in September, up 49% over 1996. “Monty” accounted for approximately 40% of the month’s 11.8 million tickets sold, despite competition from the likes of “Men in Black,” “Bean,” “Air Force One” and “Austin Powers.”

“Monty” has also helped — along with “Bean,” “Mrs. Brown” and others — to raise the share of the U.K. box office taken by Brit films to 17% in recent months, well above past annual averages of around 10%. The British government’s goal is 20%.

Admissions overall this year are now up 8% over 1996 in Britain, with the new James Bond pic , “Tomorrow Never Dies,” and the Spice Girls’ vehicle, “Spice World,” still to come. Both are likely blockbusters in the U.K.

“Now we must make sure that this is not just a blip, but can be sustained and improved on throughout this year and beyond,” culture secretary Chris Smith said in a speech to leading Hollywood figures at the British consulate in L.A. Friday night. “But if we are to sustain it,” he said, “we need to develop healthy and constructive relationships with the people — predominantly from the U.S. industry — who dominate the distribution and exhibition systems in the U.K. That is my most important message here in Los Angeles: Let’s work together to increase that share of a growing box office.”

Smith added that “more and better films” as well as “more and better cinemas” are needed in Britain, especially if the industry wants to attract a wider demographic beyond the main group of cinemagoers under 25. Optimistic estimates indicate the U.K. could benefit from an additional 2,000 screens over the current 2,200.

“The major cinema chains including, again, many American companies, have had the foresight and confidence to make substantial investments in new multiplexes and refurbishment of old cinemas in the U.K. … This is a trend I very much want to see continue,” Smith said.

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