Cheer at Russian box office

'Wolfhound,' 'Heat' earning big numbers

MOSCOW — Russia’s long-lasting New Year holidays have produced record results for local product. But competition between two strongly promoted local pics — one a pricey, effects-heavy pic, the other a modest comedy — kept both from far outdistancing the field.

This year’s two key pics, Nikolai Lebedev’s Slavic fantasy “Wolfhound” and Georgian director Rezo Gigineishvili’s laffer “Heat,” both opened Dec. 28 with record numbers of prints for Russia and surrounding territories. Together with last year’s boffo results for “Day Watch,” it’s clear that the first 10 days of January have becoming a prime time for moviegoing.

In their first 25 days, through Jan. 21, “Wolfhound” (produced and distribbed by local indie Central Partnership) had notched around $19 million in Russia and the CIS (with $750,000 in the Ukraine). “Heat” took in $15 million in the former territories, and roughly $1 million in Ukraine.

By contrast, the only major Hollywood title in current release, “Night at the Museum,” sagged over the same time frame, with just $12 million in Russia and the CIS. In Russia, the local pics got heavier TV promotion, while in the Ukraine, “Museum” had an equal amount of promotion, helping it gross more than the local pics in that territory.

But box office results are where similarities between the two Russian movies end. Long in production, Lebedev’s “Wolfhound” adapted fantasy novels by Maria Semenova to deliver a “Lord of the Rings”-like film heavy on special effects and period details. Produced for approximately $10 million, it sold reasonably well internationally, and will have two special industry screenings at Berlin.

Gigineishvili’s “Heat,” was budgeted at roughly $2 million, with about $1.5 million allocated to promotion, albeit with heavy support from local production outfit CTC, which runs a youth-oriented TV station.

Producers were CTC head Alexander Rodnyansky, with helmer Fyodor Bondarchuk of Russian B.O. topper “9th Company.” (Many of that film’s cast return in “Heat”).

“Heat’s” bittersweet comedy mined the same vein as last year’s hit “Piter-FM,” also produced by Rodnyansky on a modest budget, which brought in a solid $7.5 million at the B.O.

As in Hollywood, the local film biz is now pondering whether it’s better to concentrate on splashy, expensive projects in the hope that Russian blockbusters will continue to carry the day, or keep budgets as tight as possible and trust that auds continue to respond to genres like comedy.

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