‘Phantom’ toppling Russian B.O. records

Despite financial woes, viewers flocking to Lucas film

MOSCOW — Russian auds are as keen on mainstream Hollywood fare as ever, despite predictions that tastes here were looking inward.

Proof comes in box office results for “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace,” which is setting records for Russia this decade, overcoming both local economic downturn and a public largely unfamiliar with the film’s hype.

Local player Gemini Films pitched “Phantom” bigger than any previous pic it’s worked with — including “Titanic,” which it released last year and for which it won the local industry’s best distrib of ’98 award.

Moscow launch

After wrapping the Moscow Intl. Film Festival on July 29, “Phantom” opened exclusively at the city’s Pushkinsky theater before splashing onto seven more Moscow screens, then expanding Aug. 5 to an additional 21 screens across the territory.

Gemini also scored a first-timer by bowing the pic Aug. 5 in neighboring CIS territories, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan, where improved exhib facilities are in place to allow such a simultaneous release.

Total aud in territories through Wednesday was 422,687, bringing in 29.43 million rubles ($1.2 million).

As well as outstripping “Titanic,” “Phantom” also triumphed over local helmer Nikita Mikhalkov’s “Barber of Siberia,” which has rung up $1.5 million B.O. in its six months since release.

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