B.O. boffo; local distribs encouraged

'MIB II" picks up typically slow summer season

MOSCOW — Think of a number — then double it.

That looks like the fortunate future for Russian distributors, as territory’s box office continues on a striking upturn.

Results to the end of August more than enforce the continuing trend, which saw annual receipts for 2001 (around $65 million) jump by as much as 88% over 2000 (when they were $34.5 million).

Last year, top title “The Mummy Returns” grossed just over the $3 million mark — the only film to go above that barrier in 2001 — but by Sept. 1 this year, six titles had already returned more than that figure.

Nor was such B.O. success only the result of the power duo of “The Lord of the Rings” (No. 1, with gross of $7.15 million) and “Harry Potter” (No. 3, at $5.44 million), which were both held over to this spring by distrib Karo Premier.

No less remarkable was the No. 2 grosser so far, “Men in Black II,” which earned $6.28 million after two months in release (July-August) — conclusively bucking a past trend particular to the territory that summer releases were doomed, given local holiday patterns.

“These figures show that Russia is at last earning significant returns, which now outperform many neighboring markets — Poland, Scandinavia and central Europe, for instance,” comments Alexander Semenov, publisher of Russia’s Film magazine. To keep up with the trend, Semenov launched a new publication, Film Business, earlier this year to complement the outlet’s other publication, Video Store.

Pushing the growth is a steady increase in upgraded or new screens, particularly outside Moscow and around the ex-USSR, which can bring in appreciable returns.

Activity from local distributor Cascad is a case in point. While last year most top pics were released on around 70-80 copies, the outfit went for a record 150 prints for “Men in Black II” and rolled out “Spider-Man” (No. 5 in B.O., with a $3.5 million gross) on 100.

The “Star Wars” franchise is another case in point. Distrib Gemini scored $5.2 million for “Attack of the Clones” on 115 prints — against a then-record-breaking 33 copies back in 1999 for “The Phantom Menace.”

And in Moscow, the last few months have seen the long-awaited opening of Russia’s first multiplex, Formula Kino, part of a new mall construction next to one of the city’s main railway stations.

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