Third installment of trilogy sets records

PRAGUE — Czech distribs and exhibs look to post a third straight year of record-breaking numbers. After 2003’s trend-bucking results of some $40 million at the B.O. gave the sector something to smile about, the third installment of “Lord of the Rings” is outpacing the other two films in the trilogy with 150,000 admissions and $720,000 in box office, giving theaters hope for a happy 2004.

Warner Bros. Czech and Slovak director Ladislav Stastny helped numbers along by greenlighting a 38-print release, outdoing the 36-print release of “The Matrix: Revolution.” WB’s previous record-holder, the second part of the “Rings” trilogy, had 137,000 admissions. A pair of sequels to successful Czech films opening this week should keep box offices busy through month’s end.

“Rings” proved such a hit with kids that at Prague’s Cinema City four-multiplex chain, computers were blocked from selling student tickets after a 10% limit on student-priced tickets was reached. Students could wait for the next show or dole out an additional $1.50 for an adult ticket. (A quick survey of one not-quite-full salle seemed to indicate that cash-conscious Czech teens were choosing to wait it out, or perhaps opting for more teen-friendly plexes.)

Distributors and competing multiplex operators expressed surprise at the policy.

“I don’t agree with it,” said one, and another added, “It sounds really strange to me.”

Management at the Cinema City chain confirmed that the 10% limit was company policy, but refused to elaborate.

David Horacek, director of UCI-CE’s Palace Cinemas chain shook his head, saying, “At some cinemas, students account for 40% or 50% of ticket sales. It’s like telling them, ‘Go away. We don’t want you in our cinemas.’ “

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