Homegrown hit tops 2008

Homegrown hit “Irony of Fate 2,” a reprise of a hugely popular Soviet romantic comedy, was feted as the top-grossing movie of 2008 at the 12th Russian Blockbuster awards ceremony in Moscow on Monday.

Directed by Timur Bekmambetov, produced by state-owned web First Channel and distributed by 20th Century Fox CIS, pic grossed just under $50 million to take the top title at the awards, attended by hundreds of Russia’s producers and exhibition and home entertainment distributors.

DreamWorks’ hit cartoon sequel “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa” took second place in the box office stakes with distributor UPI grossing $40.9 million in Russia and surrounding territories.

Locally made WWI drama “Admiral” clocked up $33.7 million for distributors 20th Century Fox CIS; “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” made $27.79 million (UPI); and local comedy spoof “The Very Best Film” did $27.59 million for distributor Karo.

Universal’s “Wanted” (considered a local movie here because it was directed by Bekmambetov) took $26.3 million.

In other awards, the biggest grossing European film was French cartoon “Asterix at the Olympic Games” (distributor: Central Partnership) which took $9.09 million.

Best Asian film was “Dragon Wars: D-War” (Central Partnership; $2.25 million); best indie film “Babylon A.D.” (West; $5.71 million); and best film on limited release “My Blueberry Nights” (CP Classic, $530,000).

The Hollywood studio with the biggest B.O. take was Paramount/DreamWorks with $112.35 million; UPI was distributor of the year with $203.87 million.

Producer of the year was split between First Channel chief Konstantin Ernst, who produced “Irony of Fate 2,” and Anatoly Maksimov, who produced “Irony” and “Admiral.”

In home entertainment, Universal Pictures Russia notched up the most DVD sales, thanks to “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.” The company also picked up the prize for best distributor of titles on DVD.

Awards founder Alexander Semenov, publisher of Russian Film Business Today, said the awards, Russia’s only plaudits based on verified box office figures, reflected the strength of the film industry despite the world economic climate.

However, he didn’t forecast B.O. growth much beyond last year’s total Russia and CIS gross of $830 million.

Some industry leaders see this year’s challenges as opportunities.

Michael Schlicht, German-born president of Sony Pictures Entertainment Russia and co-founder of Monumental Pictures, which has just co-produced a sequel to “The Very Best Film,” which took nearly $10 million in its first weekend recently, believes SPE will do well thanks to a slate including “Angels and Demons,” “The Internationalist” and “2012.”

“The crisis is clearing out the hobbyist producers and those with easy money,” he said. “Companies that have a great slate, as SPE does this year, will probably do well. SPE will probably see growth in sales around 50% compared with last year.”

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